The angry, violent, vindictive God of the Old Testament is one of the most common objections against Christianity. And when I read the works of ex-Christians, those who were once believers and no longer are, this is a major reason given for why they no longer believe God exists.
How can a God of such supposed love and understanding be so cruel as he appears in the Old Testament? How can someone trust a power like that—much less love him? I know I do not want to follow such a God.
Detractors point to a number of atrocities committed by God in the Old Testament. We will list some of the more prominent ones here.
Genesis chapter 6 relates:
The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
Unhappy with the way humanity turned out, God decided to kill them all. Not only did he determine to exterminate perhaps untold millions of people though drowning and starvation, including children, but he decided to kill all the animals too. Though he is said to have used natural elements, the extermination was intentional.
How could a God do such a thing? If a human were to attempt this kind of violence against others, it would be universally condemned as a holocaust.
Leviticus lists a number of offenses requiring the death penalty, with a concentration in Chapter 20:
- Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
- If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death
- If a man has sexual relations with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman are to be put to death. (Same with a man and his daughter-in-law, or a man with another man)
- If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire.
- If a man (or woman) has sexual relations with an animal, (s)he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
- A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them.
Here are two more from chapter 24:
- Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.
- Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.
Numbers chapter 15 prescribes the death penalty for gathering wood on the Sabbath, and Deuteronomy chapter 21 requires stoning for a stubborn and rebellious son. And there are other examples of the death penalty as well.
Why would a God be so blood-thirsty in his laws?
As the Israelites prepared to fight the Amalekites, who had opposed them hundreds of years earlier, 1 Samuel chapter 15 states:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.
Kill them all—including the children and infants. How could God order such vengeance?
Prophets, Bears, and Insulting Children
The prophet Elisha was walking down the road when a group of children began to make fun of him. 2 Kings chapter 2 relates:
Some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
Bad boys! But typical boys. How could the testy prophet cause God to send bears to maul children?
Grandchildren Punished for Parents
Exodus chapter 20 says:
I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
How is it fair for God to punish descendents for the behavior of their parents or grandparents?
Responses to Angry God
Many believers address these challenges either by explaining why the actions were appropriate or defending God’s right to do as he chooses. Next time, I will suggest a completely different response.