Friday, March 14, 2008

Boyd on Violence in the OT

I love the way that Greg Boyd continually explores the difficult topics in the christian life, even when they are wildly unpopular. This is no different.

Greg has started a series of blog posts looking into the horrific violence that we read about in the Old Testament. Concerning the verse where the Psalmist talks about bashing his enemies' babies heads against rocks (Ps 137:8-9), Greg says:

Let's be honest. This passage is barbarically ugly, and we've got to wonder what on earth it's doing in the "inspired Word of God"! How are we to see this passage as "inspired" in light of the fact that Jesus taught us to love and bless our enemies, not hate and curse them? How could the same Lord who taught us to turn the other cheek, never retaliate and never use the sword inspire the Psalmist to gloat over the splattering of infants' heads? If harboring anger and speaking nasty words ("Raca") to another person puts us in danger of hell, as Jesus taught (Matt 5), what kind of danger must the Psalmist be in for harboring this utterly vindictive attitude toward the Babylonians?

He also asks the honest question, "doesn't this depiction of God look more like the God of Osama Bin Laden than the Father of Jesus Christ?"

We have to admit that these are some troubling verses. He has only offered an introduction so far, but in the mean time, I was wondering if you guys felt like offering some responses. What have you heard to explain the violence in the OT? Many bad answers, I'm sure (which I want you to share), but any good ones? Let's have a conversation about this.


Earl Barnett said...

Nick -

For my undergraduate degree I took a Psalms class where Walt Brueggemann's 'The Psalms and the Life of Faith' was the primary text. I highly recommend the book if you haven't read it already. In it Bruegemann presents a proposal of the Psalms' inspiration as prayers offered to God by man, authorized by God, and given back to man through the Scriptures. They were given, as most of the OT, as records of the people of God's interaction with that God. They are a product of faith and culture. I personally have taken that view with all inspiration.

Regardless of its historical accuracy, we have a grouping of stories and letters that God gave his stamp of approval onto and gave back to us through various councils and editors.

That smooths over a lot of the violence of the Psalms because it's not propositional, its a record of the Psalmists' dealings with God.

I do the same with Exodus- Deut. as well. Those records of God's dealings with Israel are as much a product of their society with the usage of hyperbole to over accentuate the point that God is interacting into human history to call those people out. If I read the genocide commanded by God as a cultural depiction of the God it allows for a single aspect of His character to be exaggerated without contradicting the other depictions of Him as well.

That's how I handle it, anyone have a different solution?


Chip Burkitt said...

I tend toward Earl's view, though not perhaps to the same extent. Psalm 137 is a lament written by a captive in Babylon. The captives had not simply been arrested and forced to move. They had witnessed the destruction of their homes and the deaths of their friends and family. Some had surely seen the Babylonians deal with Israelite infants in just the same way. So the author makes his complaint before God and calls for justice. Nowhere within the Psalm is there a sense that this attitude has God's endorsement.

I have to say, however, that I don't have a problem with God ordering the Israelites to completely destroy the people of Canaan. The bible makes clear that the land was full of evil practices even in the time of the patriarchs. God himself destroys Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, and he makes it clear to Abraham that he intends for his people to remain in Egypt until the sin of the Amorites has reached its full measure (Ge 15:16).

So God aims to fulfill several purposes in destroying the Canaanites:
1. He executes judgment on them for their sin.
2. He seeks to prevent his people from adopting their detestable practices.
3. He makes his own people hateful to the Canaanites to lessen the possibility of cultural and religious influence.

God has the right to destroy what he has made. Though he loves people, he is also angered by rebellion and sin. He has the right to judge, and he has the right to show mercy. Paul makes all this clear in Romans 9.

As Christians, however, Jesus has called us to be ambassadors of God's mercy. We have a message of judgment postponed, of wrath delayed, until all those whom God has appointed to eternal life have obeyed his message and taken hold of life.