“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.”
I don’t remember being that angry about God when I was an atheist, but I did think theists were ignorant people. Because I didn’t believe in the existence of God or the credibility of the Bible, the things written about God in the Bible didn’t bother me much. It was just stupid to believe it. However, the God written about in the Old Testament does bother Dawkins and many other atheists today.
Which leads me to this question: is God an unjust, unforgiving, vindictive, malevolent bully? That’s part of the attack on the Church today, so how do we respond?
According to the Old Testament, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) We know what we know about God because He revealed those things to prophets who spoke and/or wrote what God revealed. Those things God doesn’t reveal to us are “the secret things.” We’ll concern ourselves at this time with what God has revealed about Himself and look for signs of “bully behavior.”
The revelation of the Old Testament God begins with God creating a paradise for the first human beings. They were surrounded with great food to eat, fresh air to breathe, cool water to drink and long walks in paradise with God. No bully behavior yet.
God warned the man He created about a danger that lurked in paradise – called “evil.” God told the man about the danger, what to do about the danger and what would happen to him if he didn’t heed God’s warning. No bully behavior yet.
“Evil” showed up and tempted the first human beings to disobey God. “Evil” lied to the human beings by saying they were not in danger and that God didn’t tell them the truth because He didn’t want them to become become like Him (“you will be like God”). What did God do? He told the first humans that they would suffer the consequences of not heeding His warning about the danger of “evil.” God clothed them and promised them a Savior so they wouldn’t suffer for eternity. No bully behavior yet.
Paradise was compromised because of “evil,” so God removed them from paradise and gave them a new way of continuing a relationship with Him. Years later when the firstborn son of the first humans was extremely angry with his younger brother, God warned the firstborn that “evil” wanted to control him and God told the firstborn how to gain control over “evil.” When the firstborn murdered the secondborn, God told the firstborn he would suffer the consequences of not heeding His warning about the danger of “evil.” God then placed a special mark on the firstborn to protect him from anyone who finding him would try to kill him. No bully behavior yet.
Atheists often point to Noah’s Flood as proof that God is unjust, unforgiving, vindictive and malevolent. Is that true?
The first humans had a third son after the firstborn murdered the secondborn. His name was Seth. Seth had a son named Enosh and men began to call on the name of the Lord at that time. One part of the human family followed the firstborn (Cain). Another part of the human family followed Seth and Enosh.
Fast forward several hundred years and God saw that the wickedness of the human race “was great in the earth.” God saw that every intent of the thoughts of people’s hearts “was only evil continually.” This grieved God and He thought about destroying the human race that He had created. However, a man named Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Instead of destroying the human race, God started again with one man and his family.
Keep in mind that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. It “belongs” to Him. The universe is His to do with as He wills. However, instead of destroying “His” creation God sent a Flood to cleanse the earth of the wickedness of the human race. He warned Noah about the coming Flood and taught him how to build a special vessel that could keep him and his family and many species of animals and birds safe during the Flood. God brought the Flood to an end and started again with Noah and his family. God promised Noah and his children and grandchildren that He would never Flood the entire earth again. God also gave the human race specific instructions how to get along with each other and live better than they had before. That does not sound like bully behavior. It sounds like a gracious Creator who wanted to guide humans toward good and away from the evil that had overtaken the race and led them to think only about evil continually and act on their thoughts in great wickedness.
Can an atheist look at the Old Testament revelation of God and come away with the views expressed above? I know they can because I did it and others have done the same thing. Even before I became a theist I could see that the revelation of God in the Old Testament was not of someone who was unjust, unforgiving, vindictive and malevolent. Even as an atheist I could see that the God of the Old Testament was not a bully. I didn’t believe He existed, but I also didn’t think stories about Him in the Old Testament were stories of an unjust bully.
So, why do many atheists today believe the God of the Old Testament is mean and vindictive? It seems that they haven’t read and understood the story of God in the Old Testament very well or they are blinded by their hatred of religion or something else.
One of the necessary jobs of a journalist and researcher is to remove themselves from biases and emotions and follow a pattern that leads to the truth of a matter and a proper understanding of that matter. I did that job professionally for more than 40 years, so I understand what it takes to do it successfully. What I see in some atheists today is a predisposition to hate God and anything about Him, whether there’s a reason to hate Him or not. Passion does not always come from a position of reasonableness. Unreasonable people have their own passions. Let’s be reasonable about the revelation of God in the Old Testament and let our passions flow from reason.
The existence or non-existence of an eternal God is the most important issue facing every person on the planet. If God doesn’t exist, then move on and do what you want because there’s nothing for you after you die. If God does exist, then pay attention because there is something after you die and what happens here and now plays an important role in what that something will be for your eternal future.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”