That was the question that one of my friends asked me a few months ago. Back then, I was very stumped by that persistent question. So, I thought about it, asked a few questions, read a few books and articles.
I know this question is very common, and my answer is probably also very common. In fact, this question has been asked so many times not because there hasn’t been an answer, but because people only want to ask that question to provoke; the answer is seldom listened to.
1. The depiction of a wrathful God implies that humans are not at fault
Richard Dawkins famously wrote in ‘The God Delusion’: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
This depiction of a wrathful God implies that we humans are by no means at fault. There is an indication of self-righteousness, innocence and an utter ignorance of sin. Many people ask, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’. Already, the premise is incorrect. The answer is simple: there are no good people. People argue that God is hateful and full of wrath, thus showing a lack of understanding of the seriousness of human sin.
The evil that was prevalent in the Old Testament was manifest in many individuals, one of whom was Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:
Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole,as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” 5 In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
In return, God acted accordingly:
10 The Lord said through his servants the prophets: 11 “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; 15 they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.”
Amon succeeded Manasseh, and as we read later on in the chapter, he had not learned from the previous king’s death. He continued to do evil. To an extent, the Old Testament is one of repetition: man commits sin > God warns them of punishment > man does not listen and continues to sin > God punishes. And the cycle continues…
So how can we accuse God of doing what He does, when people keep doing what they do?
God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Another very good answer comes from a blog I chanced upon when trying to find an answer: http://colecalloway.blogspot.sg/2013/02/how-can-loving-god-be-so-hateful.html
2. God is the same in the Old and New Testament
God is and always has been loving, merciful and gracious. We see this even in the very first story – the fall of man. When Adam and Eve felt their nakedness, God killed an animal to clothe their nakedness and shame. Many academics have cited this as the first symbolism of a future, ultimate sacrifice. And when Jesus did die on the cross, it showed that God was willing even to sacrifice His own son.
In the next story of Cain and Abel, God did indeed punish Cain for killing his brother, but there’s a twist!
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
He killed his brother and watched as life seeped out of Abel. Cain deserved to die. Yet, God extended his hand of grace and mercy. Though Cain killed Abel, God would not let others do the same to Cain, no matter what he had done. So tell me, is this God one of revenge and hatred, or a Father of love and mercy?
3. ‘Beyond Opinion’ by Ravi Zacharias
This is an excellent (brief) excerpt from Ravi ’ book ‘Beyond Opinion: Living the faith we defend’, page 13-16.
War in the Old Testament
I have frequently been asked by skeptical friends or audiences how I can believe in God when so many wars have been caused by religion. The implication of this question is that if only people would leave behind their convictions about the existence of God, then the world would be a better and more peaceful place. Of course, very few questioners ever reflect on the fact that the exact reverse of this was demonstrated in the twentieth century. Indeed, in this last century, the atheistic communist and Nazi ideologies gave rise to more killing than the previous nineteen centuries put together. However, this is not to say that war and violence are not real questions with regard to the Bible. For the postmodern, one of the most potent arguments against the authority of the bible as a guide containing moral absolutes is the fact that killing is sanctioned by God in the Old Testament.
The question one might post to the postmodern skeptic who wonders whether war can ever be a good things is ‘Would it be a demonstration of goodness to show no opposition to evil?’ Can we approve of a government that offers no resistance to the criminal, whether burglar, rapist, murderer, or child abuser? This is an important question because both the Old and New Testaments present a portrait of a moral God who judges evil. One of the means of God’s judgment in the pages of the Old Testament is war.
The Rules of Warfare
The rules of war for God’s people are laid down in Deuteronomy 20, and they represent a control of justice, fairness and kindness in the use of the sword.
Unlike the contemporary armies of other nations, who might attack a city without giving it an opportunity to surrender on terms (1 Sam 11:2-3), the armies of Israel were required to grant a city an opportunity to surrender without bloodshed before moving on to mount a full-scale siege and destruction of the city. … Only in the case of the particularly depraved inhabitants of Canaan itself was there to be total destruction (Deuteronomy 20:16). The reason given to God-sanctioned war and destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan was the likely corruption of the moral and spiritual standards of Israelite society, in areas such as child sacrifice: ‘Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God’ (v 18).
In the case of the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6), God had given the people more than four hundred years to turn from abominable practices such as child sacrifice – while Israel endured slavery in Egypt. The killing of the inhabitants of Jericho by the Israelite army is a means of God’s judgment. Incidentally, those who did repent and show favor to Joshua were spared, namely the prostitute Rahab, who appears in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ.