Monday, February 15, 2021

Anonymous Asks (132)

“Why is the Bible so violent?”

On one level the answer to this is fairly obvious: any work that accurately documents human history or tells a believable tale of any length and scope about us will invariably involve violence unless it is highly censored or terribly dishonest. Julius Caesar is violent too, as is Macbeth, Moby Dick and even To Kill a Mockingbird.

So the Bible is violent because people are violent.

What Causes Violence?

Or, as James puts it, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” This is the history of the human race. It is who we are.

That might be the easiest post I’ve ever written in response to a question, except that it doesn’t provide a sufficient answer, does it. Because in the pages of scripture, God is violent too. Genesis contains not just the story of Cain and Abel and the story of the slaughter of the kings, but also the story of the great flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, both of which were unilateral acts of God.

God and Violence

But where the motive for human violence is conflicting passions, God does not experience emotions like greed (after all, he lacks nothing) or envy (who could he possibly envy?). Acts of divine violence do not arise out of some flaw in the nature of God, but out of the violence of man against his fellow man. God’s violence is responsive. Consider what was going on among men prior to the flood:
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.’ ”
Or again, in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, God says, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” Here the conduct of the citizens of these cities was so atrocious that complaints were being registered in the heavens. God speaks of an “outcry”. Men and perhaps even angels agreed that allowing the sins of the Sodomites to continue without consequences was an injustice so great that God must be implored to act.

When Repentance is Off the Table

So then, there are times when societies have reached such a condition of depravity and hardness of heart that it is impossible to produce repentance in them. They cannot be reformed, and they will not accept correction. And, as the writer of Proverbs puts it, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”

Here it not a matter God’s own passions and desires leading to violence, as in the case of human beings. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Of course not. God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. Rather, it is the violence and passions of men that draws forth a divine response.

So the Bible is violent because people are violent. It tells us our story truthfully, in hope that we recognize in its pages our own inclinations and tendencies and humble ourselves before the only One who can every bring lasting peace to the human race.

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