The Bible’s Morality

BibleIn the last post, I talked about why I still believe in some moral absolutes even though I’m no longer a Christian. In this post, I’d like to dig a little deeper into what kind of morality we find in the Bible.

Most of us view things like the Holocaust or the Tiananmen Square Crackdown as horrible atrocities. We would unquestionably say that they were immoral acts. Yet, there are similar episodes in human history that have been motivated by religion: the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9/11, etc. The people responsible believed that they were carrying out the commands of God. If God sets morals, then these people were behaving morally — at least they believed they were. Now perhaps these individuals were misguided. It’s likely that God hadn’t really commanded those things. But what if he had? Would it have been moral to obey?

In fact, the Old Testament records several places where God did command the Israelites to do horrible things to other people. In Numbers 31, Moses tells the Israelites to kill all the Midianites except the virgin girls, which they could keep for themselves. If my family were Midianites, then my daughters would watch while my wife, my son, and I were slaughtered. Then they would be taken by the people who murdered us, and it’s certainly implied that their suffering would not be over at that point. Should we assume that this was pleasing to God? Remember, though traditions states that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, they’re actually anonymous. We don’t know who wrote them. Can we trust them when they attribute this kind of behavior to God?

And when we consider people like the Amalekites (1 Sam 15), I think we should make sure that we don’t just gloss over what happened to them. Sure, none of the women were taken prisoner -– everyone was killed. In some ways, maybe that was better than what happened to the Midianites. But really think about what that entailed. Again, if my family had been Amalekites, then my children would watch as I was killed. More than likely, my wife would be killed next, while pleading for the lives of our children. This would leave my three young children terrified and with no one to protect them. One by one, they would all be slaughtered with no way to protect themselves or to understand what was happening. It would be painful and horrifying for them. But this was not just punishment against the Amalekites; it was punishment against the Israelites too. Could you imagine being an Israelite father and being commanded to go and utterly destroy the Amalekites? Could you imagine killing an infant or a small child – slicing into them while their tiny arms tried to shield themselves? Could you imagine killing a pregnant woman? Could you imagine that this was God’s command?

The Book of Joshua is filled with horrors like that just so the Israelites could have the land of Canaan. In our own country, brutal things like this have happened before. Native Americans were driven from their lands, and sometimes they were treated just as cruelly. Do we think that was pleasing to God? Did God want the white man to have all this land? Many white people at the time thought that very thing. It was called “Manifest Destiny.” Do we believe they were right about that? Doesn’t it seem to be the exact thing the Israelites thought about their reasons to have Canaan?

Battle-of-Jericho
In one of the last Bible classes I attended, we talked about Abraham’s amazing faith when he went to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 22). Someone lamented that they weren’t sure they would have had faith strong enough to do that. Honestly, I hope they’re right. If someone today killed their child because a voice told them to, none of us would think it was a remarkable show of faith. We’d think he was insane. If a voice told me to kill my children, I hope I would have the sense to not listen to that voice. I hope I would realize that a good and loving God would not tell me to sacrifice my own child.

However, God’s position on this subject is a little ambiguous in the Bible. We’re told in Genesis 22 that God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. However, in Deut 12:31 we’re told that he despises human sacrifice. Then in Ezekiel 20:23-26, we’re given this strange passage:

Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.

I’m not sure how to take that last passage. I honestly don’t want to read too much into it, but it’s certainly a scary concept. And if Ezekiel is saying that God commanded child sacrifice at some point in Israel’s history, then I don’t think he can be trusted as a spokesman for God. And this is one of the core points I’m trying to get across: the Bible was written by men. In order to determine if it was inspired by God, we need to examine passages like this. Would God really behave this way if he is just and loving?

Psalm 137:8-9 is supposed to be inspired, since it’s in the Bible. But it’s unpleasant to think that this could have been God’s attitude:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!

There are also passages like 1 Kings 21:28-29:

And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.”

Why would God punish sons for the sins of the father, especially when Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son”? Then there’s the story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20). Abraham and Sarah lie by saying that they’re not married. So Pharaoh takes Sarah as a wife. In response, God afflicts Pharaoh’s house with plagues. In other words, even though Pharaoh was the innocent party, he was the one that was punished. And what about David pretending to be insane in 1 Sam 21, or lying to Achish about which towns he was raiding in 1 Sam 27? Are the things in these passages morally good?

If morality only exists because of what God tells us, then all these things from the Old Testament were morally right. In fact, we probably shouldn’t even feel uneasy when we read about them. If anything God commands is moral, then when we read that he commanded genocide it should feel moral to us. The irony here is that if morality is only gained from God’s commands, then it is truly situational ethics. After all, lying might be bad sometimes, but it wasn’t when David did it. Killing is bad sometimes, but not when it wiped out the Canaanites.

We don’t need a divine standard to tell us what is right and wrong. We already know what’s right and wrong. Doing good to other people is obviously better than doing evil: human suffering is reduced and happiness is increased. Those reasons alone should be sufficient for doing the right thing. If we’re only doing moral acts because we think there’s some reward or punishment waiting for us after this life, that’s just kind of sad. There are plenty of reasons to do good while we’re here. In fact, I would think God would prefer to reward those who do good simply because it’s good over people who only did it for what they’ll get in the end.

Many people in this world behave morally, and a vast percentage of them aren’t doing it because of the Bible. That alone should be proof to us that morality does not require the Bible. Unless they’re mentally unstable, all people know that infringing on the rights of someone else is wrong.

In fact, every culture throughout time has developed some sort of moral code. The Law Code of Hammurabi that I mentioned in the last post is a good example. God had given no law at that time, so how did those people know what was right and wrong? The Greeks and Romans developed a form of democracy without the Bible. How could they have done that if the Bible is the source of morality?

Some people have said that these things were learned during the Patriarchal age, before the time of Moses. Perhaps God spoke to the heads of all families, not just people like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the Bible itself gives indication that this didn’t happen. For instance, it’s hard for me to believe that if God was speaking to everyone like he was to Noah that no one else responded to his warning. Maybe it happened that way –- it just seems counter-intuitive. And Moses had obviously heard of God growing up, but the episode at the burning bush seems to be the first time he’d ever experienced such revelation. Pharaoh didn’t seem to know who God was, and if there was a patriarch in Egypt at the time, surely it was him.

idolAnd we have many examples of people in this period who worshiped idols – Laban and Rachel are two good examples (Gen 31). Why worship an idol when you’ve spoken directly to the true God? If God were giving them directions, I’m sure one of the first commands was not to worship idols. Why aren’t we tempted to worship idols today? It’s because we believe in a different type of god than they did –- yet we haven’t even conversed with God or experienced him in any kind of miraculous way. So why in the world would people who had conversed with God himself be tempted to serve a piece of wood or stone? They wouldn’t, and this points to there never having been a period of time when God spoke to the patriarchs of all families.

There are a couple of places in the Bible that show where God dealt with non-Israelites: Melchizedek (Gen 14) and Balaam Num 22 are the only two I can think of. But they certainly seem to be the exception rather than the rule. And throughout history, we’ve never found any evidence of other ancient peoples worshiping the God of the Bible. We have ample evidence of them worshiping idols or other deities, but no indication that they were familiar with the God of the Bible. Admittedly, we aren’t told all the details, so God could have really communicated with all the patriarchs throughout the world until the time of the Old Law. But the bulk of our evidence (including evidence from the Bible) indicates that non-Israelites didn’t know who God was. Yet they still understood that society prospers when people work together, and that is how they were able to understand morality.

There are some good moral teachings in the Bible, especially from Jesus. But even those aren’t evidence that we needed the Bible in order to understand those things. One of Jesus’ best known teachings is the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). But this same teaching was given by Hillel the Elder about a generation before Jesus: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” What about the notion of loving your enemy? There’s an ancient Babylonian text dating at least 700 before Jesus that says:

Do not return evil to the man who disputes with you;
Requite with kindness your evil-doer,
Maintain justice to your enemy,
Smile on your adversary.
— George Zerbe, pg 34 (link)

Check out this link if you’d like more examples. The point is that the Bible is not unique in its teachings of morality. And in certain places, it leaves a lot to be desired. Many people from many places and cultures have come upon the same moral truths. Maybe we evolved these ideas somehow — maybe God programmed them into us as instincts. Either way, we don’t need a particular religious text to tell us what’s right or wrong. And even if the fact that we all have an understanding of morality served as evidence for God, it would not count as evidence for the Christian god.

I don’t believe in God, but I can understand why people do; I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I just have trouble connecting the line from a belief in God to a belief in the Christian god. And I especially have trouble making that connection when we’re looking at morality. The Bible commands genocide on a number of different tribes. In at least one instance, it commands child sacrifice. And while other portions of the Bible teach genuinely good morals, they’re the same basic things that virtually every culture has discovered. We don’t need a religious book to tell us how to be moral. All we really need is rationality and compassion.

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34 thoughts on “The Bible’s Morality

  1. Graham

    Excellent post, Nate!! You make some great points and anyone that has an open mind or isn’t attached to Christianity should be able to see the truth behind what you’re saying here. Keep up the great work!!

    Graham

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  2. Nate, I too think this is an excellent post, and there is much on which we agree. I too find the OT commands and teachings you quote to be beyond my ability to comprehend or agree with. (To be fair, there are also some good and revolutionary teachings there – e.g. to limit blood feuds – which the Middle east today could benefit from, but I accept that your emphasis here is on the difficulties.)

    I think I will be posting on this shortly, so I will only comment briefly.

    1. For a christian, Jesus is the supreme revelation of God. So it is unfair to depict the christian God by the OT when it appears to conflict so much with the NT. Jesus came (in part) to correct or advance OT understandings, and that is where any christian, and any critic, should start.

    2. It is quite well known that Jesus wasn’t totally original in his ethical teaching. He was building on a common core of ethical principles in Judaism, and found elsewhere as well. As CS Lewis has argued, this common ethical core should be seen as an argument for God rather than against. If ethics was only evolutionary/natural selection, we’d expect larger local differences, and support for less ethical practices like rape, ethnic cleansing, etc, than we indeed find.

    3. So the question for a christian becomes, granted we know God’s character as revealed in Jesus, how should we understand the terrible OT commands? Many christians try to argue they should be taken literally as current rules for us today, but I cannot do that, and increasingly many christians cannot. For a start, there are other aspects of the OT that seem non-literal and even non-historical, so why take these commands as literal?

    I have some ideas, but no space here. Suffice it to say that any conclusion that conflicts with the “updated” revelation in Jesus must be wrong (unless our understanding of Jesus is wrong, and I think his teachings are pretty clear).

    So it is good for you to raise these issues, for we christians need to face them more honestly than we have in the past. I think christianity is still going through significant development, as it has been since it began, and this is just another step.

    Best wishes.

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  3. Dude, you know could of probably broke this into a two part posting. I’m just saying.

    Great article, I want to comment on it, but I have the time right now to go back through the parts I want to comment on cause there are quite a few I have some comments on.

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  4. Heh, it seems both you and are hard-pressed for brevity. One day I’ll figure it out myself, but well-thought out post.

    I think the problem is that individuals are afraid (or whatever) from using their natural morals to help them determine the validity of deciding an initial religion. It’s really a catch22, as the thought largely indeed is that the ultimate morals stem from your religion. But this can’t be, otherwise it is possible to believe the cruelest things. Also, if you ask most Christians, they will often give a moral reason (Jesus) for why they believe in it. I only wish this odd psychological delemna could be articulated convincingly for them.

    Personally I think there’s a certain indoctrinated fear of feeling that we can (and should) critically evaluate the morals and actions of whatever claimant god. We feel that’s not our place, and intuitively that’s reasonable, but it doesn’t work that way, and unless that god physically comes down, interacts, and then threatens us unto his path, it can’t work that way.

    But alas.

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  5. Great post, I think a lot of people have trouble with the idea that morality is possible without god because if it occurs naturally within a large group of people it erodes another barrier between humans and animals, removing another reason to believe.

    I often hear that you shouldn’t judge god by our standards as we cannot understand his but we only need to use the standards he sets for us in some passages to know that he can be contradictory depending on situations and who his favourites are.

    I personally believe that the ancient tribespeople who would later become the isrealites did practice child sacrifcice and that the binding of Isaac story is a way of explaining why this ritual was stopped.

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  6. Excellent examples from the Old Testament. Something that you might consider about one of your points. You mention that God had only spoken to a couple of non-Israelites, and you questioned how the others are to know about God. I have read articles on archeology in the Near East that suggests evidence pointing to a connection between the Israelites and the other people of Canaan. In addition, it is also possible that other evidence lies in the texts of the Mesopotamian world that God was part of a pantheon of deities and that the Israelites were just wiping out everyone that believed in other gods so they could have the One True God. Just some nuggets to consider. Great Post.

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  7. @Graham — thanks, man!

    @unkleE — thanks for the comment!

    @biblereader — noted! 🙂 And I’m looking forward to your future comments

    @page28 — haha! Yeah, I thought of you when I wrote this post. 🙂 I’m still reading “The Uncertainty Principle” and “A Place for God” on your blog. Great stuff!

    @rowanphillips — thanks for the great comment and the reblog.

    @I Write Irate — thanks for those points. I’ve also read similar information in a book by Finkelstein and Silberman. And Karen Armstrong’s A History of God makes a lot of reference to the Canaanite pantheon idea. As you probably know, even the different Hebrew names for God give credence to that idea. Very interesting stuff!

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  8. Hi Nate

    Hope you are going well,

    Hebrews 11:1-3

    King James Version reads:

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    For by it the elders obtained a good report.

    Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

    Hebrews 11:6 reads:

    But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

    Hebrews also includes examples of people in the Bible who had faith

    (Hebrews 11:4-5, 11:7-12, 11:17-38)

    When I read this chapter, I find that it really challanges me

    I have a question

    When you read this chapter, what do you get out of it?

    I’d be really interested to know, thanks

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  9. @portal001
    Good to hear from you again. 🙂

    When I was a Christian, Hebrews was my favorite book. I always took chapter 11 in conjunction with chapter 12 and viewed it as a stirring speech, much like William Wallace’s great speech in Braveheart.

    Now that I no longer believe, I have no particular problems with these chapters, but they don’t impact me a great deal. They teach the importance of faith and perseverance, but I only see how they would be useful to Christians. As a skeptic, there’s no evidence here that makes me reconsider the claims of Christianity. And as I pointed out above, I disagree with chapter 11 when it says Abraham’s offer of Isaac was a great example of faith. In fact, if you have a second, check out this quick video. It illustrates exactly how I feel:

    How does this chapter affect you? Does it make you more confident in Christianity? If so, I’d like to know why. And did I answer your question okay, or did I miss your point?

    Thanks!

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  10. Thanks for your response, I watched the link again. I had seen it before, but Im going to have a think about the questions you asked and get back to you.

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  11. Donald Miller

    Bravo, for such a well-written article. Excellent job. I learned a few things I didn’t know. Have you ever seen the Hitchens V “Slave of Christ” Youtube video? I’ve listened to it many times, and it’s howlingly funny what Hitch does to the guy. (The guy does sort of bring it on himself, but wow–that should be against the Geneva Convention.)

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  12. Thanks Donald! I’ve never seen that particular video, but I’ll definitely check it out. Hitchens was a truly amazing fellow. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have such a brilliant mind…

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  13. 1. When the hearing stories of people of whole villages being slaughtered, all in the namesake of (the christian) God. I use to always take it as they hated god, they were reprobate sinners who deserved to punish. And that if they had turned to God the first time, this would have never happened to them. This is how I use to justify it in my mind. besides who are we to question an All-Mighty God’s moral authority. Now when I go back and read through those verses, it just sounds cruel and barbaric.

    2. Now when talking about human sacrifice, their are actually several examples in the bible, which is somewhat shocking. All the scenarios of human sacrifice in the bible are never taught in the pulpit, so the only reason I know about the few is through my own personal reading.

    *Of course we have the most famous human sacrifice in history, his own son Jesus

    *Then the story King David sacrificing his own family members for the atonement of sins committed by King Saul. http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/what-kind-of-morality-is-that-is-god-evil/

    *Then there is the story in Judges of Jephthah who sacrifices his daughter for a vow he made to God. He asked God for victory in battle, and in exchange he will sacrifice the first thing that walks through his front door when he gets back. (Yes one could, well he should not have made the vow, but why would an all-mighty God, allow for his daughter to walk through the door and be the sacrifice.)

    *Then there is the story of Josiah of God telling Josiah to sacrifice pagan priest 1 Kings 13:1-2, and him fulfilling that commandment in 2 Kings 23:20-25.

    * And I came across another ambiguous one the other day in my own personal reading. (I2 kings 3:27) but it goes something like this, the israelites were in battle with some king, Israel was winning the battle. The king decided to sacrifice his son and then there was great wrath turned against Israel. —Now this part is just my interpretation.

    Premise 1- Wrath comes from God
    Premise 2- There is only one God, Yahweh
    Premise 3- (Yahweh is the only God that can cause wrath) ——–Yahweh accepted a human sacrifice from a foreign a Moabite King, and turned against his own people and brought wrath.

    now some scholars say that the king sacrificed to his own pagan God, which makes since, but then were did the wrath come from?

    3. You said. “If morality only exists because of what God tells us, then all these things from the Old Testament were morally right.”

    Umm…Yeah

    4. This is actually one of the reasons I focused on the issue of inerrancy and not morality. If God is supreme and all-mighty, then everything he does regardless of our opinion is moral.

    I was talking to a friend of mine, and he was telling me, he rids the bible to his children every night, before they goto bed. He reads about a chapter a night to them and started in genesis. When going through the bible that way you learn two things…1)God is wrathful/just to those who disobey God. 2) Don’t disobey God.

    In this mindset God’s law, rules, actions are always justifiable no matter our opinion because he is God.

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  14. @thebiblereader
    Great points. I used to view those things similarly. And thanks for adding the examples of human sacrifice that can be found in the Bible.

    4. This is actually one of the reasons I focused on the issue of inerrancy and not morality. If God is supreme and all-mighty, then everything he does regardless of our opinion is moral.

    I was talking to a friend of mine, and he was telling me, he rids the bible to his children every night, before they goto bed. He reads about a chapter a night to them and started in genesis. When going through the bible that way you learn two things…1)God is wrathful/just to those who disobey God. 2) Don’t disobey God.

    Yes, this is a very important point. So here’s something to consider: if this is how God operates, then we can no longer say that he’s all love or all good. In fact, he becomes a divine despot — a Hitler of the Heavens. If such a being were the supreme being in the universe, would it be right to worship him just because he’s supreme? Or should our moral ideals cause us to defy him?

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  15. @Nate

    Well to answer your question, let me go into Christain Mode…

    Well Nate, to the Christian who whole heartedly takes the scripture as a whole and soverign inerrant and as the authority of God, the answer is simple.

    God cannot Sin, thus for in all of Gods action he morally right, correct, and justifiable. Any action that is perceived as being immoral, is because we do not have the mind of God, and do not understand his ways. Any actions that God takes, he is justified in it. God is Soveirengn, so who are we to say what God did is morally right or wrong. He is God. The Created don’t question the creator. The creator does not bow nor need the opinion of the created.

    The last time someone question God’s intentions to such a high degree was Job. And you can read God’s response to Job in the book of Job Chapter 38 through 41.

    Back to Skeptic Mode….. Everything is relative.

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  16. Nate: you say “if this is how God operates, then we can no longer say that he’s all love or all good. In fact, he becomes a divine despot — a Hitler of the Heavens.”

    I have already given my views, and my concerns, about this matter, but it is important to recognise that this statement of yours may not be true. As thoughtful a christian as CS Lewis reminded us that we cannot always expect to understand God. Just as a child rightly (generally) trusts a parent, or a patient trusts a doctor, even when they do things that seem harmful (e.g. like cutting off a leg), because they know the parent or doctor knows better, so can a christian trust God even when he appears to act in ways we cannot comprehend.

    Now in this case, my tentative judgment is that God couldn’t have ordered these apparent atrocities, but I (and you) need to recognise that we can’t always fully understand, and so we should avoid too definitive statements.

    Best wishes.

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  17. To nate

    The skeptic mode answer

    Now to answer your question in all reason and common sense and how to deal with a morally questionable all-powerful deity.
    Well in my opinion there are certain things we can take away from it, that if thhis deity exist he may not be perfect and could very well be possibly evil.

    And if he was perfect than he may not be all powerful which would explain the fact why he cant prevent wicked/evil acts.

    Given all that if this deity requires my worship to get to a heavenly paradise despite their flaws, than any rational person would still worship him even in spite of his flawed moral compass because any rational being would rather be on the side of a questionable deity and go to heaven then be on the wrong side an evil deity and goto hell.

    That is just my rational thought on itt.

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  18. @portal001
    “Why would God need to prove himself to no one with no faith?”
    — Because they don’t have faith.

    I’ll try to check out some more of this guy’s videos, but I didn’t find this one persuasive at all. He talked about how people in the NT saw miracles but still didn’t believe. He uses this to say that if people saw miracles today, they still wouldn’t believe. I suppose that’s one possible conclusion. The other is this: how impressive were the miracles Jesus performed if so many people weren’t persuaded by them? We must remember that the Bible is the Christian’s version of events. We don’t have a record of what the unbelievers thought. How accurate is their version?

    Thanks for sharing though. 🙂

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  19. @biblereader and unkleE,

    Interesting conversation — thanks for your input! Here are my thoughts:

    People often criticize the average German soldiers for not standing up to Hitler and his followers. In reality, it would have been very difficult for them to do so. But I think most of us would like to think that we would have refused to put men, women, and children into gas chambers, or to starve them to death. Just because someone is powerful does not mean they are right or should be followed. So many of the people we admire in history are people who had conviction to stand up for what was right, despite the powers of the day bearing down upon them. Even some of the best stories from the Bible are about the underdog: Ehud, Gideon, David v. Goliath, etc. Why then should we choose to submit to a morally repugnant being just because he’s powerful? Can we really say we love truth, justice, or morality if we do that?

    The story of Job does warn us about questioning God, but I have some problems with that notion too. First of all, is that indicative of a healthy relationship between parent and child? Let’s assume for a moment that God really did command those things in the OT. It’s certainly possible that he had a good reason for doing it. There are times when we as parents must make our children undergo something they can’t understand for their own benefit (surgery, for example). But don’t we try to explain it? Even to small children, we try to explain why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’ll often commiserate with them, maybe even cry with them, because when they hurt, we hurt. Did God do that in those stories? Did he really try to give the eternal perspective to the Amalekites, or even the Israelites? We don’t even know if these people had ever received communication from him before, or if some of them were taken to Heaven. Instead of killing them all in their sleep, he had them slaughtered. With no explanation. I just don’t believe that’s something we can label “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” No, in that scenario, I’d say it’s the other way around.

    But more importantly, I should remind everyone that I don’t believe God did any of those things. When it comes to the Bible, we should always ask ourselves “are these things true?” No one disputes the fact that men wrote the Bible. The only real question is whether or not these men were inspired. When we read such horrible things attributed to God, we should be very skeptical of the source. Especially if this God is supposed to be loving, merciful, and just. And this is why the “don’t question God” defense just doesn’t work in my opinion. If we’re supposed to figure out which God is the right one, and which version of his “true religion” is the correct one, then we must question what we’re told about him, down to his very actions and motivations. Otherwise, there’s no real way to ever make a rational decision about what’s true.

    Anyway, that’s my take. Sorry to ramble, and thanks again for all the comments!

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  20. hello nate,

    Now I know some may not think the story of Job is the best example of morality and being obedient to an all-powerful deity, but let me tell you what I think and learned about reading the book of Job from a personal and theological perspective. (And in regards to morality.)

    Now for those who are not familiar with this story, it goes like this…Job, an upright, good, and blameless man in God’s eye. A great man with great possessions.

    8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

    9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

    12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

    So god tested him and ALLOWED (can’t forget that word) for all his possessions to be taken away, to have his entire family killed wife, sons and daughters, and for all his friends to turn against him and say it was his own fault, and that he must have some secret sin. (And If I believe he was also stricken with leprosy.)

    Now the story goes, Job never cursed God, he probably came close, but his big sin, was that he questioned and doubted God, after everything that had happened to him.

    And in Job’s turmoil, God finally answers him in the book of Job Chapter 38 through 41 , and tells him pretty much….. paraphrasing here….. I am God, and who are you to question me, I am all-powerful, all-wise, and all-knowing. I am the creator of all things and I have supreme understanding. (It is actually my Favorite monologue in all the bible.) After all this Job repents and apologizes to God for ever doubting. And God rewards Job with a brand new home, brand new farm and farm animals, brand new riches, and his family and riches were bigger than before. The End, And they all lived happily ever after.

    Now I will being jumping back in forth from skeptic mode to christian mode on this one, so try to keep up.

    At first glance, this is one of my fav stories in the bible, but also one of the emotionally disturbing. Well the idea that God is boasting about a Man, and then takes a bet on the man’s life, lively-hood, family and fortunes is a little upsetting to me. And the fact he took this friendly bet with the devil aka satan is even more upsetting. Here we have a man, who has done nothing wrong, but his world is about to be turned upside down over a BET. So then Job loses everything…family, money, even the family pet. So then after all this, he starts to question and doubt God. (Well who wouldn’t in this scenario.) And God gets upset with Job, for doubting and questioning his divine authority and divine awesomeness. In this ordeal after everything is said and done, God rewards Job, for not cursing him out. And God rewards him with a new family. (Hopefully his new wife, can cook better than his old wife…J/k)

    And in this whole story, to me, the last part is the MOST disturbing part. -That God took a bet ALLOWED (there goes that word again) for his family to be killed and just given a new family like it’s some kitchen appliance. I don’t see how anybody could be truly satisfied, when there first born and first wife were just killed, and they were given a REPLACEMENT family.

    *If it was me personally, — Me: “Hey God”
    God: “Yes, biblereader.”
    Me:”Instead of giving me a new family, can I have my old one back, but just make the wife a little less nagging and with no monthly period.”
    God: “O.K.”
    Me: “Thanks Big Guy.” [Two thumbs up]

    Now as a person reading this story, this is how I feel about the book of Job. In addition to that when I read the other part of Job, chapter 38-41, I come to the realization and learn, that when it comes to God…our morality is not his morality…our standards are not his standards. So us being the created by an all-powerful being, we learn to accept his will. This is what being a bible believing christian is about. Accepting the authority of the bible, over our own will and desires.

    To some, this may be a radical mindset, but my answer to that is…He is God.

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  21. now let me take my skeptical reply a lil bit farther……

    now there are several more things wrong with this story of Job. From a historical perspective of textual criticism, The book of Job is shown to have some questionable things in it.

    1. Job is said to be from the land of UZ. There is no land of UZ, archelogoist have no evidence to say it ever existed. (In fact I think the only reference to Uz is in Job.)

    2. When look at Job in the hebrew-aramiac, it has a poetic tone to it, which suggest it was passed down orally for generations before ever being written down. And when thinks are passed down orally historical accuracy always gets lost.

    3. The book job mentions Jewish mythology, (creatures that indicates no proof of ever existing) i.e. the leviathian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Jewish_legendary_creatures

    4. Many scholars because of this poetic, theological, and non-historic nature of the story never believed this story or that Job existed. One of the amoraim expressed his opinion in the presence of Samuel ben Nahmani that Job never existed and that the whole story was a fable.[1] An opinion couched in similar words and pronounced by Simeon ben Lakish was interpreted to mean that such a person as Job existed, but that the narratives in the drama are inventions.[2]

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  22. thanks for the comments!

    Yes, the book of Job also mentions Rahab, or Rachab, who is from Babylonian mythology. I also doubt that he was ever a real person.

    As far as the moral implications of the book goes, I agree with your skeptical comments (of course 🙂 ). Job’s 10 children are treated as collateral damage — 10 lives sacrificed in order to teach a lesson to 1. And like you said, at the end of the story he’s given 10 new ones as though they could ever replace the first. It’s a horrible story that cheapens life and shows that such a god couldn’t possibly think of us as his children.

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  23. In my most recent attempt to read through the Bible I really began to struggle with a lot of these passages and asked a lot of those same questions. How could a moral god call for such death and destruction to take place in his so called holy name.

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  24. Obviously, I agree. I don’t know why it took me so long to register just how horrible those things are.

    Thanks for the comment by the way. And I’ve been looking over your blog — very interesting! I hope things went well for you yesterday…

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  25. Nate and thebiblereader,

    I have long thought that Job was a “wisdom poem” not history, and I think that would be the view of many christians. There is no historical setting (like “in the nth year of king xxxxx”), and no family setting (e.g. “Job, son of yyyyy”), as would normally occur in any historical book. And God playing bets with Satan to see how Job will react, like some rat in a maze scientific experiment, doesn’t seem right. But once you see it as a morality poem, an extended proverb or parable, or something like that, it makes more sense.

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  26. Thanks for your thoughts, unkleE. You’re likely right about that, but it still bothers me to be honest. The author of the story ended it in a way that’s supposed to make Job’s life even better than it was before, but it’s hard for me to get over the loss of those first children — it probably would have been hard for Job too, if he had been real. But I will agree — a story of fiction instead of history is definitely an improvement. 🙂

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  27. ignorantianescia

    Nate, you know that the prologue and epilogue are later additions, do you? As for some children replacing some other, I simply see that as one of the cultural beliefs of the time inside a fictional story, though one that is revolting to us now.

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  28. Hey Nate

    I re-read this post recently, and I just wanted to add that the Old Testament doesn’t seem to support or suggest that David was being moral when he lied. It seems just to explain that he lied. Furthermore, when Abraham lied to Pharaoh the OT doesn’t seem to outline this as a moral act.

    The Patriarchs themselves didn’t always do the right thing by others, yet the Bible still records their inconstancies as well as their virtues. I think this i makes the Bible stand out, since many other historical records often only focus on their heroes successes and virtues, while ignoring and removing any notion that they had faults. In contrast, both the OT and the NT include both the faults and merits of the people they are writing about.

    The celebrated people in the OT did both selfless acts as well as selfish acts. And the same can be read in the NT. After all, Peter “the Rock” had acute moments of inconsistency even as he was with Jesus. I don’t think the Bible always points out when someone has done something immoral, instead it just outlines the action itself. Neither does it always directly say that someone has done something noble. It can be said for Saul, who I don’t think at the time (although I could be wrong) it is implied that he is being immoral when he tries to kill David out of jealously. Instead the reader can see through the unfolding of events that there were consequences to Saul’s actions.

    When John the Baptist was beheaded as the event is explained the NT does not directly state that this was an immoral and unjust thing to happen to a human being. Instead, the account unfolds. I think morality is shown more as a gradual unfolding of events. The Bible presents morality by a “persons fruits” you could say. The event itself is explained, but often it is not directly implied whether a persons actions were moral or not. (There are exceptions I know eg. Abraham was counted as righteous man/ David was a man after Gods own heart ect.) Anyway those were just some thoughts I had after reading this post again.

    Kind regards, Ryan

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  29. So I suppose what I was trying to get at was that the Bible doesn’t always state that a persons actions were immoral or moral while it is giving account of it. Often people’s actions in the Bible are specifically stated as righteous before or after, but not during the actual account of what happened. I know there are exceptions.

    I think even words like morality can be tricky, since people in a Biblical context were more described as righteous, faithful, wicked, evil. How are these meanings related to our modern understanding of what is moral? I don’t know.

    Anyway, all the best 🙂

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  30. Thanks for the comments, Ryan. And yes, I think you’re right that the Bible isn’t condoning the immoral things that its heroes do. However, the Bible still seems to show God’s morality as less than ideal. Like the episode with Abraham, for instance, where Abraham lies to Pharaoh, but God punishes Pharaoh instead of Abraham. If one of my children lied, I wouldn’t punish the other one, you know? But aside from that, I think your comment is spot on. Thanks again for chiming in!

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  31. Pingback: Letter to Kathy (the Bible Has Problems) | Finding Truth

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