It is hard to imagine anyone would believe that a loving God condones blowing up innocent people. It is hard to believe anyone would think that a loving God would condone beheadings and videotaping such despicable actions in the name of their God. Victims are not even asked their beliefs, because terrorists clearly kill for their own selfish reasons. But, we may be able to prevent the radicalization of some if we can convince a loving God would never deny one the freedom to choose their beliefs, even if they are opposed to their God’s.
Those who believe in the God of the Bible must be able to defend why their God respects the freedom of beliefs. God has respected freedom of beliefs from the very beginning; otherwise, God who is powerful enough to create would annihilate immediately those who oppose God by choosing evil. Spiritual or human parents brings children into the world hoping their children freely reciprocate their love, because they understand controlling decisions doesn’t result in true love. Freedom is necessary for authenticity, the highest good in relationships, or we could accuse God of not creating the “best” world. Only the God of terrorists supposedly thinks that controlling or destroying freedom of decisions leads to the highest good for the world.
The God of the Bible does not control decisions in this lifetime or the life to come. The traditional understanding of Hell, where you will burn forever after death for not believing in God while on earth, is a fabrication that doesn’t exist in the Bible. Hell, not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words, is an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience. Jesus did not threaten a non-existing Hell in His interactions. As it turns out God is a respecter of freedom in this life and life after death.
The God of the Bible respects the freedom of beliefs while on earth as evident by Jesus’ life. Jesus interacted in a non-threatening matter except with religious hypocrites who taught religion is self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. Jesus didn’t die to appease God’s anger and honor so God could love us. God is not a blood-thirsty Creator. Jesus faced undeserved suffering to gain credibility and influence. Jesus’ main message was treating others like you want to be treated (Mt. 7:12). Jesus only tried to convince us to be the unselfish people we deep down desire to be. Religions emphasize rules and obedience; Jesus talked about a relationship and God’s unimaginable love. A friendship with God can empower one to shun evil and do good. Jesus understood selflessness is chosen not forced.
The God of the Bible did not choose war to impose Israelite beliefs on other nations. There are some challenging passages in the Old Testament, but God didn’t prefer violence over peaceful alternatives. See here for further discussion. God never condoned torture or rape when war was necessary. God never insisted any nation believe in God or else. The Canaanites were involved in evil practices including burning their children as sacrifices to their gods (Deut. 12: 31; Lev. 18:21). Driving the Canaanites out of their land and into neighboring nations where they would be the minority could force them to change their evil practices. Despite the loss of innocent lives, future generations may look back on the 21st century and agree with nations invading lands inhabited by evildoers who seek power only to destroy freedom other than their own.
The God of the Bible never thought fear lead to any kind of desired relationship. A survey of the times “fear of God” is used in the Bible suggests fearing God was synonymous with fearing evil. Fear was for evil folks in the Bible, not those did not impose their ways on others. God’s judgments during lawlessness were to protect the innocent and hopefully redeem the guilty, but punishment can only deter but not change one’s heart. Fearing God is only necessary in an immoral world. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I Jn. 4:18).
The God of the Bible does not suggest women are to be under the authority of men as if half the world needs a mediator between them and God. This only encourages dominance on the man’s part. God did not create a male-controlled relationship between Adam and Eve in the beginning. Nations thereafter chose to be patriarchal. Jesus clearly encouraged equality between the sexes and mutual respect against culture norms. The Apostle Paul advised husbands to love their wives as their own bodies. Some religious extremists would rather be dead than advocate for that. The gods of the nations in biblical times were described as either male or female. By contrast, the Jews did not speculate about the gender of God. In the Old Testament the word for God’s spirit is feminine. The Greek noun for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is gender-neutral.
I understand appealing to the Bible may not be always the best thing. One has to wonder if we might be better off without the Bible as often interpretations are not acknowledged as possibly being fallible. The truth is you might be right, I might be right, or we may both be wrong. All humans have an internal moral compass and most can agree on good from evil. We must consider if a biblical teaching seems plausible based on what a loving God or parent would be like. Questions about God must be solved on biblical and relational grounds since interpretations are imperfect. Bad theology has consequences. We often don’t trust our own God to guide individuals. We, as God does, must allow each the freedom to come to their understanding of God if they are not violating the rights of others.
Men who videotape beheadings are simply evil and sometimes the only way to combat such evil is to destroy it. But, early in the radicalization process some may be open to reasoning. But, we must inform the law, even on our own family members, when we notice beliefs that can lead to blowing up innocent people. One hint terrorists are misguided is they don’t just blow themselves up to spread their gospel. Jesus didn’t come to conquer the evil Roman Empire; Jesus sacrificed His own life to influence others. Any religion that is based on control than service is not truly religious. You are free to even blaspheme God but you can’t treat others immorally without consequences. God pursued a friendship rather than overpowering or demanding obedience in hopes of changing the world for good.