[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]
I once thought Bible passages portraying God as commanding (and committing) mass murder could mostly be found in its first few books. Mark Johnston’s Saving God, however, makes a more troubling case:
“Yahweh’s thoroughness in inciting and supporting mass killing is consistent, and extraordinary” (p. 58). The idea that God “is a very dangerous person to mess with . . . is a central theme of the prophetic literature of the Bible. That will be denied, but only by those who have skipped over, or forgotten, the rather demented reiteration of the theme” (p. 60).
I found this comment disturbing, but I have to admit that he’s right. So does Johnson believe that God is a mass murderer? I don’t think so. As I read him, he does not see the Bible as a perfect record of God’s messages to humanity. Instead, Scripture shows how people’s understanding of deity changed down through the centuries. At first Yahweh is portrayed as a “jealous” war god. Later prophets spoke of a god of love.
For Johnson, it’s important to recognize how frightening God seemed to the early Hebrews. As Psalms 111:9-10 puts it, “… Holy and terrible is his name! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Those who play down God’s ferocity “underestimate the dramatic character of Yahweh’s transformation, his second life as the advocate of justice and compassion” (p. 63).
In Sunday School, many of us were taught that God is love. That’s one reason the passages I have been discussing seem alien and even reprehensible.
Roger Christan Schriner
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