God’s Goodness and Difficult Old Testament Passages
By Michael Austin
Old Testament passages dealing with slavery, the status of women, and the destruction of peoples such as the Canaanites and Amalekites have seemed morally problematic to both Christians and non-Christians. These passages, among others, are difficult because they portray God as seemingly condoning and even commanding actions that are, at least on the face of it, immoral. They are thought to be inconsistent or at least in tension with the claim that God is omnibenevolent and morally perfect. A variety of responses have been given with respect to such morally problematic passages. One response, the Concessionary Morality Response (CMR), includes the claim that portions of biblical morality are concessionary insofar as they (i) fall short of God’s ideal morality for human beings; and (ii) are instances of God making allowances for the hardness of human hearts and its consequences in human cultures. My purpose in this essay is to consider the plausibility of the Concessionary Morality Response as a biblical and philosophical component of a defense of God’s perfect moral character.
First, however, consider something which C.S. Lewis once said about the doctrine of hell. In his book The Problem of Pain, Lewis says that “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” I find myself in a similar position with respect to some of the passages at issue in this essay. I would prefer that they not be in the Bible, because as Alvin Plantinga observes, these passages “can constitute a perplexity” for followers of Christ. Moreover, if I came across such passages within the sacred writings of another religion, this would at least initially be a reason for me to reject the claims of that religion. Nevertheless, these passages are present in the Scriptures, and as morally and intellectually responsible followers of Christ we need to deal with them as best we can.
I will set aside several other explanations that have been given for how we are to deal with these perplexing passages. Perhaps some of the following possibilities described by Plantinga are correct…
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