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GCengage: Is God A Monster?

Richard Dawkins famously wrote: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

That kind of accusation makes sense coming from someone who wants to discredit Gd and the Bible. However, it's not just the atheists who struggle with the Old Testament. I was raised in a pacifist Mennonite community, and there were just large sections of the Old Testament that nobody talked about in polite company. We read the story about David and Goliath with as much detachment and inner condemnation as we could. We wondered how much we should cheer for David’s mighty men, who were the elite forces of their day. We cheered when Sampson brought the temple down, but with some guilt.  So what do you think we did with all the God-ordained wars in the Old Testament?

Nothing.

We loved Jesus when he said “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek,” but God? God in the Old Testament was sometimes treated like the crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions. Nobody really knows how to interact with him or explain him to others.

From a Christian apologetics standpoint, this issue is important. I think many Christians remain as confused as I was. But this is an crucial topic to address because those outside the faith aren’t letting this one slide – and rightly so. How could God be “good” if he commanded so much evil? This is the question we must be prepared to answer.

So how do we understand a sometimes confusing Old Testament God, and how do we respond to critics such as Dawkins? Let's tackle this issue by looking closely at this critique of God. In the process, we will see that the God of the Old Testament is not a God for which we need to apologize, but is rather a God who loves the world.

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The accusation: "God’s actions as seen in the Bible are incompatible with his character as described in the Bible (with genocidal wars, etc). Either he doesn’t exist, the Bible is hopelessly muddled, or God is a monster.”

First Response: “Is it possible that God knows things and/or has reasons that our beyond our ability to understand, but would make sense if we knew them?”

Sometimes we read stories about alleged police brutality or wartime atrocities, then find out later that the police were justified in what they did. We didn’t have the whole story. Of course, we get in trouble in a lot of situations precisely because we are not God – we don’t have perfect knowledge, and justice, and mercy, etc. But if God has all these things (which is the Christian claim), isn’t it possible that if we knew what God knew, we would understand? This is a modest point, but an important one.

Second Response: “Let’s clarify what we are talking about before we go any further. What do you mean by good and evil?”

The most popular atheist writers today are very outspoken about things they think are wrong, while at the same time claiming there either is no such thing, or that morality is just a personal or cultural preference.

  • “Morality is a collective illusion of humankind put in place by our genes in order to make us good cooperators.” – Michael Ruse
  • “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect of there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”  - Richard Dawkins
  • In an interview with Skeptic, Frank Miele asked Mr. Dawkins,“How do you determine whether something is good or not, other than by just your personal choice?” Dawkins responded, “I don’t even try.”

In other words, atheists are criticizing God for being evil when compared to some sort of universal standard - which they don’t believe in. I point this out not to belittle the people holding this position, but to highlight the problem with the criticism. Not liking what God does is very different from God being evil.

Third Answer: "When the Old Testament is read properly, it becomes clear that God in not a monster at all."

Paul Copan has written a book called Is God A Moral Monster? In it, he notes some key things to remember as we think of God in the Old Testament, specifically when it comes to the issue of war. I have written on this in detail at TC Apologetics, but I will summarize here:

  •  There were justifiable reasons for cultures to be judged.
  • God waited and warned the people involved (for example, the high priest Mechizadech lived in Canaan in the city of Salem).
  • The Jewish nation exercised lex talionis (a principle which says that punishment cannot exceed the crime). What other nations had done to others was now being done to them.
  • Biblical “war texts” record a dispossession of people and destruction of worldview centers. God was destroying sinful cultural strongholds and their perpetrators (priests and military) while dispersing the population.
  • God commanded the Israelites to accept immigrants from these nations, clearly showing God was not interested in genocide.
  • We continue to see favorable references to people from all nations living in Israel after the wars.

This is not a history of genocide, but of the salvation of an area of the world from specific cultures that were some of the most brutal on record in human history. In an interview with Lee Strobel, Paul Copan quoted Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who lived through unspeakable violence during ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia. I think his perspective contains great insight into the nature of God:

“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days!

How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

This is one of the messages of the anger of God in the Old Testament: God is not indifferent with respect to those who suffer human cruelty. Is it possible to conceive of a being who embodies love but does not become outraged at injustice? And while not every injustice in this life is addressed immediately, God’s plan offers at least a hope that justice will have its day, if not in this life then the life to come.

“Human anger at injustice will carry less weight and seriousness if divine anger at injustice in the service of life is not given its proper place. If our God is not angry, why should we be? That God would stoop to become involved in such human cruelties as violence is…. not a matter for despair, but of hope. God does not simply give people up to experience violence. God chooses to become involved…so that evil will not have the last word.” – Terence Fretheim

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Recommended Resources

Tactics, Greg Koukl

Is God A Moral Monster? Paul Copan

“How Could God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?” Justin Taylor, at the Gospel Coalition

“Killing The Canaanites,” Clay Jones

TC Apologetics: God of War Series (tcapologetics.org)

TC Apologetics: The Shape of Reality (Identifying Evil)

GC:engage - Does God Exist?

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(Part 1: Becoming An Effective Ambassador For Christ)

Christian theologians often cite three classic reasons for believing the Christian God exists. Theologians do not claim that these arguments lead to final, complete truth, only that their cumulative impact (through the use of abductive reasoning) presents a reasonable, compelling case for God’s existence.

1) The Cosmological Argument

Why is there something rather than nothing? Cosmological arguments have to do with the origin of the universe. Not the universe as in planets and stars, but the universe as in everything that is. It is often presented in this simple syllogistic style:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • The universe has a cause

In short – something outside of the universe caused the universe. As Greg Koukl likes to say, “a big bang needs a big banger”.

2) The Moral Argument

What is the foundation of morality?  C.S. Lewis wrote one of the most well-known summaries:

   “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” 

In a more formal syllogism, the argument takes this form:

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  • Therefore, God exists. 

3) The Teleological Argument

How does one explain the overwhelming impression of design? You may have heard the terms teleological argument, argument from design, or the fine-tuning argument. These have to do with the likelihood that anything exists, the likelihood that any life exists, or the likelihood that humans exist.

It seems incredibly unlikely – and perhaps impossible – that undirected processes would result in human life. Take an aquarium, for example. There is a range of acceptable salinity that is quite narrow. The same applies to light, temperature, food, air, size of tank, etc. The human living environment on earth and in the universe is almost unimaginably more complex: Gravity, temperature, nuclear forces, atmosphere around us, distance from sun and moon, ozone layer, existence of water, etc…. Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, recently noted:

“The likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is ‘one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.’ That is ‘a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion.’”- as quoted in “Why Some Scientists Embrace the Multiverse,” by Dennis Prager

The syllogism looks like this:

  •   The universe appears to be designed (specified complexity).
  •   This happened either by chance, necessity, or design.
  •   Not chance or necessity.
  •   Therefore, it was designed.

 These arguments, as well as others Christian theologians have presented, have certainly not convinced everyone. Antony Flew* once raised a challenge in the form of a story called The Parable of the Gardener. Here is a version cited by Flew in “Theology and Justification”:

 "Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, “Some gardener must tend this plot.” So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. “But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.” So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.” At last the Skeptic despairs, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?” 

In response, John Frame wrote the following parable in “God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence”:

 Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. A man was there, pulling weeds, applying fertilizer, trimming branches. The man turned to the explorers and introduced himself as the royal gardener. One explorer shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. The other ignored the gardener and turned away: “There can be no gardener in this part of the jungle,” he said; “this must be some trick. Someone is trying to discredit our previous findings.” They pitch camp. Every day the gardener arrives, tends the plot. Soon the plot is bursting with perfectly arranged blooms. “He’s only doing it because we’re here-to fool us into thinking this is a royal garden.” The gardener takes them to a royal palace, introduces the explorers to a score of officials who verify the gardener’s status. Then the skeptic tries a last resort: “Our senses are deceiving us. There is no gardener, no blooms, no palace, no officials. It’s still a hoax!” Finally the believer despairs: “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does this mirage, as you call it, differ from a real gardener?”

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*Antony Flew late became a Deist, citing design as a compelling reason to believe that God in some fashion existed. He never embraced the beliefs of any particular religion.

 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

  1. Origins: “A Bigger Story”, Ravi Zacharias
  2. Cosmological Argument

               Chapter 3, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

               Chapter 4, On Guard, William Lane Craig

               Chapter 1, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Mark Mittelberg

                Chapter 5, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell (Geivett)

                Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Craig & Moreland

                The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe, William Lane Craig

                Overview of the Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig

                Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig

                 Kalam Cosmological Argument, JP Moreland

                 The Thomist Cosmological Argument, Peter Kreeft

                 What is the Kalam Cosmological Argument?, Craig and Conway

          3. Moral Argument

                     True for You, but not for Me, Paul Copan

                      The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis

                      A Refutation of Moral Relativism, Peter Kreeft

                      Chapter 3, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

                      Chapter 6, On Guard, William Lane Craig

                      Chapter 1, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Mark Mittelberg

                      Chapter 15, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell (Linville)

                      God, Naturalism and Morality, Paul Copan (in “The Future of Atheism”)

                      Why I Am Not a Moral Relativist, Francis Beckwith

                      The Moral Argument for God’s Existence, Paul Copan

                       Did Morals Evolve?, Greg Koukl

                       Debate: Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?, Craig/Harris

                       Why I’m Not an Atheist, Ravi Zacharias

                       Grounding Morality, Greg Koukl

                        What is the Moral Argument for the Existence of God?, Craig/Conway

          4. Teleological Argument

                          Natural Theology, William Paley

                          Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer

                          Chapter 4, Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

                          Chapter 5, On Guard, William Lane Craig

                          Chapter 1, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Mark Mittelberg

                          Chapters 6-7, Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell (Rana, Richards)

                           Fine-Tuning For Life In The Universe, Hugh Ross

                           Dr. Stephen Meyer at Cambridge

                           Why is the Universe Fine-Tuned, Guillermo Gonzalez

                           Dr. Fuz Rana discusses the beauty and elegance of biochemistry

                           What is the Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God?, Craig/Conway

       5. General Resources

                            tcapologetics.orgapologetics315.comstr.orgreasonablefaith.org

GC:engage - Becoming An Effective Ambassador for Christ

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The Great Commission 

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

Wisdom (an artful method) 

“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) 

“Therefore, we are Christ's representatives, and through us God is calling you.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If Christ is calling people to himself through us, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness, it’s probably important to think about how to make a compelling presentation about Christ and the Christian worldview. Here is where both character and knowledge play an important role.

Character (Attractive Manner)

 “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) 

 “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, NIV)

When you talk with others about your faith, remember that your manner of interaction – no matter the topic – speaks volumes about the God you serve. You want to make a winsome, compelling case for Christ and His Kingdom, so be careful not to be defensive and frustrated or to feel like you have to answer every question that a skeptic has. Listen to understand before you respond.  You’ll get your chance; meanwhile, a lot can be learned from listening first (James 1:19; Proverbs 29:20; Proverbs 18:2)

Think in terms of the next meeting. Keep the door open for another discussion. You probably won’t convince anyone to radically change his or her worldview in one sitting. Anything important takes time. In the long run, it’s probably better to value the relationship than win the argument. You can win an argument and never see a person again. But if you build a relationship even in the midst of disagreements, you can revisit the questions again and again. If either one of you gets upset over anything other than the cross of Christ, you both lose.

Knowledge (an accurately informed mind)

“Be careful not to let anyone rob you [of this faith] through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world's way of doing things rather than following Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, God’s Word) 

“The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, God’s Word)

The first bit of information you need is why someone struggles with the idea of God. 

  • Some have experienced emotional pain, and find it hard to believe in God. Perhaps they have been abused, their health has failed them, or they have lost someone they love.  In the midst of these situations, they have felt serious disillusionment because they expected God to intervene. If this is the case, they don’t need a syllogism; they need empathy. Sometimes the best way to be an ambassador is to weep with those who weep.
  • Some have had experiential disappointment. Christians have failed or hurt them; churches have ignored their questions or been judgmental and legalistic. In this case, they may find it undesirable to believe. Why would they want to be a part of a group of people like that? If this is the case, acknowledge the hurt and frustration. Yes, Christians can be hypocrites. Yes, churches can wound people. The best thing you can do is to model true Christianity. They need to see faith in action more than they need a Bible verse. 
  • Some have intellectual frustration.  For them, there’s no perceived reason to believe. Because science and reason provide sufficient explanation of life as far as they can tell, they have no need for a God hypothesis. In this case, you may need to provide evidence (science, philosophy, history, archaeology, etc.).

The second bit of information you need is a clarification of terms. Ask what Greg Koukl* calls Columbo Questions: What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? Have you ever considered another idea? You will not only build a friendship, you will better understand the nature of someone’s skepticism. It’s frustrating to provide answers to questions nobody has. Take the time to find out what questions need to be answered.

The third bit of information you need is the truth that will address their circumstance. This is where you will need to give a reasoned argument, not simply make an assertion. An assertion is essentially a statement of opinion. It may be right or it may be wrong, but it’s nothing more than a statement of belief. “There is no God” is an assertion; so is, “There is a God.”  You will need to challenge bald assertions while building a positive case for your position.  You don’t need to be an expert, but it would be good to know something about the particular issue at hand.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Tactics, Greg Koukl (I am indebted to Mr. Koukl for the knowledge/wisdom/character template. You can learn more about Mr. Koukl and his ministry, Stand To Reason, at str.org).

Stand to Reason’s Ambassador’s Creed

Love Your God With All Your Mind, JP Moreland