Here’s an open-ended question. How have you thought about or wrestled with the ways of God as a Divine Warrior, and as one who sometimes punishes fiercely?
Saul loses his kingship because he doesn’t destroy all the livestock and kill every last person — man, woman, and child — of the Amalekites.
Moses has 3000 random Israelites killed by sword after the Golden Calf was made. He also made the people drink that Calf, ground into powder and sprinkled in water — a kind of perverse eucharist.
As one of my students in a college Bible course put it: “Why is God so mean?”
Our psalms speak insistently of an intuition — or a longing – -that justice will be the final word. But it can be hard to see either divine or human justice in some of what biblical scholar Phyllis Trible called biblical “texts of terror.”
How do you approach such stories in the Bible?
There are many kinds of responses to this question offered by Christians and Jews, over the centuries of our journeying with biblical texts.
Here’s a story that I think captures the gist of how I’m inclined to answer the question. Some years ago I was a guest preacher in my church, and the 2 year old son of a friend really wanted to come to hear me preach. He didn’t belong to a church, but he did have a clear idea of how he should dress for church. He insisted on wearing sunglasses and love beads. His mother doesn’t have a Christian background, but she’s an artist and could see the wisdom of honoring her son’s request. So he came to church and listened to me preach with sunglasses and love beads.
Did he somehow know the twin testimonies of scripture: the sovereignty of God, whose majesty is so intense and incomprehensible we must shield our gaze with something like sunglasses; and the love of God that encircles us like those love beads?
I do not think I can ever agree with Moses or Elijah or any prophet who kills other human beings in God’s name. But however imperfectly (perhaps, if I am right here . . .), these acts in God’s name do gesture to us to attend to the reality of God. They bear witness that in the quality of that attention, our very lives are at stake.