CAN GOD (YAHWEH) BE TRUSTED?
The old atheists simply didn’t believe in “god” because they found him to be either a myth of one’s imagination or scientifically unproveable. These reasons still exist among the “new atheists”, but they have further grounds to not believe in “god.” The new grounds for new atheists are they don’t want to believe in a god like the one found in the Old Testament of the bible.
While new atheists embrace “neo-atheism”, that combines evolution, science, naturalism and philosophy, one of their biggest oppositions to belief in God is the vicious acts and angry behavior of the God recorded in the Old Testament.
This new atheism charge is led by what Paul Copan calls the “four horsemen” that includes Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens.
Some of you reading this may be alarmed by this new movement and wonder if it is taking hold among Americans. While I think more Americans are curious and thinking about what scientists and evolutionists say, most still have a belief that some form of a “higher being” designed our universe. That being said, a Gallup poll taken in 2007 showed that 4% of Americans were atheists – the same percentage as in 1944.
However, this doesn’t discard the struggle many people are having today – both inside the church and outside of it – concerning the legitimate questions about who God is. In particular, about the God of the Old Testament (OT) known to the Jewish people as Yahweh.
Many of the accounts that have people shaking their heads and causing them to question whether they want to believe – or more particularly – be able to trust the God of the OT, who Jesus would later in the New Testament claimed to represent, were never covered in Sunday school or in worship services.
We want to address the question here, “Can the God of the OT be trusted?” You may be hearing a lot of adverse things about this God, so you are left wondering what is true. I want to give some thoughts and guidelines in this article to help you sort this out. However, this short article in no way can cover every account or story in the OT about Yahweh. Given how essential trusting God is to our lives, you will need to take the time to research on your own about this God and come to your own conclusions. Your soul depends upon it!
Let’s begin with a statement made by one of the prominent new atheists today, Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
That is a mouthful! It sounds to me like Dawkins really doesn’t like the God of the OT. In fact, if I thought of Him this way, I would not only not like Him, I wouldn’t trust Him! Dawkins, and all of the new atheists, would have every right to not trust Yahweh, if He were really like this.
But that is the question, is Yahweh really the way Dawkins describes Him? Or are there things we need to consider before we declare Yahweh “guilty as charged” as a moral monster.
Let’s be honest, many of the accounts in the OT, especially on a surface reading, could lead one to come to similar conclusions of that of Dawkins. Let’s also be even more honest, most people don’t read the OT much (many never have read it – even churchgoers). Of those who do read it, most give it a superficial reading and don’t really research what they are reading. Most people depend upon what Sunday school teachers have taught them or pastors in worship services. Most of the accounts that bring Yahweh’s moral character into question are never taught, preached or talked about.
Christians shouldn’t sugar coat such accounts as that of God calling Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, or God leveling Sodom and Gomorrah, His own people being held captive for four hundred years in Egypt or wiping out the Canaanites. These and other accounts, when actually read, cause thinking people to ask serious questions. And they should. They need to investigate this God before developing a relationship with Him. Just like at the human level, you want to get to know someone before you marry them or consider them a best friend.
It is also true that the God of the bible is often negatively depicted in our society because of some of these accounts. You can see these negative depictions and perceptions in things like the “Far Side”, the Simpsons television show, the movie Bruce Almighty, and even in the insurance industry where disasters are referred to as “an act of God.”
None of these things put God in a good light. And while God is big enough to defend Himself and doesn’t need our help, I think it is important for those of you who are struggling with doubts or are skeptical to trust this God that you understand a few things. And for the rest of us who do trust in this God, we need to be able to at least explain to some degree why we trust a God who has been portrayed as the perpetrator of the most heinous of crimes.
I want to make three points about Yahweh that I hope will help you and inspire you to learn more about Him on your own.
GOD AS LOVING AND COMPASSIONATE
Note what this passages states about God:
Moses proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands of generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation
This portrays God in a few different ways, but the overall context is one of compassion, grace and love. It talks about His love being great and lengthy. The God of the OT needs to be seen in this light. The new atheists jump pass this part of the description of Yahweh and simply draw conclusions based on His behavior without grasping the full context of why He does what He does. The Hebrew word hesed (meaning “lovingkindness”) is used 179 times to describe Yahweh in the OT. This can’t be overlooked.
So the question becomes, can we trust a God who is portrayed aslovingkindness, compassionate and gracious? Would you want to trust a person who others described in this manner? Perhaps you wouldn’t just dive into a relationship with them, but I think you would be open to pursuing it!
GOD IS RELATIONAL
The context of this passage and most of the OT is one of God relating to people – or in other words, relationship. God is described in the OT as being in relationship with people. He was the creator of all persons according to the OT; and He especially desired a relationship with the nation of Israel whom He called “His own people and who called Yahweh their God.”
The things you see Him do in the OT is in the context of relationship. God, much like us who He designed in His image, is very protective of our relationships and those with whom we have relationships. Take for instance those who are married. We don’t take lightly when someone is trying to hurt our spouse or looking to get between our spouse and ourselves. Nor do we take lightly when our spouse cheats on us or is unfaithful. After all, the reason we got married and took vows was to be in an exclusive relationship with that person – and the understanding is, that no one else can have our spouse but us. When a breach occurs in our marriages, we become angry and jealous. Betrayal and injustice causes us to feel anger at a whole new level and a hurt that can last a lifetime. No one needs to tell us that we should feel this way – it is automatically a part of being human.
Take our children as another example. As parents, we become very protective of our children. Any injure or injustice done to our children we take very personal. As parents, we feel the hurt, the threats and the injuries of our children as if they were our own because they are our children. No one needs to tell us to feel this way – as parents we just do because we have been designed to feel this way when our children are in danger or have been hurt.
We need to understand that the OT context of God is portrayed much in this same way – as a spouse or parent, especially to Israel. So when we see God becoming angry, irate or jealous, we need to see it in the context of God being a very protective spouse or parent. While this might not answer every question you have about God’s behavior, this is a good starting point. Just as children don’t always understand why their parents get angry or are overly protective or establish certain rules; we aren’t always going to understand God’s behavior or responses. But if we can go back to the previous point of seeing God as loving, then we are more open to better understanding why God does what He does.
Granted there are some things in the OT that seem unexplainable from our vantage point. This is where trust is required – just as in a marriage or in a parenting situation. And this is where another of Yahweh’s attributes comes in – patience. God is patient with us. He doesn’t require us to “get it” without giving us time to seek Him out. For some, this is a lifetime of searching, seeking, questioning and wondering who God is and can they trust Him. He extends whatever grace is needed. This is another aspect of Yahweh that the new atheists conveniently overlook.
GOD HAS INFLUENCED OUR SENSE OF JUSTICE
A third point I want to make is that people today in the modern world don’t often realize or acknowledge how much our sense of fairness and justice is influenced by Judeo-Christian principles. These principles are rooted in God’s relationship with Israel and the other nations of the ancient world recorded in the OT.
Because we are steeped in this without realizing it, we expect God to behave in a certain way. And when we see Him not doing so, such as becoming angry or jealous; or striking a group of people down, it seems so out of character for Him. We wouldn’t bat an eyelash when God does these things if He were really the moral monster that Dawkins portrays.
Some of us may need to come to grips with who the God of the OT really is. This is true for people who have grown up in Sunday school who have only heard nice stories about God and Jesus doing nice things. This is equally true of those who have never attended church – who think the church is only for nice people doing nice things.
Nice has never been a description of God! Nice is not an attribute of God found anywhere in the bible. From a biblical perspective, nice is for nerds!
Who God really is, is a loving warrior who will go to any length to protect His own, but at the same time, will go to any length to get people to repent and turn to Him for the sake of their own salvation! Think of God as that protective parent who will do anything to protect his children from hurt, abuse or harm. You may also want to think of Him as we do our U.S. military forces. Many of the people in our armed forces are nice people – but when called into battle to defend our nation or other defenseless nations against ruthless attackers, they turn into a killing-machine.
This is a more accurate picture of Yahweh. God takes sin seriously – anything that stands in the way between people having a right relationship with Him. He doesn’t force Himself on anyone, but as is greatly portrayed in the OT, He will exercise great patience and love toward even the most stubborn of people who refuse His wooing.
So in conclusion, the God of the OT is a mysterious combination – a figure much bigger than any and all human minds combined can figure out – of love, grace, compassion, patience and anger!
I would ask that you consider the whole picture of who God is when reading all of the accounts of Him in the OT before declaring judgment. After all, He reserves judgment upon us as we sort out who He is in our lives as He exercises grace and patience with us in repenting and turning to Him!
By: Jack Guyler