Angry, Violent Old Testament God

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.

Deluge by Gustave Doré

Deluge by Gustave Doré via Wikimedia Commons

Detractors point to a number of atrocities committed by God in the Old Testament. We will list some of the more prominent ones here.

The Flood

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.

Capital Offenses

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?

Genocide

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.

Your observations and comments are welcome below.
If you enjoyed this or found it helpful, please sign up for updates in the column to the right (email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter) so that you don’t miss future posts. Also consider sharing this post using the buttons below. Have a great day! ~Tim
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16 Responses to Angry, Violent Old Testament God

  1. progcelt says:

    I struggled with these issues for many years. Being a preacher trying to convey a message of love and hope, I could not reconcile these glaring contradictions. I finally realized that these are the words of men with societal prejudices justifying their horrendous behavior with religious extremism.

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  2. I too have struggled with this aspect of Bible-based theology. It is something (as you know) I have also blogged about on my Not Just A Blonde blog in “Who Is God… Really?” (https://notjustablonde.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/who-is-god-really/). I am definitely looking forward to your insights and views on this topic as well as the possibility of “different response” to it all. Thank you for never being afraid to analyze the most sensitive topics in Christianity!

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    • So many good Christian folks have difficulty with this question Blonde, but I think you found the key when you said in your blog, ‘Jesus is the answer to who God really is… Loving, Forgiving, Full of Grace & Acceptance.’

      You also brought together this issue and another one–legalism. I believe that both problems often go together: if we believe God is angry and harsh, then we must placate him by keeping his host of picky rules.

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  6. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Tim (JWOB),

    I agree with part of your conclusion: this stories do not describe a real god and stories like these were spun all the time back in the Iron Age as means of getting messages across. So literalist Christians are highly mistake to take these stories as actual happenings. Evidence shows clearly there was no Abraham from Ur, no exile to Egypt, no Moses who wrote the Torah. And likewise, the horrible Yahweh stories were made up.

    I find ex-believers jumped out of Christianity for several reasons:
    (1) Salvation only For Christian myths
    (2) Anti-science attitudes
    (3) Magic prayer don’t work
    (4) Horrible Yahweh stories
    (5) Seeing behind God-talk as manipulation
    (6) Self-delusion of talking to a god

    The list goes on. Usually a former believer has more than one of these — they pile up on us gradually until the timing is right to jump out.

    Now, some a small percent of liberal Christianities tell versions which skip many of these pit falls, but after the switch is turned off, the ex-Christians can’t return because they see how theology is constructed and not discovered.

    Just my take.

    So, yeah, getting rid of Horrible Yahweh stories, will help some folks from leaving so soon perhaps. It is good you are writing to those Christians who still buy into these stories because they are actually used nowadays to spin horrible explanations for natural disasters — they are used to explain away disease and storms as God’s wrath.
    Argggghhhhhh.

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  9. Reader says:

    This post did a good job in collecting many people’s criticisms of God, but I think a lot of the commenters are simply trying to deny this aspect of God. All of these harsh aspects listed together may make God appear as angry or violent, but this is only one aspect of God. Judgment and justice must exist, otherwise, God could not be loving. God dealt with humanity differently at different points in time, based on the behavior of His followers (mostly in relation to the offspring of Abraham). If someone in today’s society thinks committing adultery or having sex with an animal is not a big deal, then they are rejecting the punishment listed in the Torah for those sin as unreasonable only because they wish to determine what is considered morally correct based on personal or societal preference; large sections of the Old Testament document the Jews turning away from God by determining to do whatever they want, only to fall into the hands of their enemies, return to God, be rescued, and then repeat the story by falling away after their own desires. People created Idols, because a god of your own invention is a god that you control. If you create an imaginary god, you can image it however you want, and can create an idol that justifies you doing anything you want to do. The point of the 10 Commandments was that if you wanted to follow the God of the Hebrews, then you need to follow His rules and not make up your own.

    Are for Jesus presenting God as a loving father instead of an angry god, that is not true. A loving father can treat his children with love, but what loving father would watch his children be abused without get angry. As an example, imagine a Loving Father, finding out the his six year old daughter was being sexually abused by a teacher; would it be loving for him to buy the teacher coffee and offer forgiveness? Would it be wrong for the Loving Father to call the police and have the teacher punished? If so, is it okay for him to do so, even if large portions of the society think the teacher’s behave was appropriate, even though it is still legal? What if the Loving Father, loved his child so much that in anger he avenged his child himself, even though it was against the law to do so? In the world, there are many people who learn that their children are being abused, and they take no action, they do not report it, and they knowing allow it to continue — such people are not considered “loving” parents. Justice, Anger, and Revenge are part of being a Loving Father, but of course, it is only an aspect of the relationship (and is present when required, which is in response to the actions of the bad guys)

    Jesus did not teach a different God than the Old Testament, he just stressed the need for having a closer personal relationship with God; so that God was treated as a Father instead of someone you sacrifice animals while hoping to benefit in the world as a result. People who claim Jesus taught a different God (who loves everyone exactly the way they are) are creating an idol – they are making up their own god and assigning it the personality and character traits the want it to have. Jesus offered comfort and forgiveness to some, but he was also intolerant of others and did not even try to save them. Jesus offers forgiveness, but he will tread the wine-press of the wrath of God. In the Parable of the Good Steward, he rewarded his stewards according to their works, can then said:

    Luke 19:27 ‘But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and kill them in my presence.’”

    If people are leaving the church because they don’t like the fact wicked are punished, then it probably stems from them having poor ministers who could not explain the concept to them. Or more likely, the person does not want to follow God, but wants to make their own god (idol) that thinks the way they do, and excuses the same behavior. The problem with such imaginary gods, is that without justice, the innocent are quickly abused, and then their excuse for falling away becomes, “If God were real, then why does he allow suffering to exist?” So they will object to all the suffering or all the punishment. The bottom line is that there needs to be a balance.

    We deal with the same issues in our societies. We have a prison system, because certain people choose to do evil, and we have to do something with them — we can’t just allow them to keep injuring others. Some people want drugs to be legal and for there to be no police; that is the fantasy of someone who wishes the legal system was removed, not because it was flawed, but because the person wants to do things that are legal. If society listened to those who do not want police or prisons, those same people would quickly find themselves abused, murdered, or enslaved and complaining that the world is not fair.

    Yep, God flooded the Earth. However, every single thought of the people he drowned were evil continually. What would you have done differently in order to fix it? If you were given the chance to fix it, how would you? Keep in mind that their every thought was evil continually, having them attend a group therapy rehabilitation meeting would probably of little effect. If you do nothing, the only choice to do allow the world to continue to get more and more evil, and less and less fair or just. At some point, a moral balance must be enforced, and since the bad guys are resistant to following the rules, at some point force may need to be applied. It is great to be safe while taking your family to Disneyland, but you are only able to do so because we have rules and security guards.

    @ Lantz
    As far as Abraham and Ur not existing, that is completely wrong. Ur still exist today, it is in lower Iraq, and you can go there if you want. Reading the Bible is not like reading Lord of the Rings, the events in the Bible took place in the world that we live in, and the places are still there today. You can go to the places and touch them with your own hand. You can touch the stone Christ’s body rested on in his tomb, and walk through the city of David. The Temple isn’t their anymore, because the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock in its place, but the historical facts can be verified personally. I am not sure how you concluded there was no historical evidence of Mose (etc…), since the Bible is a written history of the Jews, and it is more was written much earlier than whatever modern history book you are getting your incorrect fact from.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Reader, it seems that we have very different perspectives on what God is like as well as the integrity of Old Testament history. The Old Testament was written by people who felt a close connection to God, but they often saw God as their own personal tribal god and war god. When they defeated their enemies, they thought it was because God was pleased with them; when they were defeated by their enemies, they thought it was because God was displeased. This is no different than what other tribes thought about their own tribal gods.

      I believe the only true insight we have into God is what Jesus tells us of the loving Father.

      I very much agree with you about sexual abuse and holding the abusers accountable, but this is not the same as the many extreme punishments found in parts of the OT. Justice should be administered fairly and not with anger and retribution.

      Regarding OT history, archaeology has pretty firmly established that there was no mass of people wandering in the Sinai desert as described in Exodus. And there was no rapid and massive conquest of Canaan as described in Joshua. It just didn’t happen. These are tribal stories.

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