That Mean Old Testament God

by Phil Weingart

I’ve been dividing my attention the last few days because I’m devoting myself to studying Christian apologetics while at the same time attempting to maintain a political blog. This morning, I surrender. I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, and I’ve been reading a discussion by philosophy professor Paul Copan about the Old Testament God entitled “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?”. Both address the charge that the Old Testament God is a narcissistic, querulous old goat. You get to hear my thoughts — because I’m a narcissistic, querulous old goat.

The complaint about how angry the Old Testament God seems usually comes from people who don’t read the OT regularly. I’ve been studying the OT on and off for 35 years, and I can attest that this view is a mistake. The OT God is a good parent but a real softy; He’s got a powerful touch, but he’s patient almost to a fault. If you want to see what He’s like when He decides enough is enough, you have to visit the Apocalypse of John in the New Testament.

Dawkins in his book fills an entire paragraph with negative adjectives to describe the Old Testament God. Christopher Hitchens, in his rant god Is Not Great, fills the book with them (Frank Turek pointed out that Hitchens’ entire thesis is “God does not exist, and I really hate Him.”) Neither has the excuse that they don’t read the Old Testament enough to understand it, the way most other people do; theirs is a more deliberate obtuseness, I’m afraid. But they’re making pretty much the same errors everybody else makes.

The three basic errors one makes when calling Yahweh a monster (there are more, but I’m limiting myself) are anthropomorphism, parochialism, and the assumption of finality. In English, please: people tend to imagine that God is a man, people tend to judge other cultures as though their own culture is perfect, and people seem to think Old Testament law was supposed to be the ultimate in human law.

Anthropomorphism first. God is not a man, and it’s never proper to apply God’s laws to God as though He had to obey them. They emanate from His character, but the laws are really for us, and it’s not even possible for God to break them. God cannot steal, for example, because everything already belongs to Him. God cannot bear false witness because to speak falsehood violates the nature of God. God cannot commit murder because God already takes all lives — God is the one who controls who lives and who dies, and at what age. God is going to take every one of our lives someday. The thing that makes murder wrong for us is that we’re not God, but we’re taking for ourselves a decision that belongs to God, the decision regarding the length of another person’s life; murder is thus actually a form of blasphemy. Furthermore, where death seems to us to be final, God knows the dead as well as He does the living. To God, taking a person’s life is like moving that person from the Cincinnati office to the Philadelphia office; they haven’t gone away, they’ve just changed states…

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