The Bible may seem at times to suggest God justifies genocide, slavery, or other atrocities. Sometimes, interpretative solutions that don’t portray God in such a negative light are plausible while others times may not be as convincing. We don’t have to throw the Bible out simply because it is possible the writers represented their own opinions as God’s.
I will mention some biblical examples and then suggest a solution when interpretative explanations aren’t convincing.
Some theologians interpret certain biblical passages to suggest God elects certain people for heaven while others have no choice in their destination. When an interpretation suggests a teaching contrary to moral logic, it is suggested God’s ways are not always comprehensible to the human mind. Our interpretations are not infallible, regardless of what we believe about the Bible. When two debatable interpretations in Scriptures exist according to moral logic, it seems best to err on the side that portrays God as the most rational to the human mind.
The Bible may seem to attribute certain immoral actions to God.
We know prejudice is wrong, yet the Bible says about God: “Jacob I love but Esau I hated (Rm. 9:13).” The context though suggests love and hate are being contrasted in choosing one over another for a task. When Jesus said we must hate our family to follow Him (Lk. 14:26), Jesus was only illustrating families may put their members in a position that they will have to choose God or them. Jesus had to leave His family without their full support. God doesn’t literally hate or encourage hatred.
God’s participation in some of the OT laws suggests God is inhumane.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 lists stoning for rebellious teenagers. But, it seems there was always a substitution that could be offered for any crime except murder (Num. 35:31). The intent may have been to stress the criticalness of family and obedience during those times. But, explanations for some of the laws may not suffice. Some laws may not have originated from God. But, God works with people rather than abandoning or simply overriding their freedom to determine their own laws.
Then, there are violent passages in the Bible that are much harder to explain.
Did God command genocide: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them: put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (I Sam. 15:3)? A U.S. leader may say “ISIS and all associated will be destroyed.” Women and children will still be spared when possible. Many statements in literature don’t always mention exceptions. Jesus said turn the other cheek, but Jesus didn’t always follow those words with religious leaders. Jesus wasn’t suggesting women accept abuse from their husbands.
God always prefers peaceful alternatives than violence though not always mentioned in passages involving war. God didn’t intend for women and children fleeing to be hunted down and killed. We also know women often stand by their man despite their evil actions while endangering their children. Despite the loss of innocent lives, future generations may look back on the 21st century and accept nations invading lands inhabited by evildoers who seek power only to destroy their own and people of other countries. God never initiated war simply because other nations refused to believe in God. War isn’t always avoidable and innocent lives cannot always be spared.
How do we proceed when convinced biblical writers contribute immoral actions to God?
Certain explanations about genocide or other difficult passages may not be acceptable. A moral God cannot declare evil is wrong but act evil themselves. This plain and simple makes a supposedly loving God evil. What do we do with passages that seem to declare God participating in genocide? It is possible human authors of the Bible, because God doesn’t override freedom, misunderstood God at times and wrote more their perspective on God. God didn’t promise us an inspired Book but God’s spirit to guide and discern what God is really like (Jn. 14:16).
The reality is some of the Bible is subject to interpretations which obviously are not infallible. Jesus wasn’t recommending domestic violence when saying to turn the other cheek. But, we don’t have to insist the writers of the Bible at times didn’t misunderstand or misrepresent God at time for their own reasons. Giving the Bible almost supernatural qualities can lead to worshipping a Book and not who the Book is about. Much of the Bible is clear and can be considered in one’s relationship with their God as to how they might be more the person they deep down want to be. Read the Bible with an open and discerning mind.
One may argue everyone’s interpretation is right since we can’t discern right from wrong in the Bible.
Trusting our hearts doesn’t mean everyone’s opinion is correct. We know certain interpretations are wrong, such as a terrorist’s, when opinions violate the rights of others to believe as they choose. Many suggest we can know God best through the eyes of Jesus. Jesus and His sayings are not as complicated to interpret as some OT readings. If any OT teachings seem to contradict Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ guidance would aid in discerning what God is like.
I know suggesting the Bible has errors can be disconcerting to many.
At least we must recognize that often it is our interpretations that we are proclaiming are not in error. On the other hand I hope the above suggestions about how we view the Bible is freeing to many. There may be plausible interpretations, even on the genocide passages, that don’t declare God is immoral. Others may not be convinced. We don’t have to get bogged down in rationalizations about God because the Bible supposedly says so. All are free to understand God on their own, without assuming the Bible is without error or without truth about God.