Our Young Adults Housegroup last night was looking at Exodus. The discussion was wide ranging, but one particular issue was God's course of action in the Passover:
So Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord says: “About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.
Surely those who were killed had nothing to do with the slavery and atrocities committed by the Egyptian rulers. And weren't many of them children? Weren't they being punished for something someone else had done? Doesn't this make God a vengeful tyrant who slaughters innocent children?
The group spent some time wrestling with the idea of the Tenth Plague and how we are to understand it - and indeed many other Old Testament episodes where God seems to act in a way we might be uncomfortable with. I promised to point towards a few books that might help. They are not an easy read, and there are no easy answers, but for anyone wanting to engage seriously with our understanding of God in the Old Testament - particularly in regard to his commands to kill - they are a good starting point.
God Behaving Badly by David T. Lamb
God has a bad reputation. Many think of God as wrathful and angry, smiting people right and left for no apparent reason. The Old Testament in particular seems at times to portray God as capricious and malevolent, wiping out armies and nations, punishing enemies with extreme prejudice. But wait. The story is more complicated than that. Alongside troubling passages of God's punishment and judgment are pictures of God's love, forgiveness, goodness and slowness to anger. How do we make sense of the seeming contradiction? Can God be trusted or not? David Lamb unpacks the complexity of the Old Testament to explore the character of God. He provides historical and cultural background to shed light on problematic passages and to bring underlying themes to the fore. Without minimizing the sometimes harsh realities of the biblical record, Lamb assembles an overall portrait that gives coherence to our understanding of God in both the Old and New Testaments.
Is the God of the Old Testament nothing but a bully, a murderer, and an oppressor?
Many today--even within the church--seem to think so. How are Christians to respond to such accusations? And how are we to reconcile the seemingly disconnected natures of God portrayed in the two testaments?
In this timely and readable book, apologist Paul Copan takes on some of the most vexing accusations of our time, including:
God is arrogant and jealous
God punishes people too harshly
God is guilty of ethnic cleansing
God oppresses women
God endorses slavery
Christianity causes violence
Copan not only answers the critics, he also shows how to read both the Old and New Testaments faithfully, seeing an unchanging, righteous, and loving God in both.
The God I Dont Understand by Christopher J H Wright
If we are honest, we have to admit that there are many things we don't understand about God. We do not have final answers to the deep problems of life, and those who say they do are probably living in some degree of delusion. There are areas of mystery in our Christian faith that lie beyond the keenest scholarship or even the most profound spiritual exercises. For many people, these problems raise so many questions and uncertainties that faith itself becomes a struggle, and the very person and character of God are called into question. Chris Wright encourages us to face up to the limitations of our understanding and to acknowledge the pain and grief they can often cause. But at the same time, he wants us to be able to say, like the psalmist in Psalm 73: "But that's all right. God is ultimately in charge and I can trust him to put things right. Meanwhile, I will stay near to my God, make him my refuge, and go on telling of his deeds."