Question: How does one correlate the brutality found within the Old Testament with a loving God?
This is an important question that every Christian should take an honest look at. The reason for it being an important question is three fold:
- It is important for Christians to understand the settings of the Old Testament and what the day to day life experience was like for the inhabitants of the Biblical lands during the time periods that the Old Testament was written;
- Because there is a significant amount of violence within the Old Testament it is important to understand God’s reasoning and purpose behind the violence via a careful study of God’s word to comprehend the numerous changes that the God of Abraham was bringing about with regard to the promise of a Redeemer for both the Israelites (His chosen people) and the whole world, and the detailed introduction of sin (the Law), the Holiness of God, personal accountability, the importance of faith, justice and mercy into a very violent world; and
- Quite often it is a question that you will be asked by people who are looking at our Christian faith and it is good to know a response that answers their question.
There is a host of material that is readily available on the Internet which directly addresses this honest question. I will identify some links that I recommend that you can use as a starting point and also some video links but it is imperative that you dedicate some significant time to prayerfully reading through the Old Testament Scriptures and not only become conversant with them, but also explore and investigate the way the world functioned in these tumultuous times.
Recommended Historical Introductory Overview
Lawson Stone is a Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He has three short 7 minute videos which are available here: Violence in the Old Testament Part One, Violence in the Old Testament Part Two and Violence in the Old Testament Part Three
And another by Ravi Zacharias: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4jLSSVjTJU
And finally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Yu-8MPqpuQ (30 minutes but worth it)
The above link is an 11 page PDF authored by Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. I would encourage you to read all of the 11 pages. Three excerpts are included below for your convenience.
“God’s use of violence, inevitable in a violent world, is intended to subvert human violence in order to bring the creation along to a point where violence is no more”
“God chooses to become involved in violence so that evil will not have the last word. In everything, including violence, God seeks to accomplish loving purposes.”
“There remains a certain ambiguity of the Bible toward violence. God does not intend the violence that disrupts the life of the world, rooted as it is in the sinfulness of humankind. Again and again, God takes the side of those afflicted by violence. God so engages the divine self on behalf of those entrapped in violence and its effects that God enters deeply into the life of the world, most supremely in Jesus Christ, and shows thereby the most basic stance of divine nonviolence in the face of violence. But, in order to accomplish God’s work in the world, God may respond in violent ways in and through various agents so that sin and evil do not go unchecked in the life of the world.”
C.S Lewis wrote “If you take the Bible as a whole, you see a process in which something which, in its earliest levels …. was hardly moral at all, and was in some ways not unlike the Pagan religions, is gradually purged and enlightened till it becomes the religion of the great prophets and Our Lord Himself. …. At first hardly anything comes through but mere power. Then (v. important) the truth that He is One and there is no other God. Then justice, then mercy, love, wisdom.”
Will the links and videos I have provided satisfy all skeptics of Christianity? Probably not. But what I see in God’s Holy Word is a gradual expanding process whereby God’s purpose and love for Israel and ultimately the whole world unfolds and the reality of violence is diminished as the revelation of God’s intent and purpose continues to become understood. God’s ultimate intent is personified in and through His Son, and realized through God’s Kingdom on this earth, ruled by Jesus Christ for 1000 years and then a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem where there is no violence, no pain, no death. The violence of the crucification of Jesus on the cross made this all possible and the sting of death, for those who believe, is no more.