Good question...God apparently set humanity up for failure in the Garden, so doesn't this show Him to be cruel, schizoid, or psychotic?

[created Nov 3/98]

Glenn --

I read the following document at the "Walk Away" site:,

and it troubles me very much. I have been a Christian for four years and am pretty intellectual and pretty well-versed in Scripture, but this threw me for a loop. I know that the author is incorrect in a few minor points of Scripture, but the main thrust of his argument is not trivial. Especially the paragraph:

At the outset God made this into a life-and-death situation. God staked the entire future of mankind on this one event. We lost. The moment that Adam and Eve ate that fruit, wheels were set in motion that would ultimately result in the doom of mankind. Without some kind of intervention from God we would all be damned. God does promise to intervene, but it's like building a nuclear bomb and setting it to go off in a large city at 12:00. Then, when all of the people of the city come to you for mercy, you disarm it for them. Does that make you a hero for disarming it or a lunatic for building it in the first place? The whole thing was orchestrated to make us feel dependent upon God. That says a lot about God's character. In the last couple of days since I read this site, it is hard for me to be glad that Jesus is my Savior, because now it seems like He's saving me from something He started in the first place! A related question that an atheist asked me long ago that I still don't know is: why did God create billions of people that He knew would end up in Hell? Isn't that cruel? Please answer soon if you can, this is bothering me very much.




Dear Minny,

The first thing I need to point out is that the skeptic's response to the situation (as he understands it) is the only reasonable and humane response. If the situation were indeed as the skeptic portrays it, then we all should join him in abject abhorrence and revulsion toward such a "god". His response is the heart-full response, to a heart-less situation. (That kind of a sick and twisted God, however, would likely not be able to even create creatures with hearts sensitive enough to be morally superior to Him/Her/It/They, of course, but let's leave that alone for right now.)

But the second thing I need to point out is that the skeptic's position is one of considerable exaggeration and has most of its emotional force in innuendo. We will see that he essentially superimposes his theological 'portrait' of God's heart over a passage that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject. The accusations he makes of God in the piece about orchestrating the whole thing to get us to fail so that His Son would later "look good to us" is methodologically naive at best, and "reverse fundamentalism" at worst.

There are two distinct 'pieces' to your question above...

The first piece of your question (and the entire thrust of his brief web-work) concerns that author's depiction of the character of the God of the Bible. The author accepts the existence of some good, harmonious, and intelligent Creator (based on his classes in botany, physics, and astronomy), but can find no good reason to identify this Creator with the "manipulative, sadistic, almost psychotic" God of Jesus and the Bible. In fact, he asserts that this sub-human character is manifest throughout the bible, and cites a few of the more vivid examples (e.g., David's census, the Breach against Uzzah, the Hardening of Pharaoh's heart).

His main argumentation, in the piece, comes from the situation into which God placed the First Pair, from Genesis 2-3. On the basis of this understanding, he concludes that the Christian God is unworthy and morally inferior to himself. The issue of prophecy vs. naturalistic explanations of the supernatural are irrelevant to him; he has enough confidence in his exegesis of Genesis and other passages to discount any possible supernatural "proofs" of divine presence before they are even evaluated. The skeptic seems to find no reason to doubt his exegesis and theological understanding of the main proof-texts of his position.

I have dealt with some of the other examples in other places in the Tank, as well as with other examples he did not mention but would no doubt advance (such as the wars of Canaan). I will only make a few summary remarks on these here. In this piece, I want to focus on his argumentation from Genesis 2-3.

Now, the second question--with implications for God's character--is one frequently raised. It is different that the first, and one that generally bothers most believers who both think and feel (!)...

Good Christians are bothered by the related issues of "Why did God go ahead with such a plan?". So someone else, quite in love with God, wrote in:

And one of the centrally-related questions by another:
  Can you find a way to justify the existence of hell? That is, is it acceptable to allow any conscious being to go to a place of eternal torture for any reason?
One of the people I am closest to in my life is confronted with the very personal implications of this. She told me in private conversation that she was avoiding reading the New Testament (in spite of her awareness of a spiritual bankruptcy and hunger) because she was repulsed at the thought of establishing a personal relationship with a God who 'presided over such a world as this'. By this she referred to a sick, cruel, and off-track world, full of suffering and emptiness. Since God apparently 'presided' over this state of affairs, and either did nothing to prevent it, nor to fix it (in large scale), she was not sure she really wanted to get know such a God.

And, as you might expect, I am no stranger to this problem either--this piece is not named 'gutripper' for nothing...

Twenty-odd years ago, a Bible college professor spoke of what he called the "$64,000 question"--why God, in His foreknowledge of all the temporal and eternal suffering of humans, which He would have known before the beginning of time, went ahead anyway with the plan. He pointed out that the bible never answers the question, nor gives us much data concerning it, nor is the question ever even raised in the bible.

The 'rub' of the question is fairly obvious: would this not imply that God was cruel, or at least incredibly insensitive to His sentient creatures, perhaps with a radically different perspective on value than humans? The world seems full of suffering and misery, with no apparent major 'overrides' by God, and after even after this life, the prospect of endless torment awaits many, according to this mainstream view.

In much of traditional orthodoxy, heaven will be populated by a very small minority of the world's population. And, although they will be blessed immeasurably, this doesn't really seem 'heavy enough' to counterbalance the belief that the vast majority of the population is tormented forever in a hell of conscious agony. To make the situation even more grim, this unending torment is often said to be based on events which transpire within a range of a few decades or so of human time. The stakes are incredibly high, and often, it seems these stakes are not even in the awareness of those making them. It is difficult to conceive of any action, decision, or lack thereof, by a mortal being, having that level of impact--and/or "deserving" that severity of repercussion. [Theologians make honest attempts to make 'finite' decisions to reject God, into 'infinite sins' (via rejection of an 'infinite' God) as ways of making sense of the apparent imbalance between cause/effect.]

This, of course, is a standard way of stating the problem, but there are additional problems that can be heaped upon it.

The first is the one raised by your skeptic here--that some would argue that we were set up for failure to begin with. Not only did God decide to consign the majority to un-ending suffering, but in this theory, God also stacked the deck against us, so that we would be forced to kiss up to Him to avoid this horrible consequence. Allowing the Arch-Deceiver to prey upon helpless and naïve humans in the garden, while apparently not letting them know of the Tree of Life alternative early enough to avoid falling, are telltale signs of God's "inhuman" characteristics, so the story goes.

Notice how this problem runs into the theologian's 'free will defense' at some level. Often, God's alleged respect for free will is said to be so high, that He cannot/will not override mortals, if they refuse heaven and choose hell. If we were set up for failure, and placed into such a diabolical situation, then our free will was basically compromised to begin with. The temptation of the Serpent was simply over-powering, after all.

An additional problem (alluded to by your author) comes from the linkage of each human to Adam. In most constructions of "original" sin, each post-Adam offspring of Adam/Eve inherited Adam's guilt. And so, Adam's single sin sent us all to hell. In spite of obvious verses to the contrary in Scripture (e.g., Deut 7.10; 24.16), our eternal future was somehow compromised by one man/one act, as allegedly described by Romans 5.

There are other problems that can be added, but all in all, the overall point is to deny the goodness and/or benevolence of God. God is portrayed as being manipulative (perhaps a megalomaniac addicted to praise of wind-up toys or the devotion of little pets), and certainly quite pathological in heart.

And the implications of this for the Cross are significant as well. The love of God, shown in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, becomes a massive effort, but to such little effect. He who 'takes away the sins of the world' gets so little out of the deal--a small minority of worshippers (who were somehow manipulated into this worship--not really appreciating Him for His beauty and character), and an endless cadre of souls who likely curse Him every moment for their unending torments in hell. And, as the questioner voices, it at least can be suggested that the Fall is 'staged' such as to make the Son of God look good...

Now, this articulation of the situation (above) seems to me quite pointed and indeed disturbing, but I must confess that I find your author's argumentation quite methodologically confused on several points, containing a significant number of dangerous oversimplifications, and making some very questionable assumptions. [In all fairness to him, I need to point out that his article is a 'popular' piece of only three pages in length, and that he could no doubt be able to make a stronger case given more time and space. But I will use his 3-page document as the basis of this critique, while understanding that his position may be stronger than his smaller piece might indicate.]

This is truly a complex issue, involving the nature of God's knowledge, the nature of hell and death, the very structure of human choice, the relation between independence and authority, the meaning of 'authority', and certainly a host of exegetical issues. The truly godly heart of the Christian finds this abjectly horrible and finds it incredibly difficult to maintain confidence in the goodness, kindness, and fairness of his/her loving Lord. The Christian struggles with this, but in the final hour, finds solace in the assurances of his/her Lord's beautiful character ("Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" and "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.")


But there are two different subjects that I have to deal with here: the problem itself (as posed by the Christian) and the first 'objection' raised by the skeptic.

 So, in this piece, I will try to deal with both of these:

  1. Does your skeptic writer make a reasonable case from Genesis that the biblical God's character is morally grotesque?
  2. How could we approach the issue of God's motive for "going ahead"?
And, as most problems, a very detailed look at these may reveal that a portion of each is a pseudo-problem, generated by vagueness, imprecision, and oversimplification.

There are three pre-analytical observations that I need to make before I began rambling through the various issues:

One. In the final analysis, we may not have an answer to the (second) question "why?", which means that we will not be warranted in answering it negatively or positively. If we are not able to discover a motive for God's decision to 'go ahead anyway', then we will not be justified in judging that unknown motive to be either adequately good (to warrant a positive 'assessment' of God's character) or to be insufficient (allowing a 'worse-than-us' value judgment of God's heart).

 We must be clear on this. Absence of data on "the motive" will not allow us to assume that the motive is inadequate to "justify" the choice to "go ahead". We will not be able to jump from "ignorance" to "certitude" with any level of warrant. Methodologically, it would be just as inappropriate to assume God's guilt (given this absence of data) as it would be to assume God's innocence in the matter. The Christian may be warranted in extrapolating from instances of God's alleged grace, goodness, and kindness elsewhere to this issue, and the skeptic may be warranted in extrapolating from instances of God's alleged cruelty and insensitivity to this issue, but we must be clear that this is pure extrapolation and extension, and cannot carry nearly the same force as the content of the motive itself.

Two. We must note that, in the first question, we (somewhat insignificant 'carbon-based life forms') are presuming to judge God's morality and character on the basis of our own! For a human being, with the incredible paucity of data we have about the universe, morality, reality, and complexity, to decide that God is less kind, less noble, less compassionate, less moral, less 'humane' than they, seems quite bizarre, in my opinion.

 Think about this for a second. Let's consider two cases: one without a God (i.e., Materialism of one form or another) and one with.

In the latter case, we have a God that somehow creates a derivative, "smaller" creature (i.e., human) with a superior morality and better heart! So, when a person says "I refuse to worship such a heartless god" we have the absurdly strange situation in which the "effect" is somehow greater than/superior to the "cause". [If you haven't read Aristotle recently, perhaps now is a good time to read his discussion on causality, to see what problems this might include (sardonic smile).] This is pure and naïve presumption...[Notice that the analog of this--"I have a greater intelligence than the absolute source of all intelligence" makes the absurdity even clearer.]

In the former case of materialism (no spirits or deities or 'souls'), we have a creature that has climbed from the slime to some kind of superiority (i.e., "top of the food chain"!) by wholesale application of 'survival of the fittest' (read: "extinguishing" or "subjugating" others). Vast amounts of human evil--the responsibility for which is borne in this scenario solely by the human, since there are no other agents to pin this on or share the blame with--have been perpetrated and are inexorably justified, under the evolutionary leveling of all to 'self-interest'. The elimination of countless species of life in this evolutionary, ceaseless, and random struggle; the very atrocities that are used as examples of 'the problem of evil'(!); and the wholesale failure of the human race to produce anything in the area of human rights at all but the most insignificant scale, makes me question the 'moral superiority' of such a creature...Indeed, since his moral judgments will eventually reduce to thinly-disguised but cosmetically-complex positions of 'self-interest', why should they be taken as 'objective' in any sense? Despite Herculean efforts to construct systems of evolutionary ethics to account for altruism, cooperation, and "animal rights" type of oddities, while attempting to avoid the racist and biological supremacist implications of the early Darwinian exponents, we are stuck with our own bloody and shameful history of action. [Recent studies on advanced forms of cooperation in higher primates(cf. PH:GN) only pushes the problem 'down' and 'early' a little further.]

To agree that a "mudball, with hair and teeth, red in tooth and fang" can transcend this history to the point of making authoritative statements about morality and character, is well beyond my skeptical limits...

The very fact that I believe that I can make moral judgements about my actions and the actions of others, presuppose that my source of origin has at least as good an ethical standard as I. For me to believe that I can make objective moral judgments, and then take the position that my ontological source of ethical abilities is inferior to me, borders on the self-stultifying. [This is not to mention the problem of the Ultimate Reference Point of morality, as noted by the Existentialists. There has to be a "God the Father" for real value to exist, to use Sartre's explication.]

Now, strictly speaking, the skeptic is certainly warranted in raising the question of God's character--on the basis of his individual exegetical and theological construction--I would not fault him in the least for this. We often do this; something strikes us morally 'odd' about a passage or a doctrine, and it forces us to examine it more closely and more carefully and more open-mindedly. Often in this process we discover our 'hidden baggage' that we bring to the text. In the skeptic's case, however, instead of having an independent basis (such as a warm personal experience of God or a careful and informed understanding of the life and character of Jesus Christ) for giving God the "benefit of the doubt" and suspending judgment until he has time to turn all the possible understandings over, he instead hits the "Finish" button and arrives at the conclusion.

The main problem is one of sequence. The skeptic foregoes deciding about the more 'objective' issues such as "was prophecy fulfilled beyond reasonable plausibility?" or "did the resurrection really occur?", or "how did Jesus feel about this God?", and instead starts the process with a subjective moral judgement of God's character, based on his fundamentalist-like understanding of Genesis and some of the other texts (some of the stranger texts in the bible, I might add). In normal life, one generally tries to move in the opposite direction--from the more-sure to the more-questionable...

Three. This objection sounds strangely like the one advanced by the famous serpent in the very passage under discussion. The serpent in Genesis 2-3 advances two propositions: (1) God is a liar; and (2) God does not desire your best, and His motives cannot accordingly be trusted.

Notice that this 'objection' (at least as worded in most forms) intends the same result. It attempts to get us to say that (1) God is a liar [i.e., He is NOT good, merciful, kind, benevolent, and interested in the welfare of all His creatures, great and small, in spite of all the statements and evidences He adduces to this effect); and (2) God does not desire our best (but His own best) and His motives cannot be trusted. I find this diabolically ironic that the passage describing the first 'attack' on the beauty of God's heart is used so effectively in our time to do exactly the same!

 Although this, of course, cannot be used as evidence against the position itself, the similarities might suggest ways of approaching the question.


With this said, what I want to do is to evaluate the skeptic's position first, and then look at the more general problem of "why did God go ahead with the program?" in the next installment.

The skeptic's argument is not too difficult to deal with, since it shares many of the same exegetical and methodological weaknesses of certain types of fundamentalist approaches (which our skeptic friend has not completely discarded yet).

The first major problem with his construction of the dynamics of the Garden is that it makes too much of too little.

Making such comprehensive theories of God, volition, human nature, and evil from such a small and complex passage such as Genesis 3 is not methodologically sound. The data is way too scarce (e.g., we have only two remarks by the serpent!), and there is too much missing information. Think of some of the other data elements we would need to know to make this scenario plausible (or even, "possible to evaluate with any meaningful degree of certitude"!):

  1. How many times did Adam/Eve say "no" to the serpent, or to individual thoughts about the Tree of Good and Evil (TGE)?
  2. How many years/decades did Adam/Eve remain true to God, before the Fall? (it could have been close to 130 years!)
  3. What instructions or information did God give Adam about the Tree of Life (ToL), if any? Did He tell them they could eat from it after X days/months/years of loyalty?
  4. What would have happened had Adam eaten of the ToL after he had fallen?
  5. Did God forgive Adam, so that he did NOT die as soon as he ate of the fruit?
  6. How many attempts at deception on Adam and/or Eve did the serpent make?
  7. Were the other animals almost as 'crafty' as the serpent? Did they play a role?
  8. Why do the curses pronounced on Adam, Eve, and Serpent not mention anything--however slight--about hell or after-death existence?
  9. Why are the trees given such "symbolic names"?
  10. Was the ToL un-guarded before the Fall?
  11. Was the serpent given his name by Adam in the naming of the animals?
  12. Why are there no mentions of anger or wrath in the passage?
  13. When God stopped a fallen, guilty, and ashamed Adam/Eve from eating of the ToL, did He in effect stop them from "going straight to hell" in the process (i.e., living forever in a fallen state?) Was this an act of mercy?
  14. Why is hell or eternal consequences not even mentioned in the passage, but only 'death'. (What would Adam and Eve have understood by "death"?)
  15. Why did the humans not die on the 'very day they ate', but received much less severe a sentence?--was this mercy, perhaps due to the fact that malicious will was allowed to influence their decisions?
  16. Was the ToL a promised reward for loyalty, or even a source of healing, had Adam/Eve actually confessed their disloyalty to God openly?
  17. Were they already eating the ToL daily? (as some commentators believe)

And when the Tree of Life appears again--in Revelation 22--why is it so obviously symbolic:

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." This is seriously symbolic as even very conservative and relatively 'literalist' exegetes note [e.g., EBCNT, in. loc.]:
  "This section continues the description of the Holy City begun in 21:9 but now with the emphasis on its inner life. John returns to his archetypal images from Genesis (Gen 1-3) and Ezekiel (Ezek 40ff.). The paradisiacal quality of the future age is briefly but beautifully described. Here Paradise is regained. As in the OT imagery of the age to come, metaphors of water and light abound (cf. Isa 12:3; Zech 14:7-8). The river of the water of life recalls Ezekiel 47:1 ff. (cf Joel 3:18) and the pastoral scene of Revelation 7:17 (q.v.). In both Testaments water is frequently associated with the salvation of God and the life-imparting and cleansing ministry of the Holy Spirit (Isa 44:3; cf. John 3:5; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 13:10; 19:34; Titus 3:5). In the new city of God the pure water does not issue from the temple as in Ezekiel but comes from the throne of God, since this whole city is a Most Holy Place with God at its center. Life from God streams unceasingly through the new world.

"The tree of life spreads all along the great street of the city (v. 2). What was once forfeited by our forebears in Eden and denied to their succeeding posterity is now fully restored (cf. Gen 3:22-24). In Ezekiel's vision these are multiple trees on each side of the river that bear fruit monthly whose leaves are for healing (Ezek 47:12). Therefore, the tree (xylon) John speaks of may be a collective word for Ezekiel's trees. So abundant is its vitality that it bears a crop of fruit each month. Its leaves produce healing for the nations. The imagery of abundant fruit and medicinal leaves should be understood as symbolic of the far-reaching effects of the death of Christ in the redeemed community the Holy City. So powerful is the salvation of God that the effects of sin are completely overcome The eternal life God gives the redeemed community will be perpetually available, will sustain, and will cure eternally every former sin.

What this indicates is that the obviously historical humans Adam and Eve (they show up in later genealogies) are surrounded by symbolic elements in this narrative, and that attempts to make the passage "walk on all fours" is misguided and unsound.

Genesis 1-3, in historical context, makes no real attempt to explain these things, but rather functions as a counter-thrust to the religious creeds of Israel's neighbors and predecessors in Mesopotamia [cf. BAW]. This is like trying to answer the Problem of Evil from the Book of Ezra, or Christological controversies from Philemon--they just weren't written with those purposes in mind.

We honestly know so very, very little about what really went on in the Garden that we must only take out of the passage what the author put in. The passage speaks about the advent of physical death, of course, but it is much more concerned with how God and man interacted in a couple of dimensions of their relationship. One should be very, very cautious about making sweeping theological systems out of such a limited base of data, especially constructing conspiracy theories about a God who eventually goes to the Cross for us...

[Quite honestly, not only has our skeptic probably done this here, but evangelicals are notorious for treating Genesis in such a way. I often imagine that if the original author of Genesis were to hear some of the grand schemes we have made from Genesis 1-6, that he/she/they would burst out laughing in amusement or be flabbergasted at how we got so much "out" of what little they put "in". It would be like me writing a passage including a sentence like "John wrestled with the beast of his envy all night", only to have one of my readers obsessively press me for details about what the beast looked like, its dietary habits, and its origin!]

Although I can fault the skeptic for being wrong here, I can certainly understand how he arrived at such a reconstruction of the text. The methods he was likely taught by his previous sub-culture may have led him to his conclusion quite logically.

Secondly, the skeptic's position oversimplifies the complexity of choice and influence, between the agents in the story and even relative to us.

 For example, somehow, our moral choices don't exist. Some nebulous "wheels set in motion" are the sole active agents in this story. The billions of people referred to later in the argument, somehow do not have any involvement in this process-we have all simply disappeared as persons somehow. Somehow "hell" is not in any way connected with how we decide to treat one another (in spite of God's repeated pleas and warnings to this effect), and all moral choices (good or bad) are simply part of some deterministic, a-personal, Newtonian causal chain. The first domino fell over, hitting the next one, and the next one (hmmm, maybe even Satan was set up to fail?)...The deterministic worldview implied therein is no longer a plausible worldview, and hasn't been so for the last twenty or thirty years. The complex interactions between agents and intentions have gone far beyond some billiard-ball like "causal" and "object" interactions between "faculties" of will, intellect, and emotion. The situation involved in human choice and action is significantly more complex that our skeptic friend seems to be aware of.

The position of "if it happened, then it was inexorable" is good metaphysical determinism, but fails in the light of the reality of agent causation. [Some of you will notice that the skeptic's deterministic position is remarkably close to some schools of theological orthodoxy today.]

The character of conscious choice is quite complex, and it cannot be reduced to such simplicities as these. It is not simply a matter of there being helpless and gullible people in the garden, at the mercy of a superior intellect, while God is somehow arranging the stage so "the right inputs produced the right outputs" in strict Newtonian fashion! Such a shallow picture!

Mind you, I am a "fallen creature", but I say "no" to temptation and hassle and testing every day of my life. I say "yes" sometimes, but I say "no" more often than not. Adam was to cultivate the garden-how long did he obey God in this task before the Fall? Somehow enough to survive the Fall. Although he blamed the woman (and the God who gave her to him) at confrontation, he later expressed his faith and hope by naming his wife "Eve" (i.e., "living"). He looked forward to life. Eve likewise overcame the failure, expressing her faith when she "got a child from the Lord."

But they all shared the responsibility for the failure-the man, the woman, the serpent. The complexity is real, but the objection paints a picture in which the play had to unfold in the way God "orchestrated it". When all will resolves down into one will, then there really is only one sinner in the universe, because there is only one agent (and the skeptic and I both disappear from the volitional landscape). And the objection assumes such a reductionist view of the situation.

Thirdly, also out of whack here is the relationship between the serpent and the humans. Your skeptic seems to believe that the humans were no match for the serpent, and that the outcome was inevitable. And following this, is the conclusion/implications that the God who allowed such a superior maleficent intelligence to have access to the naïve and helpless little humans was setting them up for failure (and therefore 'orchestrating' their failure and subsequent doom of billions of souls, etc.).

But we have no reason (from the bible) to believe that this was overpowering to the humans; indeed, we have evidence to believe that it was entirely within their range of ability to "master".

Although I certainly don't want to minimize the resourcefulness and effectiveness of the adversary, at the same time the evidence seems to indicate that the original Two had considerable ability to deal with the problem, and in all likelihood had a history of resisting before the Fall (there is no indication that Genesis Three was his initial attempt!). Accordingly, I cannot accept the assumption that the deck was stacked and the original Two were put in a situation beyond their ability to endure. If it was stacked somewhat, it was stacked against the adversary.

Fourth, the skeptic has made a rather common error of caricaturing the nature of the afterlife.

In common with much traditional religious thought, the afterlife is somehow characterized in "one-dimension" only.

For example, somehow he has assumed that there is no correlation between 'hell' and our behavior and/or choices. The popular stereotypes and caricatures of hell are adequately represented, but these in themselves fail miserably to represent the biblical position. The biblical position is very, very explicit that any suffering in hell is exactly matched to the works done during the earthly life. The whole point of the "judgment" is justice (although there may be an extra measure, due to the suffering the evil might have created in the lives of others-cf. Ex 22.1; 2 Sam 12.6; Lk 19.8). If whatever hell consists of is NOT perfectly just, then it is not the biblical hell at all. And, if our moral choices don't exist (a la the scenario), then we wouldn't end up in hell anyway--there wouldn't be anything to punish us for! The consistent self-violation of the human race wouldn't be worthy of any response, merciful or judgmental, if moral choice didn't matter. (In fact, if moral choice didn't matter, why would we fault this aberrant "god" for making a bad one anyway?) The Christian position is fundamentally that of the Mosaic Law-"as you do unto others, so will be done unto you". This can be seen over and over and over in Scripture. Consider:

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief. (Rev 18.4ff, NRSV)

Raise your battle cry against her on every side! She has given herself up, her pillars have fallen, Her walls have been torn down. For this is the vengeance of the Lord: Take vengeance on her; As she has done to others, so do to her. (Jer 50.15)

 Do not judge lest you be judged. 2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. (Matt 7.1f)

 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." (Luke 6.36ff)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Gal 6.7)

[We will look much more closely at this in Part Two, but for now it will suffice to point out that it is 'at least' just, and probably merciful--less than deserved.]

Fifth, the metaphor of the nuclear bomb, although clever and forceful, is quite backwards. The biblical model is more like God having built a luxurious garden playground, but the humans in the city tear it down, pave it, and then they build a nuclear bomb on the site to wield as a power tactic within the various arrogant factions of the city. Our personal judgment is created by us-"hell" was not designed for humans, but for destructive angels (see Mt 25.41). Instead, God builds an alternative city and welcomes any who are simply honest enough about their need (and about their danger from their own self-created disaster) to join the new city. [My alternative metaphor is woefully incomplete, of course, since it doesn't include the substitutionary work of Christ--sorta like Him taking the bomb-blast personally, but the metaphor of the nuclear thing is more difficult to fit into this modification.]

Sixth, the remark about the whole thing being "orchestrated to make us feel dependent upon God" is pure conjecture (and maybe even unjustified paranoia). The bible makes no such claim, so the statement is mere assertion, and in the absence of any evidence offered to support it, need not be taken seriously.

But, in fact, the opening chapters of the book of Job demonstrate that God is interested in a "considered" response. In the interactions between Satan and God, Satan accuses God of the very motif suggested by our skeptic friend--that Job only worships God for selfish reasons (sorta like avoiding a bomb-blast). In the absence of such 'selfish benefits' from God, Satan accuses, Job would cease to value God for His intrinsic worth and therefore cease to honor Him as a Person. (Job, remember, has other relationships [e.g., wife, friends, kids] that include valuing others not only for the 'benefits' they provide, but also for their worth as individuals. Satan is simply suggesting to God that God is only being 'used' by Job to meet his own self-centered ends.)

C.S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, makes the remark that God cannot "overpower," He can only "woo" to achieve His desired responses of non-robotic love (or simply, "love", since expressions of love by a robot would hardly be considered a non-coerced whole-person response, even by the most avid artificial intelligence advocates).

A forced and horribly precipitated "feeling of dependence" could fall much closer to coercion than it would to wooing!

(This is not to say that 'fear' of judgment is not an appropriate reason to open up to God, but that it is neither the main reason people come to Christ [the main reasons are the sheer beauty of His character and the often never-before-experienced warmth of His acceptance, affirmation, forgiveness, and love], nor is it frequently experienced "purely" enough to precipitate some sort of turning to God.)

Seventh, the comment about God "staking the future of mankind on this one event" is likewise confused. Each individual experiences life as a series of his or her own events, and the interplay between context, and the events and choices, and the resultant character, is what God uses to judge a person. It is not just occasional lapses of morality, nerve, or judgment, but rather that which proceeds from the very character of a mortal that comprises the evidence. Jesus put it very simply:

Matthew 12.33f: "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 "The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. 36 "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. 37 "For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."
For all our connectedness with Adam (e.g., via nature a la Romans 5), we create our own future condition by our own present actions and choices. This is quite clear in both testaments.

First the Tanakh/OT:

"In those days they will not say again, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge.' 30 "But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.(Jer 31.29)

"Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deut 24.16)

"then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 'What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel saying, 'The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children's teeth are set on edge'? 3 "As I live," declares the Lord God, "you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. 4 "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die. 5 "But if a man is righteous, and practices justice and righteousness, 6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife, or approach a woman during her menstrual period- 7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing, 8 if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity, and executes true justice between man and man, 9 if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully-he is righteous and will surely live," declares the Lord God. "Then he may have a violent son who sheds blood, and who does any of these things to a brother 11 (though he himself did not do any of these things), that is, he even eats at the mountain shrines, and defiles his neighbor's wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols, and commits abomination, 13 he lends money on interest and takes increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations, he will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head. "Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father's sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise. 15 "He does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife, 16 or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit robbery, but he gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing, 17 he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father's iniquity, he will surely live. 18 "As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity. "Yet you say, 'Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity?' When the son has practiced justice and righteousness, and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. 20 "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. .(Ezek 18.1ff)

Now the New Testament: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. (Rom 2.4ff)

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds." (Matt 16.27)

 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done (Col 3.25)

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Rev 20.12)

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5.28)

Not only is Adam's "single event" not determinative of my ultimate fate, neither are any of my "single events" either. My personal judgment/punishment/reward is based on patterns of behavior, which reveal my character, not isolated sins or moral failures.

And I should point out, that where the Fall did affect subsequent humans, it was met moment-by-moment with God's assistance, from the clothing provided by God, to the pre-murder coaching of Cain, to the preaching of Noah, to the warnings to Abimelech...Paul pointed out that "where sin abounded, grace super-abounded"...The aberration was significant--just as mine are--but not without God's immediate provision and warmth.

Eight, the scenario commits a rather odd type of blame-shifting. The scenario itself leaves this slightly implicit (even though it is clear that God is to blame for making the scenario into a "no win" one for us), but your sensitive response ("it is hard for me to be glad that Jesus is my Savior, because now it seems like He's saving me from something He started in the first place!") makes this explicit. This mistake assumes (oddly) that we are somehow undeserving of any judgment because there are moral standards in place!

Think about this for a minute.

God makes a social universe in which if you intentionally commit an act of violence upon someone, then the law courts visit some kind of judgment/violence back upon your head. You are held accountable for your actions, and in this way, responsible social communities can be constructed. Boundaries and specific behavior expectations are shared by members of the community in such a way as to create an "operational unity" to (hopefully) facilitate "interpersonal unity" and growth as a culture.

Let's say that I am a member of a tribe, and that we all meet together and decide that it would be against our best interests to allow members of the tribe to sneak up on other members of the tribe while they are asleep and kill them (in order to take all their possessions). And then we decide that if someone does that crime, they will subsequently be whipped and executed in front of the others, to reinforce the seriousness of the need for trustworthy relationships among the tribe.

Now let's say I commit such a crime--I kill my neighbor and move all his belongings into my hut. When I am found out, the tribe's tribunal finds me guilty and sentences me to death for my crime. I weep and wail, beg and plead, and eventually (somehow) convince them to spare my life and that I will never, ever violate the law of tribe and betray the community trust again.

When I accept their pardon for my crime, would it make any sense for me to discount that because "they pardoned me from something they set up in the first place"?! Of course not--the rules that were "set up" were for good. That I was sentenced to punishment was not the "fault" of the rules, but of my disregard for them. I cannot shift the blame to some "system" (or worse, to the system creator) when it simply operates efficiently! Moral codes imply consequences of various types, for positive and negative respect for those codes. Consequences for destructive behavior are simply "responses" of the "necessary-for-good" law, provoked by my actions or inaction. Most of the law codes in the cultures of the world are not arbitrary--they exist in order to facilitate the growth and health of a community. While it is true that God "set up" a system of actions/consequences (and laws that express these in warning fashion), this system is healthy and embedded in reality (e.g., 'do not walk off a cliff--you will likely plunge to your death'), and certainly not arbitrary in the least.

Blame shifting, of course, was part of the original response of Adam and Eve. God expected Adam and Eve to trust His warning (and to grow thereby). But when they failed, the man immediately blamed the woman, and then God ("The woman YOU gave me, gave me the fruit to eat and I ate") and the woman blamed the Serpent ("The serpent tricked me, and I ate"). The Serpent gave no excuse, since his act was apparently one of deliberate destruction. (Remember, Jesus called him a "murderer" from the beginning, in John 8.44.)

Nine, the objection fails to appreciate (or take seriously) the nature and value of history.

From the first verses of Genesis 1, God seems to focus on growth, development, unfolding, manifestation of potential. From the "let the earth bring forth plants" to "be fruitful and multiply (after your kind/pattern)", God is involved in historical process. In the case of the garden, for example, the experience of bringing the animals before Adam to find a companion, was not for God's benefit(!), but for Adam's-to pre-build the appreciation that materialized as Eve appeared. God was delivering good to them-through time. Some of the good required choices between competing alternatives, some required action, some required restriction. With every breath, the man and woman manifested more and more of their potential. [This did not stop after sin, by the way; the very birth of Cain and Abel are historical developments that were only implicit in their state of 'innocence'. We (as humans) tend to be impatient; God works at a different pace. We settle for less; He aspires to full robustness of life and event.]

To have created Adam at Time-One and then had him eat of the ToL at Time-One-Plus-1-Minute may have been acceptable for our skeptic, but to quick-freeze the development of Adam, and forego the unfolding of humanity and of nature, and to preclude the myriad of moral choices (some good, some bad) and the robustness of civilization could easily be considered a 'lesser good'...

Tenth, the position has the methodological burden-of-proof problem of all conspiracy theories--it takes more data to prove these second-order theories than it does to accept the more simpler first-order theories.

In other words, it is not enough to suggest that God might have orchestrated such a nefarious plan, but the conspiracy theorist must offer evidence that this is indeed the case. Conspiracy cases are dependent on disclosures of the guilty party (e.g., 'secret documents' that tell what the person was really thinking...), that demonstrate the hidden agenda or the attempt to deceive or the plan to defraud. That someone might have done so only suggests a "motive" at best...

Eleventh, as a predictive model, this view of God's character fails rather significantly.

In other words, IF we construct a model of God's character as being sadistic and/or sycophantic, then our creaturely experience should reflect this. And, although there are aspects of our experience that might be understood to provide evidence for this (e.g., predation in nature? Natural evil?), the fact that our human lives are a mixture of pleasure and pain, with substantial amounts of pleasure counts quite heavily against this model.

Decades ago, a lawyer wrote:

'[If God were a sadist], He could give us infinitely more pain than we do suffer. He could force us to eat as the drug addict is forced to the use of his drug, by the pain of abstention instead of by the pleasing urge of healthy hunger. All physical functions could be forced by pain instead of invited by pleasure...If God were indifferent, why the variety of fruit flavors for the palate, the invariably harmonizing riot of colors in flower and sunset, the tang of salt air and power to vibrate in joy to these things?...If God loves His creatures all is explained, except death, pain, and sorrow, and these things would indeed present, as they do present to all but believers, an insoluble problem. But the Bible's explanation is clear as crystal: 'Death came by sin,' and the glorious end is as succinctly put as the explanation, 'And God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.'" [Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible, Wilde:1943, p.31., cited in Dave Hunt's In Defense of the Faith, Harvest House:1996, p.231] A cruel or even mildly cruel God would simply be more likely to produce human violence as the majority cause of death (for example), instead of being a radical minority in our experience. Not only would the bodily appetites be driven by pain (as the lawyer conjectured above), but they could all be accompanied by pain in their exercise. No, the vast good and pleasures we people experience virtually everyday and virtually everywhere count strongly against any low-view models of God's character.

[It might be worth pointing out here we would not even 'bemoan' our free-will, if God were truly manipulative; there simply wouldn't be any...]


Let's stop there and summarize the above. The argument from Genesis of the skeptic has the following significant problems:

  1. Making such comprehensive theories of God, volition, human nature, and evil from such a small and complex passage as Genesis 3 is not methodologically sound
  2. The skeptic's position oversimplifies the complexity of choice and influence, between the agents in the story and us.
  3. The relationship between the serpent and the humans is over-dramatized, and is unreflective of how it probably was.
  4. The skeptic has made a rather common error of caricaturing the nature of the afterlife.
  5. The metaphor of the nuclear bomb, although clever and forceful, is quite backwards.
  6. The remark about the whole thing being "orchestrated to make us feel dependent upon God" is pure conjecture
  7. The comment about God "staking the future of mankind on this one event" is confused.
  8. The scenario commits a rather odd type of blame-shifting.
  9. The objection fails to appreciate (or take seriously) the nature and value of history.
  10. The position has the methodological burden-of-proof problem of all conspiracy theories.
  11. As a predictive model, this view of God's character fails rather significantly.

Now, it should be clear at this point, that the skeptical author is guilty of faulty exegesis (and perhaps questionable theological method), and of the type that is commonly done in the worst of 'fundy' groups (not all fundy groups, though). This does NOT mean, however, that his characterization of God as being pathetic is necessarily false; all I have shown is that it cannot be reasonably supported from the passage he tried to use for this. There may be other evidence that he has that might support his case, but Genesis 2-3 simply cannot be so used.

The skeptic author does mention a couple of texts that allegedly are "other divine injustices", and let me make only the briefest remarks about these (some of these are dealt with in much more detail in the Tank).

His first quote: "God hardened Pharaoh's heart as an excuse to devastate Egypt. He took away Pharaoh's right to make the right decision and forced him to make the wrong one."

This is an amazing oversimplification of one of the most complex events in biblical history. The interplay between the cruel Pharaoh, the Israelites under his very harsh slavery, the will of Pharaoh, the court magicians, the 'gods' of Egypt, the Israelite leaders, and the 'hardening' (strengthening) of Pharaoh's will by Yahweh is immensely complex, and yet the skeptic has made this sweeping and facile statement.

This was the nation that had oppressed Israel for centuries, using recently infanticide, and whose Pharaoh brutalized Asiatics (not just Israelites) as a matter of course. God's first comment about him was this:

Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.' 18 They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days' journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.' 19 I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go (Ex 3.16ff) Notice that the first comment is that the Pharaoh will require 'compelling'--not to fight Yahweh, but to yield! Our skeptic friend does not stop to consider how to integrate this data into his understanding; he simply selects the other passages that affirm that "I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go" (Ex 4.21).

It is well known that Pharaoh hardened his own heart on the first several confrontations (7.13-14; 22-23; 8.15, 19, 32; 9.7) and only then did God begin to "give him what he asked for" (9.12; 10.1, 20, 27; 11.10; 14.8). Even then Pharaoh is still involved in the process (9.34-34).[see more detail on the sequence of events here] There is nothing like God 'taking away his right to make the right decision'! God treated him like He often treats us: He confronts us repeated with opportunity to choose good, and as we consistently say "no, go away" He eventually withdraws His support for our initial "mixed criteria" and gives us over to our then-firmed-up intentions/wills. God just coordinated this judgment with the good-hearted deliverance of two million people from oppressive slavery! His devastation was a judgment on the nation (Ex 6.6; 7.4; 12.12), not an excuse.

There are many, many other theological subtleties here, such as the relation between God and rulers, between the Patriarchs and the Hebrews, and between these events and the 'conversion' of numerous Egyptians (including some of the court magicians, cf. Ex 9.20), and some of this can be found in the Tank discussion of this issue.

Another case of judicial hardening can be found in Joshua 11.20: "For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the LORD had commanded Moses." But note in our analysis of this subject elsewhere that God's purpose was expulsion, not genocide per se.

The commentator for the EBCOT points out in this passage the same themes we see throughout the bible:

"God hardened the Canaanites' hearts, not to keep them from repenting, but to prevent them from surrendering to Israel in unrepentance. The examples of Rahab and the Gibeonites demonstrate the unchanging purpose of God that "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom 10:13). As in the case of Pharaoh, God may be said to harden the hearts of those who harden their own (cf. Exod 8:32 with Exod 9:12). God was patient as long as there was any hope of repentance (Rom 2:4), but the sin of the Amorites had reached its full measure (Gen 15:16)."
My point is that the skeptic's statement is simply off-base, and reflects neither the major themes of the narratives, the details in textual sequence, nor the complexity of divine-human interaction.

His second quote: "God also commanded David not to number the people in order to raise an army. So David didn't - until God came down and stirred up his mind and made him do it, taking away his right to make the right decision and forcing him to do something wrong. Then in order to punish David for doing it, God sends the death angel to kill seven thousand innocent men."

This shows surprising lack of familiarity with the text and the historical event, for someone who knows the Bible "backward and forward". This passage is recorded twice in scripture. The initial account was written in 2 Sam 24, and it starts out with "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.'" In other words, Israel was already under God's judgment to begin with--there were no necessarily 'innocent men'! (For example, the revolt of Israel under Sheba--against David and Yahweh-- had only recently occurred.)

The situation is much more complex than our author would lead us to believe. It is difficult even to reconstruct the order of events between 2 Sam and 1 Chron 21. But one plausible scenario has Satan "standing up against Israel" in the heavenly court, and justly demanding punishment on Israel for some unspecified sin. (They had previously been punished by three years of famine in 2 Sam 21.1, hence "again.") God is judgmentally angry with Israel (which includes David, remember!), and punishes them by allowing Satan to "unleash" David's illegitimate pride to create a rift between them. David is 'incited' against Israel, and acts irresponsibly toward them. (But remember, they are somehow guilty of some unspecified sin.)

[I should also point out that one of the leading exegetes of the passage (Sailhammer) argues that 'Satan' should be taken as 'adversary' (its literal meaning) here, referring to enemies of Israel. This fits the pattern of Judges, of course, and would fit the context of David's semi-forced military enrollment here better than the traditional understanding, which I 'defend' below.]

There was no order from God to David to not count the men (contrary to your skeptic friend's assertion); indeed, the taking of a census was allowed in the law (Ex 30.11):

Then the LORD said to Moses, 12 "When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. 13 Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD. 14 All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the LORD. 15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives. 16 Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for your lives." Had the numbering been done correctly (with the census tax for atonement), then undoubtedly no plague would have been sent at all (v.12), and the people would have benefited from the atonement. The fact that Joab knew that David was doing this out of pride (and even to bolster his military ranks, 1 Chron 27.2,4) instead of out of some religious sentiment(!), gives a strong indication that the religious guidelines were not going to be followed. Joab specifically knew that what he was ordered to do was wrong (1 Chron 21.3), so the issue was not the census itself (a la Exodus 30, Numbers 1), but that it was done without regard to the religious dimension and proper process [this was not the first time David violated important public process, cf. The discussion below on the Breach against Uzzah.]. In fact, the observation made in 1 Chron 27.23-24 about God's promise to make Israel numerous, could easily be taken as a reference to the population-reducing judgment of God. Why then would we be surprised that God 'kept His promise' to send a plague?! What we might be surprised at was that He gave David a choice and spared Jerusalem...

And, in the light of ancient history and epidemiology, a three-day plague that only killed 70,000 people was incredibly 'light' in itself! Epidemics and plagues in ancient times lasted years and decades and centuries--not days. They killed major fractions of the population, and were never 'contained' like in our example. For samples,

1. In the Hittite kingdom, "Suppiluliuma I's victorious soldiers brought back a virulent epidemic from Syria, which decimated the population for twenty years as well as carrying off the Great King and his successor" [1370-1320 BC, OTANE3K:275]

2. In ancient Greece, at a pivotal point in its history, "Disaster struck in 430 B.C. The pestilence is supposed to have started in Ethiopia; from there it traveled to Egypt and was carried across the Mediterranean by ship to the Piraeus and Athens. It raged for only a short time, but caused an enormous mortality. No estimate of the number of deaths can be made; perhaps at least a third and possibly as much as two-thirds of the population died." [ HI:DAH:7]

3. The first great Roman epidemic was after Vesuvius (79 AD), and raged for a century, killing 10,000 people in Campagna alone [HI:DAH:12]

4. The plague of Galen (second century AD) claimed between one quarter and one third of the entire Roman empire [ROC:76].

5. A century later, in the "plague of Cyprian", as many as 5,000 people died per day in the city of Rome alone. [ROC:77]. It lasted a minimum of sixteen years [HI:DAH:15].

There is nothing trivial about any plague or epidemic; but in the context of ancient epidemics, this punishment was exceptionally light and merciful to the nation of Israel.

The passage is essentially useless for our skeptic, largely because so many more details would be needed to support some kind of 'theory' about God forcing David to sin 'against his will'(!). Punishing people by giving them over to their own will (a la Pharoah, a la Romans 1) is a standard judgment-type throughout the bible, but it is never done without plenty of prior opportunity to change and to open up to goodness and truth.

It must be noted that our author has chosen (as foundational for his character construction of God) two of the more 'odd' passages in scripture involving multiple layers of volition. The complex interactions between 'wills' of God, Satan, David, Joab, the census-takers, and sinning Israel are only glimpsed upon in passages like these. The book of Job is the classic case of the God-Satan interaction, in which God says that Satan "incited Him" to ruin Job without reason (Job 2.3). The relation of God's will/intention and non-divine will is quite mysterious (and that should be a warning to anyone about making any theories about them, much less basing an entire understanding of the character/heart of God on them!), and would need to include the likewise famous passages in which God's goodness was triumphant over the malice of men. For example, in the case of Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, Joseph can credit God with a loving intent (Gen 50.19 and 45.5):

And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 "And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.  These passages are much clearer about the goodness of God--in the situation of conflicting wills--than the passages chosen by your author, because the issue itself is explicitly commented on.

[This is a basic of theological method, by the way. In constructing theological statements, you start first with passages in the scripture which address or involve explicitly the topic under study. You don't start with oblique passages and try to infer aspects about the subject from it, and then use these less-certain constructs to 'constrain' the more-certain and explicit statements in the more germane passages. ]

His final quote: "Want more? How about the time God struck a man dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant while trying to keep it from falling. Why? Because God didn't want anybody to touch the Ark. One wonders who could have died if the Ark had fallen and broken."

Again, he seems unaware of the dynamics of the text and of the historical situation.

Let's look at the passages:

David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals...When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Sam 6) And the parallel: Then David consulted with the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, even with every leader. 2 And David said to all the assembly of Israel, "If it seems good to you, and if it is from the Lord our God, let us send everywhere to our kinsmen who remain in all the land of Israel, also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their cities with pasture lands, that they may meet with us; 3 and let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul." 4 Then all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people. 5 So David assembled all Israel together, from the Shihor of Egypt even to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. 6 And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim, which belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, the Lord who is enthroned above the cherubim, where His name is called. 7 And they carried the ark of God on a new cart from the house of Abinadab, and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart. 8 And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, even with songs and with lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and with trumpets. 9 When they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark, because the oxen nearly upset it. 10 And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzza, so He struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark; and he died there before God. 11 Then David became angry because of the Lord's outburst against Uzza; and he called that place Perez-uzza to this day. 12 And David was afraid of God that day, saying, "How can I bring the ark of God home to me?" 13 So David did not take the ark with him to the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 14 Thus the ark of God remained with the family of Obed-edom in his house three months; and the Lord blessed the family of Obed-edom with all that he had. (1 Chrn 13)
I can remember the first time I read this myself--it just seemed so harsh and weird, given the way I pictured this event. But as I studied over the years and decades the background of this passage and the related passages, it ended up being a surprising example of God's patience and mercy--He 'cut them so much slack' in this event it was amazing.

Consider first the requirements for moving the ark, given in the Law of Moses (which David knew quite well!):

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:"Take a census of the Kohathite branch of the Levites by their clans and families. Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work in the Tent of Meeting....This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place... Over the table of the Presence they are to spread a blue cloth and put on it the plates, dishes and bowls, and the jars for drink offerings; the bread that is continually there is to remain on it. Over these they are to spread a scarlet cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put its poles in place...They are to take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand that is for light, together with its lamps, its wick trimmers and trays, and all its jars for the oil used to supply it. Then they are to wrap it and all its accessories in a covering of hides of sea cows and put it on a carrying frame...Over the gold altar they are to spread a blue cloth and cover that with hides of sea cows and put its poles in place...They are to take all the articles used for ministering in the sanctuary, wrap them in a blue cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put them on a carrying frame...They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and spread a purple cloth over it. Then they are to place on it all the utensils used for ministering at the altar, including the firepans, meat forks, shovels and sprinkling bowls. Over it they are to spread a covering of hides of sea cows and put its poles in place...After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting...Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, is to have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering and the anointing oil. He is to be in charge of the entire tabernacle and everything in it, including its holy furnishings and articles"...The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "See that the Kohathite tribal clans are not cut off from the Levites. So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry. But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die." (Num 4)

But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. 51 "So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. (Num 1.50)

And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. 15 "The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it (Ex 25.14)

But to the Kohathites he gave none, because they were charged with the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders. (Num 7.9)

So, what was the procedure for moving the ark? 1. The high priest (descendants of Aaron) were to cover the holy things--so no one would die.

2. Only the Kohathites (of the Levites) could carry the ark.

3. It was to be carried by humans on their shoulders--not on a cart or a wagon, but by humans carrying the poles.

4. Even if a Kohathite touched it, he would die.

5. Even if a Kohathite looked into the ark, he would die.

6. No non-Levite could even come near, under threat of death.

Now, compare the event in 1 Samuel 6 (the returning of the ark to Israel, after its captivity in Philistine territory), several decades before the passage under discussion:
  "Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD...The large rock, on which they set the ark of the LORD, is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh...But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?"...Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, "The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your place." So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They took it to Abinadab's house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD Notice here: 1. Levites can handle the ark safely (as per instructions!)

2. Lay people cannot (as per instructions!)

[Also, remember that Levites had teaching responsibility for the Law--they would have known to tell the locals not to do this! The men may have actually had to overpower or force the Levites to let them look--the Levites would have probably tried to protect or quarantine the ark.]

Now, coming back to the prescribed way of moving the ark...let's compare the list of "should do" with "did do":

1. The high priest (descendants of Aaron) were to cover the holy things--so no one would die. [Oops: No high priest is mentioned at all]

2. Only the Kohathites (of the Levites) could carry the ark. [Oops: no indication that Uzzah was a Kohathite, or even a Levite--they were mentioned specifically in the 1 Samuel passage, remember, and David says they were not Levites in 1 Chronicles 15.]

3. It was to be carried by humans on their shoulders--not on a cart or a wagon, but by humans carrying the poles. [Oops: it was carried on a cart, cf. EBCOT:"At the same time, however, his first attempt (to bring the ark up) to do so follows Philistine rather than Levitical procedure",...I bet that really struck a responsive chord with the Lord--cf. Lev 20.23: "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them."]

4. Even if a Kohathite touched it, he would die. [Oops: not only was he not a K-ie, but he touched it.]

5. Even if a Kohathite looked into the ark, he would die. [No reference to looking in this passage.]

6. No non-Levite could even come near, under threat of death. [Oops: he was probably from Judah, Benjamin, or a Gibeonite, and he walked next to the ark on the cart, much closer than Levitical priests could come in the tabernacle setup!]

So, according the law, they should have died as they started the journey. But as it stands, they probably traveled 12-14 miles without God's judgment...Only at the end, after perhaps a day or two of slow travel, when the final one--and the most significant one--was violated, did Yahweh have to draw the line.

I can almost feel the decision-tension within God as they start out..."Well, they mean well...I will cut them a lot of slack here...I am a little concerned that they think I am like those pagan gods, who are dead and lifeless...they need to take me seriously, so they obey the rules and I can bless them, according to the promises...I will go along with this unless it gets out of hand..." And, He has the draw the line at violation of the holiest of holies--He must maintain before them that He is different and not their stereotypical god-who-does-not-mean-what-he-says...(Personally, I have had plenty of opportunities to experience this 'tension' myself, in trying to decide when/if to "bring up an issue" with my growing children.)

This passage is accordingly filled with mercy--from start to finish. God allows them to make most of the journey without the legitimate reprisal, and at the end, blesses the home of Obed-Edom the Gittite, definitely a Levite (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:17-18, 21, 24-25; 16:4-5, 38; Jos. Antiq. 7, 83) and quite possibly a Kohathite if he was from Gath Rimmon (Josh 21:20, 24-26; 1 Chronicles 6:66, 69).

David himself admits later that his mistake was very clear (1 Chrn 15):

Now David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. 2 Then David said, "No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the Lord chose them to carry the ark of God, and to minister to Him forever." 3 And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the Lord to its place, which he had prepared for it. 4 And David gathered together the sons of Aaron, and the Levites: 5 of the sons of Kohath, Uriel the chief, and 120 of his relatives; 6 of the sons of Merari, Asaiah the chief, and 220 of his relatives; 7 of the sons of Gershom, Joel the chief, and 130 of his relatives; 8 of the sons of Elizaphan, Shemaiah the chief, and 200 of his relatives; 9 of the sons of Hebron, Eliel the chief, and 80 of his relatives; 10 of the sons of Uzziel, Amminadab the chief, and 112 of his relatives. 11 Then David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites, for Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, 12 and said to them, "You are the heads of the fathers' households of the Levites; consecrate yourselves both you and your relatives, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. 13 "Because you did not carry it at the first, the Lord our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance." 14 So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. 15 And the sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders, with the poles thereon as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. So, this time, he has the Aaronic priests (Zadok and Abiathar), he uses the sons of Kohath, and they carry the ark on their shoulders--and, surprise, surprise--no problem...[I remember an old poster I saw in college: "If all else fails, follow instructions."]

Again, a closer look at the details and background of the event and the context reveal more grace than judgment even in this case.

Let me make a personal observation here...I have been digging into these 'divine injustice' passages for several years now, and I consistently come away (after intense study!) with a new appreciation for the magnitude and purity of God's kindness and patience, and a new appreciation for the complexity of the issues of ethical governance. The incredible balancing act that is required to satisfy a gazillion 'constraints' and 'directives' and 'values', commands new respect from me each time I review these types of issues. Issues of household responsibility, representative action, corporate identity, satisfying multiple value trajectories all in the same event (like that of Joseph!) are 'too wonderful for me'...I have appreciation for the problem as a parent, of course, but even trying to balance all the ethical boundaries in difficult situations of personal choice is exceptionally difficult for me. I find it so complex at the Miller-microscopic scale(!)--I cannot imagine the number of variables to deal with in the hand and heart of God...I gladly yield to the wise and loving Sovereign, who has revealed a trustworthy heart in His word, in my history, and in my heart.

Let's zoom out for a moment, and look at the big picture here...

Now, we could go round-and-round about different passages here, but the issue is broader than this. One of the central issues that emerges from the above discussion is methodological: how does one construct a 'portrait' of the heart and character of God?

There are a couple of basic methodological issues that emerge when one is constructing a 'theological doctrine':

[Note: these are procedures for theological method when one is beginning with a propositional, scriptural base, as our skeptic is doing. In the wider exercise of theological 'making', one would consider other 'sources', such as natural revelation, pan-human myth, religious experience. And, one would also consider wider issues of hermeneutics, qualification structures, and models of Scripture. But our skeptic here is arguing from Holy Writ, and doing so in quite simple fashion, so we can narrow the method to that dealing with scripture as a legitimate source of theological observations and propositions.]

Practically speaking, in a 'battle of theories', an original theory must not only have a strong central passage and wide support, but it must be able to provide a plausible explanation of the contrary data. In other words, it must be able to explain how that contrary data 'makes sense' in the original theory. This is essentially an act of re-interpretation. The central passage of the competing theory must be 'interpreted' differently than it was in the competing theory.

As one can imagine, the starting point or central passage can radically determine how 'successful' a theory will be in dealing with the contrary data, but any theory must be able to deal with its opposing data--and all theories have them.

Our skeptic friend has taken a difficult starting point. He has drawn some amazing (and unsupportable) conclusions from the Garden Story, taken selected passages from the Exodus story (without 'bounding' them with their context, like all statements are semantically bound), used a complex judgment passage on Israel/David (without appreciation for the legal and religious context of the action), and isolated a single judgment event against Uzzah (without appreciation for the vast 'slack cutting' that went on in the passage) to construct a portrait of the biblical God as cruel.

In theory construction and testing, as we have seen above, one of the next steps would be to study the contrary data and see how it could be predicted or at least accommodated by/to the theory. It is here that our friend will have a significant challenge, for any and all passages that speak of God's goodness, kindness, mercy, benevolence, tender-heartedness will have to be (1) denied as being some kind of conspiratorial deception of God; or (2) allowed to be genuine, but used to argue for a radical volatility of God (even if strictly a construct of human writers, as he asserts at the end of his article). Our skeptic tries both approaches: (1) he argues that God's good gift of His Son is 'arranged' to look better than it really is; and (2) that the biblical God is "too volatile to be the creator of such a harmonious universe".

Now his first approach (i.e., conspiracy) I have already argued against above. I have tried to show that the assumptions that are used to construct the conspiracy theory are not warranted from the four passages used by the skeptic, and that the conspiracy/sadistic theory itself labors under a number of debilitating burdens (e.g., non-predictive, second-order proof requirements).

But the second approach (i.e., semi-schizoid) is a bit different. The skeptic can maintain that God has been good on occasion, but that His overall pattern is that of schizoid behavior. How would we evaluate this position?

Well, the first thing is fairly obvious--we just showed that the behavior that allegedly is the 'bad' side of God simply isn't. In the wider context and in the deeper details of the texts themselves, the judgment-in-the-context-of-kindness becomes obvious. So I don't have to allow his alleged polarity in the character of God to begin with.

But in addition to this, I have to allow for a full range of personal actions and reactions on the part of God. I personally respond differently to different attitudes toward me, and I manifest different reactions to different situations. Why would I think God otherwise? He specifically tells us that His behavior is "emotionally" predictable, albeit not symmetric:

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.(Deut 5)

With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse. (Ps 18.26-27)

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. (2 Chrn 36.15)

He expects to be treated with respect and love and loyalty--as all persons do...Unlike many of us, though, His 'starting point' with everyone is overwhelmingly positive and good:
  You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' 44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? 47 "And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5.43)

 The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. 9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Ps 145.8-9)

There is nothing volatile about this--God has just as much right(!) to feel indignation, or remorse, or delight, or frustration, or compassion, or celebration as we do. These are the aspects of a robust heart--not signs of emotional disease or pathological psyche.

The skeptic is caught in a methodological no-mans-land, by selecting such a narrow and questionable starting point. One should always start with the data that is 'less subject to re-interpretation'. That is, find those passages that are clearest and which are more difficult to explain in 'some radically different' way. And, as mentioned above, go for passages that are (1) explicit and (2) less ambiguous (i.e., more concrete in image and language).

In the case of the heart of God, then, one would be on much safer ground methodologically if one focused on passages that contained (for example):

1. explicit statements from God about His heart (remember, it takes a lot more data to make these statements into conspiracy-like deliberate deception statements!);

2. Revelations of His heart embodied in His prescriptive laws;

3. Revelations of His heart manifested in His dealing with people, especially under law;

4. Revelation of His heart in the face and person of His Son.

These would be much more likely to yield a more defensible view of His heart. Consider just a couple of data points in these four:
  1. explicit statements from God about His heart (remember, it takes a lot more data to make these statements into conspiracy-like deliberate deception statements!); For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 29.11)

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (Jas 2.5)

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex 34.6)

The LORD will judge his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees their strength is gone and no one is left, slave or free. (Deut 32.36)

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (I John 4.16)

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you. (Is 62.5)

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph 3.17)

When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (2 Sam 24.16) [Referring to the judgment we discussed above! His heart was not in it!]

If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you. (Jer 42.10) [Judgment is never, never His first choice or His 'delight'...]

All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations -- a people who continually provoke me to my very face, (Is 65.2)

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer 2.13)

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (Is 55.2ff)

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. "But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. (Ps 81.10f) [Notice the last clause--the same kind of judgment as on Pharaoh.]

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lam 3.32)

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezek 18.32)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3.9)

These passages are so much easier to understand as revealing the true and good heart of God, than they are able to be understood as deceptive or schizoid in character! Indeed, how silly the urgent and heart-felt appeals of God to us above would seem, under a 'set up to be this way' scenario! And even the judgment acts of God (which the skeptic might consider 'volatile') are specifically and consistently disdained and regretfully done by this good-hearted God.

2. Revelations of His heart embodied in His prescriptive laws;

There are many, many places in the Mosaic law, where the beauty of His heart and His compassion can be seen, but some of my favorites are:

If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. 16 Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him (Deut 23.15) [If you did this under the Code of Hammurabi, you would be killed!]

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Deut 24.5) [Would this make sense of a sadistic god?]

Do not take a pair of millstones-not even the upper one-as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man's livelihood as security. 7 If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. 10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. 13 Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God. 14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. 15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.  16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. 17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24.6ff)

You shall not watch your neighbor's ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor's donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor's garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help. (Deut 22.1)

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God: "I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me (Deut 26.12)

These laws are veritable windows into the compassionate, thoughtful, and caring heart of the biblical God. They reflect every bit of the harmonious character of the creator of the beauty of botany, the elegance of physics, and the 'celestial harmony' of the heavens...These laws are simply unexplainable from a cruel-and-unjust god theory.

Just think about this for a minute...human and child sacrifice was a religious staple in many cultures, but the biblical God vehemently forbade it in the OT law (Deut 12.29ff):

When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?' 31 "You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
Would this make any sense if God were sadistic and cruel? Why wouldn't He exact the same torturous religious rituals done by pagan cultures, if He were so cruel? No one would have thought it 'unusual', since other nations worshipped their gods this way. The cruel-god theory just has too much contrary data to explain away, to have any credibility. Trying to stop an avalanche, one rock at a time...

3. Revelations of His heart manifested in His dealing with people, especially under law;

First, let me note that every major judgment in the OT was preceded by vast amounts of warning, appeals, clarity, and patience on the part of God.

But even under the mosaic law, God consistently cut His people slack, and was consistently merciful in forgiving their crimes against His person and His law. Consider a few of these:

The second set of stone tablets! The Israelites had already broken the covenant, yet He allowed it to continue.

Aaron and the death of his oldest sons (Lev 10.16ff). Aaron was supposed (under penalty of death!) to eat the offering, but he didn't. And God did not judge/destroy him.

Variation in sacrifice costs (e.g., Lev 5). Many sacrifices were 'scaled' to a person's economic condition. In other words, God made allowances for a person's difficulties.

The second-month Passover. God allowed people who missed the regular Passover, a "make up" day for this essential feast!

David and the showbread. This example of a non-priest (David) eating the bread that was only for the priests was used as an example by Jesus, of "I desire mercy and not sacrifice".

Atonement by incense/placement of Aaron in the plague of Korah/Dathan (Num 16). Atonement was always by blood, and Aaron was not supposed to leave the sanctuary. But in this case of major disloyalty, both of these rules were violated by Aaron, and yet God accepted it and stopped the judgment.

The later Passovers (2 Chron 30,35). Some of the later Passovers in Israel were not kept according to the Law, and yet God heard the prayers of the king (and read the hearts of the people) and allowed their celebration to be enjoyed (and not become the subject of judgment).

Ruth, Rahab, etc., etc., etc. So many other examples--Ruth was never supposed to enter the assembly as a Moabite, but became of the royal lineage of Jesus, as was the Canaanite prostitute Rahab.

The 'suspension' of the circumcision requirements during the Wilderness Wanderings. When Joshua took the Israelites into the Land for the first time, the men all had to be circumcised. God 'overlooked' this during the forty years in the wilderness, even though He was about to kill Moses for it in Exodus 4.24f.

These examples clearly show that God was interested in the success and happiness of His people; not their judgment. He was more than gracious, and consistently forgiving, being patient, and delighting in His people. This is the true heart of God.

4. Revelation of His heart in the face and person of His Son.

This pre-eminent revelation of His love for us, His provision for us, and His tender-hearted meekness, gentleness, and loyalty, is exceptionally "resistant to re-interpretation".

His character, His message, His life, and His death all demonstrate the immense love of God...

Notice that even a sample size as small as the above would constitute "clear, relevant, and varied" data against the cruel-or-schizoid theory of God, and be virtually impossible to 're-interpret' in a plausible manner.

[Also note that most of the material above, with the obvious exception of Point Four, is from the Tanakh/OT...So much for the "The Old Testament God was a Wrathful Ogre, but the New Testament God is a God of Love" theory!]

In summary:

Ergo, from a biblical standpoint, "God is good"--not just "great", but good of heart and beautiful of character. No wonder His Son Jesus--the Face of God inside time and history and among us--was full of "grace and truth".

Hopefully we can remember this, as we dive into Part Two...

Glenn Miller
Nov 2, 1998


From: The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)