Paul Copan, in his new book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, defends the God of the Old Testament. He cuts against the grain of one of the most popular and ill-informed criticisms of both the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Copan is taking a vital topic and he does this with perspective, scope and with clear prose. This is an important book at an important time. The New Atheists are not alone in wondering what to do with some things we see about God in the Bible. For those who are struggling with this topic, this is a very good place to start.
First, though they emphasize cool-headedness, they express themselves angrily. Second, their arguments against God’s existence are surprisingly flimsy, “often resembling the simplistic village atheist far more than the credentialed academician.” And, third, the New Atheists aren’t willing to own up to the atrocities committed in the name of atheism.
One of the main criticisms leveled against the Bible, against Judaism (on which they are far more silent) and against Christianity is the God of the Old Testament. Paul Copan sums up their view of God as a “moral monster.” And chp two is an exposition of the list of accusations the new atheists make against the God of the Old Testament.
Do you think the God of the Old Testament, or of the Bible, is self-serving? Does this idea sometimes haunt you? How do you explain the Bible’s references to God saving in order to glorify himself? Does Dawkins’ criticism of God as narcissistic gain traction with you?
Here are some of the expressions: “child abuse and bullying” and “monumental rage” and “ethnic cleansing” and “bloodthirsty massacres” and “xenophobic relish” and “morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland” and thus religion is the “root of all evil.”
And this leads Paul Copan to this book, which takes on each of the major categories. Chapter 3 is about “Great Appetite for Praise and Sacrifices?” Or, “Divine arrogance or humility?” Each chp is short and accessible and canvasses the problem and suggested alternatives.
We turn now to this first issue: is the God of the OT a narcissist? I’ve heard this at times, unfairly, of the way John Piper has reframed Jonathan Edwards’ emphasis on God’s glory and his intent on glorifying himself.Copan’s opening thesis: “On closer inspection, God turns out to be a humble, self-giving, other-centered Being.”
What is pride? An inflated view of oneself. What is humility? A proper view of oneself before God. Paul Copan says God’s view of himself is accurate.
Thus, making humans in God’s image is an act of kingly kindness. Copan says it is God spreading the wealth, and that’s a good way of putting it.
God summoning us to worship is God’s way of inviting us to participate in the Ultimate Reality. If God is worthy of worship, and by all accounts any true God would be worthy of worship, then calling people to worship is not self-centered but proper-centeredness.
Copan points out that most instances of summoning humans to praise God come from humans summoning other humans to praise God. Praise, and he borrows from CS Lewis, is the natural completion of joy in someone.
And the God of the Old Testament is also humble, as God is in the New Testament in the incarnation. Thus, “high and exalted One” dwells “with the contrite and lowly of spirit (Isa 57:15). The NT expands this theme but doesn’t invent it.
The Trinity speaks of humility because it is the serving of the Persons of the Trinity, the self-giving of Father to Son and Son to Spirit and all around the circle, endlessly. God becomes human in the pages of the Bible, which ought to end any idea that God is self-serving and arrogant. Then God meets us at the Cross, taking on the lowest of places in the world.
The God of the Bible is the most humble God in all religions.
And he closes with a great one: “We can set aside the false accusation that God is a divine, pompous windbag seeking to have his ego stroked by human flattery. That’s the argument of village atheists, not those who have seriously examined the Scriptures.”