No doubt about it, the most potent questions and the most damaging ideas in the Bible that may students ask me about are ones they have about God — and often in the Old Testament. Sometimes the questions emerge from shallow readings or from tropes picked up on the internet, but there are issues here. So I’m going to ask you to get a copy of David Lamb, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, read it and join this conversation. Get a conversation started in small groups at your church or in your school because what David brings up in this book are questions many people have. David is an Old Testament professor at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA.
After sketching a Gary Larson The Far Side cartoons in which we see a man walking and above him a grand piano and God on a computer about to strike the ‘smite’ key… This image evokes a standard image of the Old Testament God: “God smites, strikes, slays and even slaughters” (12). What to do with this? Is God the “cosmic causer of catastrophes”?
Gary Larson, Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, Richard Dawkins’ “megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” and Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not great” and the insurance category of “act of God” … it’s everywhere.
If God is not good, we’ve got big problems.
Here is where David Lamb will take us: “While the God of the OT does get angry, what characterizes him is love. While he may seem sexist, he is highly affirming of women. While he may seem racist, he is hospitable toward all people” (15).
He thinks Dawkins has his finger on a significant problem but doesn’t think he reads his Bible well.
Lamb will be examining the positive and negative characterizations of God in the Bible. Not just the Old Testament but also in the New Testament. And we have to take it all … and only taking it all into view gives us a good Bible reading.
It’s easy to exaggerate the negative; it’s just as easy to ignore the negative. It’s easy to magnify differences between the Old and the New, and it is hard work to take both into view. I have to say this: both Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have drawn attention to their ideas because of their seeming authenticity when it comes to negative ideas in the Bible — but in the process I think both shirked the hard work of bringing the negative and positive together. David Lamb, so I think, has done this hard work and I commend this book to you.
So let’s say you are honest and you have questions about the God of the Old Testament, or the Bible. Honesty is the way forward: but are you willing to do the hard work of exploring the whole and holding out until it makes sense? Or do you want to bail and find a simpler answer?
David Lamb suggests the name of God in the OT is YHWH and the name of God in the NT is Jesus. They are the same God. YHWH and Jesus. He reminds us — and this for me is a big one if we want to do the hard work — that the God of Jesus was the God of the OT, and that Jesus’ God was YHWH, the one so many today want to disparage. If you like Jesus, you are compelled to like his God.
Our image of God influences how we pursue God; it impacts how we read the Bible; it shapes what we think of humans and other Christians.