God of Massacres?

It’s easy to think that all things are part of God’s plan, a plan that exists even though we don’t see all of it. As a person of faith, there is no hope that I or anyone else will totally understand everything in the universe: we will probably never understand all the science of it, since the edges seem beyond our reach and parallel universes or dimensions are a real possibility, and understanding why would be more improbable that that. Understanding God’s plan in enough detail to grasp all of it on our own seems to be beyond any of us.

Yet there are acts of evil, such as the massacres of Newtown, Connecticut and other schools, that are beyond our comprehension, even beyond the comprehension of being part of God’s greater plan. It doesn’t feel right God should will the death of innocents, that God would be a God of Massacres. I would like to work through some notions advanced about this being part of God’s plan in some way, figure out some unspoken corollaries to this idea that God could instigate this kind of event.  If senseless shootings of innocents is part of God’s judgement, then I need to worry about several things:

-I must be sure that my family and everyone I know believes the Right Way. Otherwise, God may kill me to make a point to one of them who isn’t on the right page.

-I must make sure my country and its leaders properly profess their faith in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, God may kill me to make a point to them about not taking the country in the direction He wants.

-There must be people more important than me in God’s eyes, since He’s willing to turn me into cannon fodder even though I believe in Him and He theoretically loves me through Jesus unconditionally.

-God isn’t present everywhere, all the time, and will walk away from schools because they don’t teach Him. He will vacate any place that doesn’t please Him. He will also allow the students and/or other innocents, who aren’t there of their own free will or have made an informed choice to believe or not, pay the price for the disbelief of their teachers and parents.

-God has chosen America as the New Israel, even though it’s not in the Bible or any other sacred writing, and even though no accredited or widely supported prophet has ever proclaimed it. So we are bound to exactly the same code set down in the Torah, and our failure will have consequences like the ancients faced with the Assyrians and Babylonians. The fact our political situation is nothing like ancient Israel in any way, shape or form is irrelevant, or that other nations, such as England, may believe they are especially chosen by God. It also doesn’t matter that we’ve never really been one nation with shared beliefs apart from basic theism and minimal morality.

-God gets angry and when He does, He takes it out on people without regard to who they are and where they are, and there’s no telling when and where He’ll do it. It could be Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, or maybe my area. I guess I shouldn’t go to movies or schools or any other public place, lest God is in the process of working out His frustrations there.

-Fear of the Lord must be the gut wrenching, teeth clenching, hiding in the closet, existential dread kind of fear. The only way to love God properly is to be terrified of what He might do to me.  It doesn’t matter that God would resemble the Godfather that way.

If God is really like this, the God who kills innocents to get the attention of sinners, then I want no part of that God. He can kill me tomorrow and I’ll take the consequences.  I don’t see how a God of Love harmonizes with a God of Massacres, any way, any shape, any how.

There are some folks who may sincerely believe all this: fine, go right ahead. There are folks who think that all this means God cannot exist: you can believe this too, if you want. We’re all free to believe what we want and nobody can change that. My conclusion is that a God of infinite love and compassion, who sent his Son to suffer and die for our sins, who wants us to live in peace and harmony can’t be a God of Massacres, and the explanation for these atrocities has to lie in human mental weakness and human evil. To believe otherwise is a failure to think things through, and if we don’t think things through, we only set ourselves up for more pain and suffering, not to mention living in delusion.

An objection that can spring up right away is about the career of the prophet Joshua and the cleansing of the Promised Land in the book of Judges. A fair objection, especially if you take Biblical History literally. God seems to be commanding the Israelites to kill innocents, even women and children, even domesticated animals and crops, to prepare the land for the Chosen People. There is a problem with all this beyond the apparent contradiction between a God of Love and a God of Massacres.

All the towns Joshua and his warriors destroyed are clearly listed, and they are known to exist through archeology. However, there is no pattern of destruction that would explain a conquering army’s process (to my knowledge) from that time period: Jericho at the time of Joshua was already an uninhabited city (the only time in its long history it wasn’t inhabited). Furthermore, the Israelites never controlled all the territory explicitly given it in the book of Judges, a fact acknowledged in the Old Testament. The largest extent of ancient Jewish territory was during the reigns of David and Solomon, which was long after Joshua’s conquest, and these gains weren’t held for very long.

A point I’d like to make comes from standard Biblical inspiration: these writings are not divinely dictated, they are written from a human perspective and through human prejudices. Just because an author says an action comes from God may mean that it’s perceived as coming from God by the author, and isn’t necessarily God’s doing. Furthermore, I would view this account through the eyes of the Babylonian exile. Almost everyone’s homeland belonged to someone else from beyond history; we are all the descendents of conquerors in some way. By the time of the Old Testament, there were few fertile lands in that part of the world that were uninhabited. It’s hard to have sympathy for a conquered people if they were conquerors in the first place, taking over and enslaving the previous inhabitants.

So I would hypothesize that Joshua’s actions were a means of the exiled Jewish nation to lay a claim to its identity and its homeland in a unique way: a place God prepared especially for them, and a way they received it that was different from their experience as a conquered people. It could also be a way of reasoning to get the Exiles to resist assimilation by the Babylonians and the other cultures: if God meant to give the Land to them, He would have wiped us out as He did the ancient Canaanites, so we must be getting it back sometime.

However, both in Scripture and archeology, ancient Jewish and Canaanite cultures lived side by side in proximity, mostly in conflict, until the establishment of the Davidic kingdom, at least, and neighboring Canaanite cultures interacted with Jewish culture throughout. A lot of prohibitions and sanctions of the Old Testament were designed to separate the Jews from their neighbors and keep them apart.  I’m not sure all this would have been necessary if Joshua had done everything he’s credited with.

Of course, I don’t believe the value of the Bible lies in literally proving everything contained.  It’s not meant to be a history as we know history; it’s purpose is to teach us about our relationship with God.  It can use metaphors, even grim and gruesome ones.  I don’t believe God is a micromanager, either; as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I believe God gives us genuine Free Choice, even the freedom to commit acts of atrocity on others He wouldn’t want.  Free Choice seems to be an absolute value with God, and there’s probably a lot we don’t see that depends on it working.

One way or the other, human beings are responsible for all the Evil in the world, and God works against Evil that while preserving Free Choice. Which means bad things happen to good people at random, and we can only hope to contain the awful, Dark side of human nature. The value of our lives doesn’t lie in how someone may end it for us, it lies in how we live it. God has to be infinitely Good, infinitely merciful, infinitely just, infinitely compassionate, or He really doesn’t fit the description of what most Abrahamic movements believe. A God of Massacres doesn’t fit, and careful, non-literal interpretation of Scripture can harmonize Biblical conflict with the God of Love we embrace.

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One comment

  1. Monica Chapman · · Reply

    Excellent! Thank you!

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