a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood ch. 1
Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I hope to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.
Chapter 1 is titled, Confronting Violence in Scripture. Flood is not the first Christian to notice the contrast between Jesus in the New Testament, who teaches enemy love and blessing as the full and final revelation of God, and the violent, tribal god in the Old Testament. How can God be love according to St. John yet command wholesale slaughter in the Old Testament? One of the most frequent names of God in the Old Testament is Lord of Hosts, or Lord of Armies. Israel is commanded in Samuel to not spare a single Amalekite, including non-combatants. Psalm 137 is notorious for hoping Babylon's babies are dashed against rocks. This portrayal of God does not only predict extreme violence Israel's enemies, but also against the nation itself. Hosea speaks of babies being dashed to the ground and wombs ripped open as consequence for Israel's sins. The major prophets as well as Leviticus contains curses from God in a similar vein. Rape, famine, and cannibalism are all in store for those who turn from worship of the Lord of Hosts.
Yet Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me." He is the one who teaches to turn the other cheek. If Jesus is the full and final revelation of God, then where did this presentation of God come from? Did God change his mind? Were the prophets wrong? Did they supplement what they heard from God?
Unfortunately, in the church's history, appeals to these violent Old Testament scriptures have been used to justify slaughter. Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem in 1099, when blood flowed down the streets like a river, after 80,000 were killed. Oliver Cromwell found it convenient to label Irish Catholics "Canaanites" condemned by God to destruction. Even Tutsi pastors incited their people with twisted exegesis of the Bible to encourage the Rwandan genocide. The examples are abundant in the church's history.
The problem for the church continues today as these exhortations by Moses and Joshua for genocide are justified by Bible commentators. I collected many commentary notes in a long post titled, Joshua, God's ordained killer, as I started my own wrestling match with God and the Bible and these texts of terror in 2006. Back then, I do not think I would have been able to receive this statement by Flood.
It's hard to imagine anything more morally abhorrent than smashing a baby's head against a rock or committing genocide in God's name. Such actions are simply and always categorically unjustifiable - no matter what culture or time one lives in. One is hard-pressed to conceive of something more self-evident and morally obvious than this.
In fact, the only reason one would even think to question such an obvious claim is because of an a priori belief that biblical commands override conscience. p. 13
At this point in my studies, I whole heartedly agree with Flood. I also agree with his assessment of someone like me who used to hold my nose and assent to God's blessings on these passages. "What causes otherwise decent and loving people ...to defend genocide in God's name? A big part of the problem has to do with the assumption that faithfulness to Scripture means accepting everything it says unquestioningly." p. 14
But what can be done with these passages? Ignore them? Deny them? Question them? What did Jesus do with them and why did his method get him in trouble and called a blasphemer? These are the intriguing questions Flood hopes to tackle in the next chapter and through the book.