Ignoring Biblical Violence

I have no interest or intention of watching The History Channel’s show The Bible. From the

European Jesus

pictures, it tells the tale of European Semites. However, some comments by John M. Buchanan in The Christian Century reveal a lot about the way some Christians view the Old Testament depictions of a violent god.

I saw Moses return to the palace to confront the new pharaoh. The Passover angel of death moved through the city streets in a creeping fog that reminded me of the fog of mosquito insecticide that spewed from city trucks years ago. Then the Red Sea parted in the nick of time for the Hebrews before it flooded back to drown Pharaoh’s pursuing army. There was death and destruction everywhere, all orchestrated and carried out by God.

Sounds a lot like the Bible stories I read.

Who could believe in a God like this? Who could believe in a God who orders his people to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, making certain that everyone is dead, just to make way for God’s people?

Who? Hundreds of millions people that’s who.

The problem with The Bible and most media representations of the biblical story is that they are so literal. In the effort to get the details of the story right, the storyteller misses the point.

Ok, so the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally. If you look at it that way, everyone can agree that there are some good passages in there.

Over the years, most of us come to an accommodation with biblical texts that stretch the imagination—particularly those texts that portray God as vengeful, angry and murderous. We parse the Red Sea story as a myth, a story that reveals an important truth about God and human beings. Maybe the Red Sea was a swamp; maybe the pursuing Egyptian chariots became mired in the mud; maybe the people of God told the story of their ancestors’ unlikely escape from Egypt and added details with each retelling.

I just can’t see any positive in a god who floods the entire world because he is unhappy with his creation. Who destroys whole towns like Sodom and Gomorrah by himself, or with the aid of Joshua’s and other armies, who demands a man kill his son. The list goes on.

Most of us, … do not believe, cannot believe, that God told the Hebrew people to kill everyone who got in their way. No doubt the Hebrews did commit horrible acts; history is full of such stories. But the voice they heard wasn’t God’s voice.

Here he shows the natural repulsion most of us feel towards atrocities as described in the Bible, and he blames all of these on a voice other than god’s.

It’s a sad reality that many continue to believe that God orchestrates death, destruction and human suffering and orders people to kill. That, in my mind, is a gross and harmful distortion.

Back in my early teens, I accepted this type of illogical argument, primarily because I had heard them my entire life. Now, I find it very interesting how an adult can take such tales and interpret them as stories about love.

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