Carrol I'll try to answer how I've dealt with it so far but all I can say is it is the best I can come up with. I'm not holding it up as the "right" way by a long shot.
I tell my children that Jesus is the best example of God that we have. His life shows us the nature and character of God and where stories conflict with that image, we must go with Jesus. I believe that the OT writers did the best they could with the information they had without the life of Jesus to guide them. Their understanding of God was, in essence, that if they pleased God (in this case by obeying the laws) then God would make sure good things happened to them. If they didn't, then God would make sure bad things happened. It was certainly not an unusual view of human/God(s) relationship as I think we can see this in other cultures as well. That's also not to say that there weren't improvements over your basic pagan view at the time. But it was a world view that says everything that happens to us is a direct result of how happy God is with us.
There is also a very strong thread of tribalism reflected in the stories. Who is "in" and who is "out" is very important. Those who are "in" or like us are the good guys and those who are different or believe differently are so threatening and so bad that they can be exterminated.
Jesus turned both of these themes on their heads. He spoke of the rain falling on the just and unjust and how it was not someone sinning that caused physical misfortune. Both Jesus and Paul showed us a vision of God as welcoming to all and desiring a relationship with all. We are called to stop being so tribal and believe that God loved the Philistine every bit as much as the Jew. And that viewing an entire race of people as evil is a sure way to end up doing bad things.
I look at the stories with my children with that in mind. We examine them as teaching stories and not necessarily as events that actually took place as described (though that's not to say that some didn't, just that history is not the point). We pray for understanding and I caution them that everyone "sees through the glass darkly." That God really is so far beyond us that our efforts will always fall short but that is no excuse to not keep trying. And best of all, that God understands our flailing and loves us beyond all reason anyway.
Now Anonymous @11 I'll try to answer why I have the hubris to question some of these stories.
1) Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts and minds. Not worship God or fear God (though those have their place) but to LOVE God. In order for a relationship to have love there must be certain behaviors on each side. Deut. 28 says that if the Jews did not obey the law then God would do all sorts of awful things to them culminating in the threat to send an army that would lay siege. They would eat their children (and not share which is a truly surreal example of the importance of hospitality in that culture.) Not only would God do this, but verse 63 says He would delight in doing it. So I am asked to love a God who tells me that if I don't obey all His commandments and decrees (verse 15), He will engineer conditions so terrible that I will eat my children and He will enjoy it? That's a monster. I could worship a God like that, fear a God like that, and even acknowledge that God's ways are not my ways but I cannot love a God like that. It distorts beyond all meaning the word love. I don't say that arrogantly, just honestly. Which brings me to my next point.
2) We are asked to make a decision whether we wish to spend eternity with God or not. In SDA theology God's character is put on trial and we (and other worlds) are asked to make a judgement. Either way, we must decide for good or evil. Are we on God's side or not? What does that mean? So yes, we do have to judge as ridiculous as it may seem for us to be questioning our Creator.
3) Finally we are asked to make practical ethical decisions in daily living. What is good and bad? If I define good as anything God does in the Bible, it is not really helpful for me in making those choices. An extreme example. My husband comes to me and says God has told him he must kill our son. I have to make a decision. Do I let him acknowledging that God has acted this way in the past (even once) and who am I to question? How do I decide whether it really is God asking him that? I can answer that it would be pretty easy for me because that is absolutely inconsistent with love. Hubris yes but you can believe I would label it as evil and let God deal with me later if I was wrong. If I'm going to be wrong I'd rather be wrong choosing what I think is loving.
So far, Anonymous @11, our pattern of interaction seems to be I try and explain something and you critique it. I'd really like to hear how you would solve some of the problems I've raised. I can guess how you might answer but guesses are unfair to you and to the conversation. What would you tell a tearful child who asks you if God thought the animals were wicked and, if not, why did God kill them? I ask because I really want to hear other ideas. I promise I'll keep my mouth shut and listen.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
One of the comments on my recent Sabbath School Article "Christ in the Crucible" at Spectrum Magazine online was especially interesting. While the comment was not so much on my article as on a different subject, as comments do tend to drift, I thought I would post it here also. You can click the link above to see the comment in its context of the conversation. But I think it stands pretty well on its own. Here is what Beth had to say: