If God has revealed himself in the entire Protestant Christian Bible (as I used to believe, and spent a teaching career convincing teens to believe), then He must answer for his horrible behavior. Otherwise, reasonable people cannot be expected to respect him as a moral leader. Regardless of whether or not he is truly a savior of sinners, the fact remains that after being saved, a person would then be expected to live in close proximity to God and be eternally known as officially endorsing everything ever done by this person who claims to be a legitimate king.
We can be certain that God expects us to use our own judgment in these matters, given the pains that were taken to inject such reminders throughout the Bible. Such as, “Come, let us reason together,” (Isaiah 1:18) and “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind,” (Romans 14:5) and “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15) and “do you not know that we shall judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). Judgment is a theme which runs throughout the Bible, and the saved are promised a judicial role in the future, even as they are invited to judge for themselves now whether God is worthy of the reverence and obedience he expects of his people.
Judgment implies right and wrong. There certainly are clearly defined futures for those who choose rightly (trust and obey God and his word) versus those who choose “wrongly” (reject God): heaven or hell, eternal life or eternal death. Right and wrong are ethical decisions. They say something about what a person values, what they believe, and what kind of society in which they want to live. What kind of a person has omnipotent power, but chooses to exercise it they way God is shown doing as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? If we are to answer that question fairly and accurately, and most of all, honestly, we must compare God’s behavior to our own values and beliefs, and hopes for our own society.
God repeatedly endorses genocide, and even occasionally commands it. Psalm 137:9, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” is a blessing God promises to confer upon his people when they engage in genocide toward their enemies. The story of the book of Judges is the trouble Israel constantly fell into after disobeying God’s command to kill every last member of the tribes occupying Canaan.
Why do Christians let their God off the hook for his genocidal behavior? What makes it okay to commit such an immoral atrocity just because “God did it”? Why do theology teachers twist themselves into knots attempting to justify an unjustifiable crime against humanity?
God’s punishments are cruel, unusual, and don’t fit the crime. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up, with their wives and children, into the earth, as punishment for rebellion (Numbers 16). Achan was stoned to death as punishment for theft (Joshua 7). Uzzah was struck dead by God himself for irreverence toward the Ark of the Covenant. His crime was touching it, as he attempted to keep it steady while it rode in a wagon on the way to the temple (2 Samuel 6:3-8). Ananias and Sapphira were also struck dead by God himself for bearing false witness about how much they had pledged to give as an offering to the temple (Acts 5:1-11). Nadab and Abihu, priests as well respected as Aaron, the original priest of Israel, were executed by God himself as they made an offering to him in the temple; the scripture isn’t clear on what exactly they did wrong, other than that it was apparently the wrong kind of fire, and they knew better, and so God made an example out of them (Leviticus 10:1-2).
Which, by the way, is the usual answer offered by Christians when they are confronted with these passages which even they admit are difficult to explain. When some unusual or cruel punishment is meted out which doesn’t seem to fit the crime, they explain about how holy God is, and how important it was for his people to remember that, in order for them to understand and obey him.
The problem with this explanation isn’t just that cruel and unusual punishment is morally wrong, which it is. Christians also need to explain why these overreactions by God never seemed to work; they never resulted in a more obedient and reverent society among God’s people. Both Old and New Testaments withhold nothing in their accounts of the bad behavior of God’s people, from the kings and priests and prophets on down to the common people. And since these divine tantrums seemed to fail so consistently to achieve their intended goal, why would an omniscient God continue to use them, if he knew they would not only fail but also become the most difficult-to-explain passages in his word?
Another well-worn excuse Christians give for the war, genocide, and cruelty of God in the Bible is that people back in those days responded better to what they were used to, which was a world full of such sins and crimes. But this idea contradicts another basic teaching of the Bible, which is that humans were created perfect, fell from that perfection, and have been slowly evolving in reverse into less and less intelligent and civilized beings. If that were true, then why didn’t God approach those ancients who should have been better able to comprehend the evils of war, genocide, slavery, polygamy, misogyny and the many other unethical behaviors which are virtually ignored in Bible teachings.
These inconsistencies between God’s behavior, the teachings of Jesus (which largely ignore the unethical behavior of God in the Old Testament), and Christian doctrine make it difficult to recommend Biblical Christianity as a good source for learning about morality, ethical behavior, and values that are helpful to a safe, healthy, and honorable society. The human family deserves better.