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The Rector's Lookout (5)

Mother Elisabeth Sinclair

Aug 13, 2021

(Why) Does God Sometimes Behave Badly in Scripture?

The Scriptures attribute many terrible things to God… destruction of armies and associated civilians, conquering of “enemy” tribes and nations, inhabitation of others’ lands, sickness &/or death as punishment for sin… We have encountered some of these in King David’s story over the past 6 weeks. How do we make sense of these depictions of God?

Some possibilities, grounded in a theological bias that God is good, and God is love, include:

• It may be that early Scripture writers understood God to be similar to other “gods” of their time and culture, who capriciously dealt out blessings and punishments. When good or bad things happened in life, the Israelites therefore interpreted these as having come directly from God, whether or not that was true; they then recorded the biblical stories with this understanding of reality.
• It may be that God’s declarations of judgment discerned and foresaw the natural consequences of people’s own bad behaviors and provided a measure of justice. For example, David cultivated a family system characterized by violence and sexual trauma, so his children grew up with similar habits and turned those against David.
• It may be that God revealed more and more of God’s nature over time, which some refer to as “progressive revelation.” The Israelites and later Gentiles slowly got to know God better. God offered the clearest expression of God’s self in Jesus. The Nicene Creed describes Jesus as “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.” This creed implies that anything attributed to God that conflicts with Jesus’ nature needs to be carefully considered as a potentially incomplete portrayal.

Ultimately, none of these possibilities is entirely satisfactory and presents interpretive challenges, which is hard to accept. Faith asks us to use our God-given minds even while we acknowledge that we will not understand everything in this life. What are your thoughts?

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