I wrote this post a while ago, and promised to add amendments and sources etc – I have finally added a few of these, which you will see in red
This is another spontaneous blog post that has occurred to me while I am translating from the book of Luke (although thankfully the Luke 1 translation has now been published!)
Why this post? Tosin’s Bible Blog has an account on Twitter. Because of that I have set a permanent twitter search for the term (in Twitterspeak, “hashtag”) “#Bible” and a few other terms. Alongside the hundreds of tweets from hundreds of enthusiastic Christians, a few atheists also send out tweets challenging the teachings of the Bible also using the hashtag #Bible depicting the Bible as immoral and evil etc. A recent atheist tweet referred to the genocide in the Bible (and condonement of slavery and stoning of children) – and I thought about it for a while – and I came up with these thoughts.
Now, please understand that these are my thoughts. This is not an area in which I have received thorough training. HOWEVER all the same I hope that these thoughts are reliable and trustworthy, as they are based on many years of reading the Bible and meditating on the character of God. However, if you are a Christian and you know that I am totally wrong, or even a little wrong, then please feel free to correct me. Or if you can provide links to any (rigorously Biblical and trustworthy) source with a better explanation, then please do so. (If you are an atheist, then clearly you would disagree with me anyway, wouldn’t you?!)
This blog post is for any Christian who has ever wondered at the fact that on one hand, God can order whole cities and towns of people to be totally killed and destroyed (genocide) while on the other the Bible happily claims that God is love, He loves all people…. John 3v16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son….” Well certain verses in the Old Testament would imply that He does not really love the world so much, wouldn’t they? And let us be clear on this. I believe that lies can never advance the cause of truth. What is true is that several accounts in the Old Testament describe God instructing His people to kill other people, and to kill them ruthlessly, and without mercy – even children and old people. It is on this basis that atheists can point to the Bible and call it “immoral”, even though as Christians we are not called to kill anyone these days and EVEN THOUGH overwhelmingly more people have been killed in atheistic regimes (such as Nazism, Communism) than have been killed in all the “religious” wars put together – funny how atheists never mention that… – I guess most people would already know about the 6million Jewish people killed through Nazism. This last statement is absolutely true, and I will research and post sources to corroborate it. **Sources now posted – see below However, this fact does not change the fact that yes, our loving God ordered these massacres, and yes, genocide is a very appropriate term for the massacres He ordered. How do we reconcile this with our faith? Surely no-one can deny that New Testament Christianity is the most gracious and loving and wise and peaceful way of life, and yet these Old Testament accounts stand as glaring embarrassments and seeming contradictions. How can God order these massacres one moment, and then the next (a couple of thousand years later) send His Son to die for all people?
AND YET, THEY ARE NOT AT ALL CONTRADICTORY! These are the thoughts that occurred to me. ( I must admit that I have heard smatterings of this before, so it is not as if I made all of this up. However, it is only now that the ideas have fully knitted together in my mind.) There is a powerful tension played out in the WHOLE Bible between the perfect holiness of God and His love for humanity.
Now, let’s remember a few things. God is the one who created the world. As the Creator of the world, He can do what He likes with it. Think about yourself as someone who creates things. Have you ever written out a letter, then scrunched it up and thrown it away? Have you ever written out a text message, then deleted it, or written out a blog post then deleted it? Did you ever worry about the feelings of any of these things – the sheet of paper, the text message, the blog post? This is the creator’s right which we all exercise every day “without blinking an eyelid” – to destroy things which we have created, to throw them away, without looking back. It expresses something immense about God that He would deliberately create us with feelings, to relate with Him, and He would stoop to love us.
Next question. Have you ever created a fly? And yet, have you ever killed a fly? Not a single one of us has ever created even something as supposedly simple as a fly. And yet we destroy them without feeling the slightest guilt. I remember the hoopla that was created when scientists thought they had discovered living cells in some rocks on Mars. Even the most basic living cell represents something that is unspeakably sophisticated, which we as humans could never create from scratch. And even a “simple” fly is whole orders of magnitude more sophisticated even than a “simple” cell. We could never never create these – and yet we kill them anyhow we want. So we destroy our own creation, and we destroy even what we could never create.
Next question – have you ever killed a rat? Have you ever eaten meat, or do you know anyone who ever has? Now rats definitely have feelings (that is, they can feel pain) and so can animals killed for meat production. Now once again, we could never create any of these -we breed animals, but we could never create them from scratch, the way God did. I remember when someone was prosecuted here in the UK and ordered to pay a ridiculous sum like £5000 GBP for killing an animal – a rat? A squirrel? – in the “wrong” way which legislation deemed inhumane. I remember thinking at the time -“Please, it’s only a rat!” (Or whatever it was). Now relative to God we are MUCH smaller than rats are to humans. We are relatively smaller to God even than flies are to humans. The big question is why God does love us, why He did give us dignity. If we act this way towards not only things that we have created, but even things that we have not created, and never could, without feeling the slightest guilt – then how much more can God act absolutely ANYWAY He likes towards us whom He did create. If He decided to scrunch up the whole world tomorrow, even with us on it – why should we complain? He is God, He can do what He likes! He can throw away the whole world without looking back if He wants to.
He does not HAVE to love us – but He chooses to. He did not HAVE to bless us with special human dignity that places us above other animals – but He chose to. This human dignity is itself an expression of His love. If in these troublesome Old Testament passages, God had ordered the killing not of people, but rather of thousands of sheep – or of rats – or the cutting down of thousands of trees – would people be so upset, would we as Christians be so embarrassed, would atheists have any grounds on which to call these passages “immoral”? Of course not, because they are after all only sheep, or rats, or trees. It is only because they are people that are killed, that these passages are considered troublesome or immoral or embarrassing – and while there is no way to account for this special dignity in atheism (that is, according to the theory of evolution) – in the Bible we are told that human beings are made in the image of God. Genesis 1v26-27 “So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created him. Male and female He created them.” This is what marks us out from other animals, or from trees. So even the fact that we are so special comes from God Himself. This is His love. This is why we cannot kill one another with impunity. This is why “deep down” we all know it is wrong to harm other human beings, and why it is so shocking that God Himself could order it in the Bible. So the act of creation, the dignity invested in humanity from the beginning was itself an expression of His love.
And yet, God is also perfectly holy. Humanity chose to reject God in the Garden of Eden. From that time sin came into the world. The Bible teaches us that God dwells in unapproachable light 1 Tim 6v16. He cannot look upon sin. Habakkuk 1v13. In these Old Testament passages, these civilisations that God called His people to kill were indulging in highly depraved and utterly wicked practices that offended the holiness of God. It is a little like this. In the Bible, people are often compared to sheep. You know when the foot and mouth disease hit the UK, or in fact any contagious animal disease hits anywhere, culls of whole animal populations are ordered. Why? To stop the diseases spreading any further. Sometimes farmers are distraught at having to kill so many of their animals, yet everyone knows that if those animals were not killed, then even more animals would ultimately be lost. So it was with those cultures that God ordered to be destroyed. They were utterly saturated with the deadly and contagious illnesses of horrible sin. When foot and mouth strikes, you don’t say “Let’s spare the babies.” You have to systematically kill everything. And yet, the fact that a farmer kills so many of his animals does not mean that he does not love them, especially when he has carefully tended them and invested his very self into them. God invested His own image into all humanity. I know that this was a moral issue rather than a physical illness, so I sometimes think that surely, sometimes the children could have been spared, as they were too young to have imbibed the evil sinful practices and the attitudes of the adults. And in many cases children were spared. And yet in some cases God specifically commanded that even children – even animals were to be totally destroyed. I believe that in these passages God is using these civilisations as symbols for how sin has to be utterly destroyed. Remember that He is God, He is the Creator, He can do that.
So we have seen the love of God, in that He created us with love, in His image – now this destruction of His own deeply loved creation is His perfect holiness that cannot tolerate sin to the slightest degree.
So here we can see the tension between His love for us and the requirements of His perfect holiness. God loves all of us, yes, but in a way we all deserve the punishment that was meted out on these unfortunate civilisations – relative to God we are all stricken with foot and mouth disease, we should all be destroyed.
This is all actually explored and expressed very concisely and neatly in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 6-9. There indeed, we do have God “scrunching up the world” or destroying humanity. The Bible explains why God decided to destroy humanity: Genesis 6v12-13: “So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
So God’s holiness made Him decide to destroy the world because of the corruption that man had brought on the earth. Now look, it is humanity that brought the corruption on the world. And yet in verse 17 God says that he is bringing flood waters on the earth to destroy all flesh – including animals: “Everything that is on the earth shall die.” Now the animals were not guilty of the sin caused by humanity, yet they also had to partake in the punishment for the sake of cleansing the world. This is why Noah had to take some of each kind of animal into the ark with him, and they went in “two by two”.
Now after the flood, God gives special instructions to Noah, making it clear that people are not to kill other people, or that murder should require capital punishment
Genesis 9v6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed: FOR IN THE IMAGE OF GOD HE MADE MAN” (God speaking). So God Himself explicitly says that the reason that people should not be killed is because they are made in the image of God. This is what sets humanity apart from animals. Humans are not to be killed by other humans or even by animals Genesis 9v5 “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.” (God speaking)
It is precisely because of this irresolvable tension between His love and holiness that God had to send down Jesus. God had to perform a special kind of divine arithmetic so that Jesus bore our punishment instead of us. So it is as if all God’s demands for holiness etc have been dealt with at the cross, two thousand years ago, for all time – but only for people who choose to put their faith in that sacrifice of Christ’s. That is why it might seem as if the New Testament is all love and so different to the Old Testament. God’s demands for perfect holiness are still as insistent as they ever were, but they have been perfectly satisfied in the crucifixion of Christ. It’s like the holiness bit has been totally and thoroughly dealt with, so the rest of the New Testament can focus on God’s love for us – and wow, from the New Testament we can really see that this love is phenomenal. It is precisely because God loves His whole creation, and all people, (after all we are all made in His image) that He thought of this sacrifice in the first place and made this sacrifice of Christ’s available for absolutely anyone and everyone. God Himself came down and died for us. Would you die to save one of your blog posts? Would you die even to save the entire rat population of Planet Earth? Perhaps a rat scientist would but I definitely wouldn’t. How about flies? Whole universes of flies could die for all I care. In fact, I wish they would die, frankly (except I realise that that would drastically impact the food chain on Planet Earth…)! Remember that we are smaller relative to God than flies are to human beings. God is bigger than the universe; Isaiah 40v22: “God sits above the circle of the earth”. This is how astounding it is that God loves us so much that He Himself would come and die for us. This is His unaccountable and inexplicable love for us. This is why you have to put your trust in Christ and in His death to make you acceptable before God. This is why Christians are not called to go around meting out destruction to evil people or civilisations but rather to offer them the good news that all our sin has been dealt with forever in Christ. If you reject this awesome expression of God’s love for humanity, then you still have to bear the demands of God’s perfect justice, and you will have to pay the punishment for your sinfulness yourself. God has told us in the Bible that this punishment is an eternity spent with the devil and the demons in a punishment that was originally designed for only them – an eternal lake of unquenchable fire called hell.
Why would you turn it down?! This God LOVES us! Why He loves us – only He knows – why not grab this amazing gift with both hands and shout it from the rooftops! Oh Lord my God, how excellent Your name is, how glorious your unaccountable and unfathomable love for us is!
So you see, far from being immoral or embarrassing, the whole Bible is actually the most outrageous and inexplicable love story of a magnitude that only God Himself could dream up. 😉 Other faiths might talk about a God that is holy but without having that redemptive aspect of the sacrifice of Christ and with no prospect of having any such redemption in the future – so they are still going about meting out punishment. Only the Christian God has thought of His brilliant solution without compromising any aspect of His character, and in the process the Christian God demonstrates that He is the God that most desperately (yet inexplicably) loves humanity, more than anyone else’s idea or concept of God.
RE back to that original atheist tweet -stoning or other legal execution of anyone in the Old Testament (similar punishments existed for adultery or other illicit sex, for instance) – this was once again an expression of God’s holiness – children were to be stoned for cursing their parents – but the death sentence has essentially been lifted in the New Testament (although Ananias and Sapphira were killed directly by the Spirit of God in the New Testament for lying)
Slavery – yes this was condoned in both Old and New Testaments, but slave-owners were instructed to treat their slaves respectfully, (Colossians 4v1: Masters, be just and fair to your slaves, knowing that you also have a Master in Heaven) and slaves could win their freedom if they encountered mistreatment from their owners(Exodus 21v26: If a man strikes the eye of his male of female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. v27 And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth), AND the Apostle Paul included slavedealers (also translated kidnappers) among a list of ungodly and sinful people – 1 Tim 1v10 andrapodistais – ἀνδραποδισταῖς
(** A few sources: Conservapedia article on Atheism and Mass Murder; and Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history Please note, I am not generally condoning or endorsing these websites, just linking to the relevant info on them…. Also, a list of atheistic regimes and leaders, and the numbers of people they killed:
Vladimir Lenin (Russia): General Wikipedia Article Number Killed: 5 million plus (mostly from starvation, actual executions between 50,000 – 200,000)
Joseph Stalin (USSR): General Wikipedia Article Number Killed: Perhaps 20 million?
Benito Mussolini (Italy): General Wikipedia Article Number Killed: Perhaps 400,000?
Mao Zedong (China): General Wikipedia Article Number Killed: As many as 45 million people, (mostly from starvation) during the Great Leap Forward
Pol Pot (Cambodia): General Wikipedia Article Number of People killed: Between 1 and 3 million people
Nicolae Ceaușescu (Romania): General Wikipedia Article Number of People killed: Perhaps thousands of people per year throughout the 1980’s?
Kim Il-Sung (North Korea): General Wikipedia Article Number of people killed: About 4 million?
Slobadan Milosevic (Serbia): General Wikipedia Article Number of people killed: Up to 230,000? )
After originally writing this post, I got a couple of replies from Atheists. I note with interest that neither of them actually engaged with the subject matter of this post proper, that is, that God as a creator can do what He likes with the world, and it is no way an expression of immorality, when He treats tiny us and this tiny world as He likes. Rather, they were very keen to take me up on a point I made in passing, about Nazism being an atheistic regime. “No, Hitler was a Catholic”, they both insisted. I think that modern (militant?) atheism is keen to pass Hitler off as a twisted Catholic and Nazism as an expression of twisted Catholicism. I think that by doing this they are hoping to totally disassociate Hitler and Nazism from atheism, so that they can carry on shouting that religion is the cause of all evil in the world. Although of course, neither response could deal with the issue of Communism, which is unquestionably atheist and unquestionably responsible for an unspeakable amount of evil including many many deaths. ( I bet though, that in one hundred years time someone will come along and try to argue that Communism was in fact, not atheistic but Catholic….) I think that the attempt to blame Nazism on Catholicism is immensely disingenious, as well as transparently crude, and I will here demonstrate why.
Here is a link to a Wikipedia article on Hitler’s religious beliefs. Admittedly, there were some of his close circle who thought of him as being a Christian/Catholic, while others insisted that he was anti-Christian. However, Hitler was not the only person involved in Nazism, and I will demonstrate why atheism was by far the more likely factor in the deaths caused by the Nazi’s than any religious beliefs that Hitler might have held.
Nazism arose in a post-Enlightenment Europe where science had supposedly triumphed over the superstition of religion. Let us remember what the word Nazism is short for: National Socialism, or in German “Nationalsozialismus” To make a very obvious point, Nazism was a Socialist movement, and in common with Communism, another Socialist movement which arose in post-Enlightenment Europe, it embraced atheism as a core value. “Organised religion” was decried as a controlling mechanism of the powerful over the powerless; Socialism as a movement for the disempowered rejected religion as the “opiate for the masses” for this reason; this was the brave new world where man and man alone was the author of his own destiny. I have at length in this post described how the Bible describes humanity as being made in the image of God. Well, with the triumph of science or rather Darwinism, this belief in “humanity being made in the image of God” is instantly removed in one stroke. If “science” offers a reason why human life should be treated as precious or sacred, I am yet to hear it. The reason why atheistic regimes have been responsible for so many deaths is because, when faith in God is removed, there is no longer any reason to treat human life as important or precious*. So people don’t. Humans are just another type of animal to be disposed of as animals or treated like animals. In fact, because evolutionary theory refers to the “Survival of the Fittest”, or genetic modifications, this easily gives rise to thinking that one “race” or people group is superior to, or more genetically advanced than, another. This was instantly the first thing that occurred to me when I was first introduced to the theory of “the Survival of the Fittest”. (This contradicts the Bible which teaches that there is only one race, the human race, and all the human race were born from Adam and Eve: Acts 17v26). This thinking about the superiority of people groups so evidently results from the theory of “the Survival of the Fittest” that it is known as Social Darwinism (Wikipedia article – look for the special mention of Nazism). Apparently, evolutionary biology rejects this thinking as “the naturalistic fallacy” which means that it is a flawed understanding of the theory of evolution. However, it is something that still flows quite naturally from the theory of evolution, and to me, it is quite an obvious derivative of evolutionary theory. In addition, when a people group could be painted as not only sub-human, but also intrinsically evil (like the Jewish people were depicted in Nazi Germany), then it might become almost imperative that they should be destroyed. What the atheists somehow failed to acknowledge in their discussion of “the Catholic Hitler” is that many of his schemes in killing Jewish people etc were an expression of eugenics,(another Wikipedia article, look out once again for the special mention of Nazism) that is, controlling “inferior” ethnicities for the sake of promoting superior ones – an atittude that is justified by the theory of social Darwinism, and is moreover empowered by the removal of the concept of all human beings being made in the image of God, that allows other people groups to be seen as less than human, and thus available to be killed indiscriminately.
(*The argument in this section comes largely courtesy of “The Twilight of Atheism“, by Alister McGrath)
So you see then how a removal of the belief in God could be directly responsible for people feeling free to kill other people with impunity? This is exactly what we find with the Nazis, so when the atheists cry “Catholicism”, with all due respect, I don’t think so. One atheist response (and a few atheist articles) puts forward this defence of atheism in relation to Stalin etc that the mass murders they perpetrated were not “caused” by their atheism. I think what they mean is that the tenets of atheism in no way prescribed to them that they should go out and kill millions of people, so their mass murders were not related to their atheism. Perhaps atheism did not dictate to Stalin, Mussolini etc that they should go out and kill people. However, as it removed the concept that people are made in the image of God, it might have removed the one bar that would have caused people that were already inclined to disrespect human life to commit genocide.
Sometimes on Twitter you will get atheists telling Christians that “If you do all that God calls you to do, then you are evil.” Remember that from the time of Christ, Christians have never ever been called to kill evil people, as the Israelites were sometimes called to do. Ephesians 6v12: “For our battle is not against flesh and blood…” Everything that God has called us as Christians to do, from the time of Christ, is love, love, and more love. Nothing evil about that whatsoever. So then, God used a small number of people, the Israelite nation, to sometimes demonstrate His holiness by killing sinful people, but only at His instruction. Now however, He has commanded the far greater number of Christians to demonstrate His love, always.
You will sometimes see a tacit acknowledgement of this on atheist websites. There is a special sign that I have seen on atheist websites that looks like a capital letter “A”. When I clicked on it or examined it more closely, it represented “Atheists giving Aid”. To me, this sounds like atheists are saying “Christians, or “Religious” people are not the only ones who give aid – we do too!” So yes, there is the fact that even atheists have had to quietly acknowledge that “religious” people give aid. And yet it’s not just aid, is it? Christian organisations in fulfilment of the commandments of Christ specifically exist to give aid, yes, in times of disaster, and give food to the hungry, build homes for the homeless, look after orphans, provide community services, provide clean water and sanitation, look after vulnerable single mothers, provide opportunities for disabled people, provide rehabilitation and alternative employment for sex workers, deliver therapies to drug-abusers, provide various educational opportunities, mediate in war torn countries, work with Aids patients and orphans, work to alleviate poverty. And a million other things. Many modern “Non-religious” organisations started off with religious inclinations, like Barnardo’s . And yet you will never find this overwhelming range of positive Christian activities acknowledged by any atheists. Only that “people with gods kill.” But look, people without gods also kill – and they seem to kill with more freedom and more impunity than anyone else. The overwhelming majority of people with gods, or at least people with the true God, have never killed anyone and never will, but rather work to communicate the love of God to a world that is filled with pain. Can all the aid that atheists give match even one percent of all the work that Christians do around the world? I sincerely doubt it – and not just because atheists are fewer in number than Christians. The Gospel of Christ is a Gospel of love, fact – and the fruit of Christ’s love is evident in the work done by His children all over the world.