God is Better Than You Think: The Moral Monster Charge (Part One)

I just finished reading two excellent books on how to understand the nature and actions of God in the Old Testament: (1) Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God and David Lamb’s God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

I highly recommend both books. Books like this are important today for at least two reasons. First, as a society we have become largely Biblically illiterate and thus prone to caricature. Secondly, prominent and outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (recently deceased), and Sam Harris all wrongly portray the God of the Old Testament as a moral monster—an obvious challenge to the truth of Christianity. That is, Christians claim that God is a being worthy of worship, but if God is immoral (in fact, a moral monster), then the God of Christianity is NOT worthy of worship. Hence, the God of Christianity is false.

After reading Copan’s and Lamb’s book, I was struck by the fact that a good dose of learning to read the story of the Bible in context would clear up many of the cheap shots taken by atheists against the God of the Old Testament. It is only when one ignores key Biblical themes—for example, the fact that Israel was a theocracy, the historical context of the ancient Near East, the missional impulse and creational ideals—that one can conclude that the God of the Old Testament is immoral. When the story of the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—is understood as a unified whole, God’s actions in the Old Testament can be seen more clearly for what they are: purposeful, compassionate, holy and just.

For those with doubts, I want to suggest to you the possibility that God is better than you think. And that each of the longing of your heart—for peace, justice, wholeness, relationship, significance, meaning, purposes—can be met and satisfied by God.

God is better than you think because he pursues you even when you run and he has given all of himself on your behalf. As C.S. Lewis said, “In Christianity…the human soul is not the seeker but the sought: it is God who seeks, who descends from the other world to find and heal Man.”[1]

Could it be that our longings for peace and happiness is really a longing for God? And the great news is this: We find the God of the Old and New Testament relentlessly pursuing us, giving all that he has so that we might become one of his own.

The God of the Old Testament is not a moral monster—as you read the great story of God as articulated in the Bible, what you will find is a loving God who created you and pursues you, even when you run away.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, “Edmund Spenser, 1552-99” (1954), para. 36, p. 144.

Originally written on January 21, 2012 on Paul Gould’s blog

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