Monday, July 26, 2004

On a fiendish God...

In my On better morality… post I addressed the self-defeating aspects with regards to the secularist argument that morality can evolve. My point was that, by positing a comparison between various moral applications, the secularist has essentially acknowledged that some higher standard exists (with which to compare differing “moralities”). Along those lines, C. S. Lewis wrote, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Now the subject of the particular post I was drawing attention to, by Ed over at Dispatches, had to do with the apparent ruthlessness of the God of the Bible (e.g., Numbers 31 in which God commanded that the Midianite men and sexually active women be slaughtered, and their children taken captive). DarkSyde thought I was not only avoiding, but running away from, the topic of Ed’s post, as the following excerpt of his comment suggests: 
I did notice Rusty that you retreated from addressing the gist of the post which is that the God of the Old Testatment is a monstrous, bloodthirsty, creature with morals that make Pol Pot look like a girl scout. It's always amusing to see fundamentalists try to apologize for their genocidal invisible sky wizard. So by all means if you share that view, outline why you think it's OK to worship this fiend.
  There are several avenues of response available to the questions posed by Ed and Dark (very good questions, by the way). For one, I could discuss how the instances of God commanding the Israelites to slaughter their enemies varied in application. In other words, the commands were situation specific and had to do, among other things, with God’s judgment regarding the level of depravity of the particular people in question. With regards to the Numbers 31 incident, one must first look at Numbers 25:1-3 to see the type of depravity that Israel had fallen into:
When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel. (all NET)
  By joining themselves to Baal-peor, Israel sinned against God. The initial judgment levied by God was against Israel in which a plague wipes out 24,000 Israelites (Numbers 25:9). In Numbers 31:1-2 we read: 

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Exact vengeance for the Israelites on the Midianites—after that you will be gathered to your people.” 

The level of judgment is tied to the level of depravity that occurred (i.e., Israel’s sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab). The nation of Israel could not exist in union with both God and the Midianites. That certain nations had degenerated to a state of debauchery which included child sacrifice is a point that some critics seem to conveniently ignore. God’s commanded judgments are always situation specific, and it’s interesting to note that there are instances of even more extensive destruction than that recorded in Numbers 31 (e.g., Joshua 6:21, in which everything in Jericho is destroyed; Genesis 19:24-25, in which Sodom & Gomorrah are completely destroyed; and Noah’s Flood, in which only Noah and his family survive). In Genesis 15:12-16, four hundred years before Israel entered the Promised Land, we read:

When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”

This is telling us that God is not only cognizant of our current and future actions, but is also exact in His execution of judgment. We need to also understand that God has a plan He is working out with which to bring blessing to all the peoples of the Earth. Yet, because the plan is administered within the realms of free will, we will see its intersection with the effects of sin. Gleason Archer, in The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, states:

In every case the baneful infection of degenerate idolatry and moral depravity had to be removed before Israel could safely settle down in these regions and set up a monotheistic, law-governed commonwealth as a testimony for the one true God.

...These incorrigible degenerates of the Canaanite civilization were a sinister threat to the spiritual survival of Abraham's race. The failure to carry through completely the policy of extermination of the heathen in the Land of Promise later led to the moral and religious downfall of the Twelve Tribes in the days of the Judges.

 I could also go into how the rules of the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) should be understood. They were never meant to be a comprehensive listing of rules but, rather, a means through which Israel could experience the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant while living here in this life (ref. Deuteronomy 30:11-20). Building on that idea I could also show how the promised Davidic Covenant superceded the Abrahamic Covenant with its administration being accomplished not through the Mosaic Covenant, but through the New Covenant. A related issue is the fact that the Holy Spirit had not been sent upon the world until after Jesus’ Ascension. One of the consequences of this is the New Testament writings that state that Christians battle not within the earthly realms, but within the spiritual (ref. Ephesians 6:10-12). In other words, the types of depravity that Israel so easily fell into are not accessible within our current New Covenant. Paradoxically, although the God of the Old Testament is typically viewed as wrathful, it is only in the New Testament that we hear of the perils of eternal punishment. Yet regardless of the multiple theological responses that are applied, the point of my original post should be addressed. Dark finishes his comment regarding God by asking why I “think it's OK to worship this fiend?” Inherent in that question is the fact that Dark has made a judgment call on what he considers to be fiendish morality. Again I would ask, just where do you get this idea that the God of the Bible is a fiend? What standard are you using to make that determination? If there is no absolute morality, then the word fiend immediately loses any meaning whatsoever – or it has whatever meaning one may wish to grant it. Building off of the C. S. Lewis quote above: How can you make the statement that someone or some deity is depraved (crooked) unless you have some idea of what is good (straight)? You only have two options: 1) that the idea of straight is purely natural or, 2) that the idea of straight is supernatural. Unfortunately, for the naturalist, option # 1 is self-defeating, for natural events are neither good nor bad – they simply are. C. S. Lewis also said,

If the whole universe has not meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Yet look at the consequences of option # 2. If the idea of straight (i.e., morality) is supernatural, then it comes from a mind that is supernatural (there’s that little notion of ideas coming only from minds). Now if that mind is supernatural, and if it is powerful enough to mandate moral law, how should we respond to it? Do we choose to follow or not? Do we acknowledge where we stand? Hence the closing statement of my original post: we had better well understand that we aren’t in charge. The question of just of who is in charge is very critical, for both Dark and Ed have taken the God of the Bible to task for allegedly not acting with, what they have deemed to be, moral character. Yet my argument has been that before we can make any judgment call with regards to a being’s moral actions, we must first determine if the moral standards we are using are valid, as well as understand where these moral standards came from. In What We Can’t Not Know, J. Budzsiszewski states, regarding the First Commandment:

The point of the First Commandment is that the one true God, and only the one true God, is to be worshipped as God. To hold that this biblical injunction belongs equally to the natural law is to hold that although not everyone believes the Bible as the word of God, everyone does know that there is one true God and that he owes Him sole worship. If this is true, then those who say they don't know of any such God are fooling themselves, and biblical revelation merely "blows their cover." The Commandment presupposes more than just the knowledge that God is real. It presupposes that we also understand that benefit incurs obligation, supreme benefit incurs supreme obligation, and we are indebted to God for benefits beyond all others. This in turn presupposes that we know the principle, "Give to each what is due to him," what we owe God being loyalty, worship, and obedience. To deny Him is the deepest form of treason - much more serious than the ordinary sort.

Inherent in this argument is that God is Sovereign over His created order. If He is Sovereign, then He sets the rules. This line of thinking leaves no room for the self-defeating logic of moral relativism, much less the substance-deprived wasteland of deism. The God of the Bible has been revealed not only as a wrathful God, but as a God who forgives. Both of these characteristics are due to the essence of His being. In The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel quotes Norman Geisler as stating:

God created life and he has the right to take it. If you can create life, then you can have the right to take it. But if you can’t create it, you don’t have the right.


People assume that what’s wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it’s wrong for me to take your life, because I didn’t make it and I don’t own it. …Well, God is sovereign over all of life and he has the right to take it if he wishes.

Those are difficult words to read. Not to drive the point too deep, but this is the whole gist of my argument – that in order to understand true morality, we need to understand who God is; that in order to even begin to understand why God’s judgments have been so harsh in the past, we need to acknowledge His authority. To accept the notion that God has the authority to do as He wishes with His creation involves not only admitting that He is in control, but that He is worthy of worship. Yet the act of acknowledging that God is in control – and, therefore, that we are not – is a willful act of submission. That one may not like the act of submitting is separate from whether or not one understands the obligation of submitting. Consider the following, by C. S. Lewis, describing his conversion to Christianity:

In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; that night a most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. …Who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape?

The first step in understanding God’s actions is to understand God’s authority – the reasons why He can act the way He does, as well as what our response should be. Whether we like it or not is, in reality, irrelevant.

Additional references: The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel     Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason Archer What We Can’t Not Know, J. Budziszewski    Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis   Also check Matt Powell’s posts, Judging God and, The Morality of the Bible, at Wheat & Chaff.

1 comment:

Matt Powell said...

Thanks for the links, Rusty. Great post!