The Deadly Yahweh Dilemma

Evil YahwehHere is my list of theological dilemmas (“doctrines”) that divide up Christianity into its many, colorful and flavorful varieties.  To this list I am adding another theological question by which to understand Christians:
The Deadly Yahweh Dilemma

It is obvious to any Bible reader that in the Jewish scriptures Yahweh displays far more deadly attributes than Yahweh does in the Christian scriptures. Exceptions exist of course: with kind, wonderful images of Yahweh in the OT and a horrible Yahweh seen in the NT (see the Book of Revelation). But overall, the differences is clear — the Deadly Yahweh Dilemma has existed since the beginning of Christianity and Christians have devised several different clever solutions.

Below I outline what I see as the five most common Christian apologetic “solutions” to Deadly Yahweh Dilemma. In quotes I put how I imagine a Christian believer phrasing this theology.

Conservative Christian Apologies [Biblical Literalism & Inerrancy]

  1. Non-Dispenstationalism: “Yes, Yahweh is deadly in the OT and in the NT (see Revelation which also speaks of his rightful wrath). Deal with it – God is not be messed with. He causes hurricane, pestilence and disease to punish sinners. He used Israel to wipe out evil pagans and he continues to punish nations who don’t obey him. He is forever the same.”
    — See my post on Yahweh kills Innocents where literalist rabid Christian insists if the Bible tells us a whole city or nation was evil and destroyed it, then it is obviously true. Really?  Even know a whole city that is completely evil?
  2. Dispensationalism:  “God treats humans differently through history and thus appears to change. God now treats us differently because we are under a different dispensation. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection he is now forgiving — we are in a dispensation of grace because his requirement for blood for sin was paid by his son’s sacrifice. But you should still be a bit afraid for he is still a just God.”
    This is Dispensational Theology. 
  3. Two Different Gods:  “The OT God and the NT God are two different gods.  Our Father (the NT God) is all loving and kind.”
    This was Marcion’s option in the first century of Christianity and had many followers.  But it was finally ruled a heresy and has largely disappeared. Here is a good post to explore it further. Marcion was a literalist too — as were many Church Fathers. Indeed, understanding Marcion can help Christians see a lot about how the Bible was created (not by a god but by people with agendas).  Actually, many Casual Christians hold something close to this heresy and don’t even know it.

Liberal Christian Apologies

  1. Inaccurate Wrestlings: “The OT is just stories of folks wrestling with the idea of God. They had limited, culturally constrained insight. God didn’t do that stuff. So they can be wrong and horrible, but the NT isn’t like that.  The NT authors stories were much more accurate. We get much closer to seeing what Yahweh (Jesus’ Father) is really like there.”
  2. Only Principled Myths: “The OT authors never told those OT stories with intent to be taken literally, but instead as a literary device to point to deeper principles. One of those principles was ‘Jesus is coming’.  So we should just relax about Deadly Yahweh Dilemma — it is a false dilemma.  Those scary Yahweh tales were just stories to capture the audiences attention with intent to teach something deeper.”

Question to Readers:  Can you think of other apologetic categories I have missed?

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22 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

22 responses to “The Deadly Yahweh Dilemma

  1. re: “Really? Even know a whole city that is completely evil? ”

    Yes! Sodom and Gomorrah.
    Yes! The earth in Noah’s day.
    Yes! We are living just like in Noah’s day and the earth is ripe for judgement!

    Yahweh confronts those who have declared open at war against him. To those who refuse his only path of grace and mercy he grants them their wish to remain forever separated from his presence in the lake of hell fire reserved for Satan and his demons. In this respect the Bible is consistent from beginning to end.

    In the meantime enjoy every good gift from God the creator of heaven and earth because “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

  2. Oh, sure, in Sodom and Gomorrah there sure surely no babies. And if there were, they were probably fighting for drugs in their cribs.

  3. @YoungEarth:
    Perfect, you are an example of a literalist who believes God does not change.

  4. My theology was a combination of 1 and 2. I have a really hard time with the liberal apologies since there is no way to determine what is and isn’t really true in the Bible. And Jesus only? Where do we know about Jesus….from the Bible.

  5. @ Alice,

    (1) Bible Certainty
    I totally understand.
    Without taking the Bible literally, it takes a lot more work to figure out what you are suppose to believe. I know Buddhists, Muslims and others who agree with you and accept their scriptures as absolute because it feels more secure and offers more solid identity.

    (2) Categories
    Hmmm, if you are 1 + 2, then I probably need to better divide up the categories. Probably # 1 should say “Non-dispensationalists”

  6. Yes maybe on the categories, I combined one and two because I thought of myself as a Calvinist and a Dispensationalist- not exactly identifying totally with either camp on all issues. John MacArthur is really popular in this mind-set.

    Deal with it – God is not be messed with

    Yes indeed a video that used to be one of my favorites::

    “That’s the God you’re dealing with.”

  7. TWF

    I think that you’ve got it all here, or at least the ones I’ve managed to run into. Maybe there are some slight variants, but essentially they are the same as one of these five categories.

    @youngearth
    I’m not sure if you realize this, but by saying that “Yes! We are living just like in Noah’s day and the earth is ripe for judgement!” in reference to places where everyone was 100% evil, you would necessarily include yourself in that assessment, despite the likely fact that you are a Yahweh/Jesus worshiper. Yet, as a Yahweh/Jesus worshiper, you could not be 100% evil by definition, and thus you have just contradicted yourself. Logic works better than faith.

  8. @TWF,
    Thanx — you know this stuff better than me too. I am trying to fill out my table of the many, many different types of Christians and think this helps.

  9. I think there are more conservative approaches to the harsh OT God.

    1. Timespan – The NT only covers a period of half a century, whereas the OT covers thousands of years, and God’s dealings with mankind and civilizations over time. Annanias and Sapphira, or the destruction of the temple in 70AD as predicted by Jesus, or even the massacre of the Jews at Massada, or the striking down of Herod, can be seen as ‘harsh’ judgements in the NT, and all in a short time span.

    The total destruction events of the OT were few as a percentage of the total time covered. Yes, the devastation of the Noahic flood was total, but it only happened once, and WILL happen once more at the coming judgment. Other one time events, the sacrifice of Abraham’s son, were more foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice rather than evidences of God’s harshness.

    Therefore, God has NOT changed – rather, our perception is skewed because we don’t take into account timespan, including future events like the judgement by fire.

    2. God was NOT harsh in the OT – Some events, like the massacre of the Cananites, were not as bad as we make them out because, for example:
    a. Only the ones who stayed behind after being warned of the attack, were killed
    b. The command to kill them all was hyperbolic, or limited to those who defied the warnings (see Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster?)

    As mentioned, the sacrifice of Isaac was not prescriptive or even indicative of what God demands of his followers, but was demanded specifically of Abraham, because he, as the progenitor of faith, set the example for what God himself would do in the New Covenant. No other OT saint was asked to do this.

    3. Dispensation Completion – God was both merciful and patient in the OT, but did eventually bring judgement. In the NT, we are in a period of mercy, but perhaps the most fierce judgment is still coming. Jesus didn’t judge while here on earth, but he will, with vengeance when he comes. Therefore, the ‘OT’ God and the NT one are no different.

  10. rautakyy

    @dgsinclair, I think that you bring up a good point 1. about the timespan. But evil deeds and demands do not change into benevolent ones no matter for how long timespan they are streched onto. I agree whith you, the NT and the OT gods represent a morally similar entity, and to me it is obviously a tribal moralist. To be exact, this god described in both books is truly evil. Actions speak louder than words and the actions of such a god are far worse, than the praise and worship of the adherents and subjects.

    In your point 2. you say the Biblical god was not harsh, but there are no excuses for such a god to engage in obviously tribally moralistically, authoritarianist, unethical actions. a) The fact that the Cananites were alledgedly warned does by no means diminsh the evil nature of the conquest. Or do you really think that a conquest can be justified by a warning? That would make just about every second conquest in human history justified. Do people have no right to live in their own homecountries? Do people have no right to defend their own liberty in their own countries? If your country was warned and then attacked would it make it OK, if the attacker appealed to a god that had promised your land to the attacker? b) “Hyperbolic”? Does that make conquest, massmurder and genoside less unethical? Do you even see, that it was unethical for that god to demand it from the ancient Hebrew no matter how evil the Cananites – man, woman and child – ever were? Such an attack on other people and robbing them of their land and property causes anguish and violence within the culture of the robber nation and it gets even worse if it is excused by the extreme authority of a god supposedly demanding such.

    The demand to kill Isaac was something that describes the entity making the demand by what sort of man did this god alledgedly chose as a progenitor of the new faith. A man who has lower morals, than by far most parents in this world. A man who was ready to kill his very own son to please a deity (voices in his head). An utterly disturbed and selfish individual. On the other hand the demand for faith and introducing it as a virtue is evil in itself.

    3. Patient? In comparrison to whom? What is a god going to avenge? Has that god been hurt by the actions of men? Or is it the actions of men against other men this god is avenging? Then what was the point of supposedly drowning them all? Who should have vengeance for that crime against humanity? Or is god simply going to avenge us our disbelief in this particular deity among literally thousands of other such obvious folklore characters? Has that god been somehow hurt by the disbelief, and is the “judgement” as described in the NT in any proportion to that “sin”?

    @Sabio, sorry, I was morally outraged once more for excuses people come up for their horrid gods.

  11. >> RAUTAKYY: But evil deeds and demands do not change into benevolent ones no matter for how long timespan they are streched onto.

    Let’s not confuse two separate points – I am saying that the perceived difference between the OT and NT is merely a matter of needing a ‘conversion factor’ based on time. Once you factor in the amount of time, there may be much less difference in the ‘rate’ of harsh justice.

    Regarding the argument that the deeds and demands of the OT God are ‘evil’ or unjust is another argument altogether. As you note, my second point addresses the conservative contention that such actions were not harsh, but JUST. We may overestimate the actual harshness – for example, thinking that the command to kill all Cananites was genocide, when in fact, they were warned to leave, and only those who remained after war was declared were killed – these people may have been as evil as modern Islamists, who force/brainwash their women and children to stay as shields. Second, the ‘kill them all’ language may have been hyperbolic, though I am less convinced of that.

    Regarding the God of the bible being tribalist, I think you are half right, and that is a decent, but perhaps surmountable challenge. While simple tribalism is a parochial might makes right type of affair, in this case, it may have been a case of right makes might – that is, the God who created the entire tribe of mankind is now choosing to reassert his reign through one particular people. While all people’s may claim that THEIR God is the right one, that does not mean that one of them is not right.

    What makes the difference is the moral claims and practices of the so-called God. Some moral claims, like allowing slavery (not indentured servitude), torture, child sacrifice, or ecological destruction may be seen as good filters for identifying false gods – and by that measure, the God of the OT Himself may fail!

    So I am admitting that your challenge is a very good one. HOWEVER, I want to remind you of the principle that may be an escape valve – if the God of the OT is in the moral right regarding the wickedness of things like adultery, homosexuality, theft, worshipping created things, or balancing justice and mercy, he may also be right about destroying exceedingly wicked nations.

  12. >> RAUTAKYY: The demand to kill Isaac was something that describes the entity making the demand by what sort of man did this god alledgedly chose as a progenitor of the new faith. A man who has lower morals, than by far most parents in this world. A man who was ready to kill his very own son to please a deity (voices in his head). An utterly disturbed and selfish individual. On the other hand the demand for faith and introducing it as a virtue is evil in itself.

    Well, such a demand filters out the selfish and self righteous pretty well ;). Jesus himself said hard sayings to blind those who thought themselves intelligent, so beware.

    But again, a superficial evaluation of the story certainly might lead you to think God was evil to ask such a thing. However, if you see it in view of the fact that (a) God gave Him this son as a miracle very late in life, and (b) God was providing an example of what He was going to do for us, and (c) this absolutely was one of the heinous practices of the pagan religions, so God was confounding his sense of natural morality, not because he would allow him to follow through, but because the principle here is that we can’t idolize anything, you can view this differently.

  13. >> RAUTAKYY: Patient? In comparrison to whom? What is a god going to avenge? Has that god been hurt by the actions of men? Or is it the actions of men against other men this god is avenging?

    Well, let me ask you. If members of your society were incorribly selfish and destructive, and all your efforts at remediation failed, how many generations would you wait to bring justice to them? If they developed a culture that consistently kept killing your children, raping your women, and stealing from you? At what point would you think them worthy of death? Ever?

    >> RAUTAKYY: Then what was the point of supposedly drowning them all? Who should have vengeance for that crime against humanity?

    First, if God is the creator, he is essentially the owner and can do what He wants. Can the thing made say to Him who made it, what are you making? No.

    Second, if none are innocent, as the bible seems to claim, everyone deserves this fate, and to except any from justice might seem equally unjust. It may not be merciful, but it can be argued that it was not unjust, esp. as the scriptures seem to claim, the wickedness of mankind was essentially rampant and runaway.

    >> RAUTAKYY: Or is god simply going to avenge us our disbelief in this particular deity among literally thousands of other such obvious folklore characters?

    Not all faith claims are of equal voracity. To lump all supposed gods into one bucket is intellectually lazy, if not dishonest. In fact, I have discussed some criteria by which one can use reason to eliminate pretenders, though it might not eliminate all possible faith systems (I think you come down to Judiasm, Christianity, and Buddhism). See Pascal’s Wager – Part II: debunking the ‘all religions are equally improbable’ ruse

    >> RAUTAKKY: Has that god been somehow hurt by the disbelief, and is the “judgement” as described in the NT in any proportion to that “sin”?

    This is a great question. No, I suspect God does not suffer hurt feelings.

    On the case for the proportionality of Eternal Conscious Torment, I totally agree with that ethical challenge, and that very challenge is what forced me to re-examine the traditional teaching on hell. I was very surprised to find that there is a growing and biblically conservative movement called Conditionalism, which teaches that the Bible teaches that those who refuse the salvation offered in Christ will instead be executed, albeit with some degree of proportional punishment thrown in.

    This makes much betters sense of, for example, passages like John 3:16, where it reads “that whosoever believes in him shall not *perish*” or when the Apostle John calles being thrown into the lake of fire the ‘second death.’ I mean, fire consistently consumes its object – it does not continue to burn it but not burn it.

    You can read and listen to much more on this perspective at RethinkingHell.com. Under the Explore section, under Reasons > Other Important Considerations, you will find a short essay on the proportionality argument.

  14. Hey, dgsinclaire,
    Here is Rautakky’s blog. Go get him! 🙂

  15. William

    before I deconverted I thought that the OT and NT god were the same, as my parents were same parents i had when i was a young boy and then as a young man.

    When I was a young child my parents spanked me to drive lessons home, but tolerated a little more whining and crying because I was a child. As I grew older, more was expected of me (less tolerance for whining and crying) but wasn’t spanked because I had already been taught the “earlier lessons.”

    I viewed the OT as our early spiritual childhood, and the NT as our young spiritual adulthood. I didn’t think it was god who changed so much as it was us who changed or matured.

    Now of course, I don’t believe the bible is god’s word, but i think we can still find moral goodness there if we look for it.

  16. @William,
    Yes, that is dispensationalism, see #2 above.
    There is both moral horribleness and moral goodness in the Bible, much like the Dexter TV series. 🙂

  17. William

    Once you begin to measure the bible by things it says of itself, that house of cards seems to topple quickly.

  18. @William,
    Do you understand when I said your believer-days rational was dispensationalist (#2)? I just want to know if your reading or listening. The question on this post was at the end of the post. Please take care not to speed read the title of a post and just free-associate in the comments. Thoughtful interaction is what I prefer on this blog. Thanx.

  19. William

    Well, I thought I understood, but was just being more specific or explaining things a little differently – getting out of the generic. Sorry. Thought I was adding to a discussion. Didn’t mean to bog it down in redundancy.

    Sometimes more than one look at a single object adds additional clarity.

    no? have I missed your point?

  20. rautakyy

    @dgsinclair, interresting angles. You are wellcome to comment in my blog Sabio so generously linked here. Thanks Sabio.

    What I get from your many replies to my rant 😉 is that you think that the creator has some special right to justify ethically questionable actions and that we as mere humans have no right to judge this human claim of an entity among so many different cultural claims through our supposedly god given capacity for logic and empathy? I do not see how that right could be achieved even by a creator of all other than through might makes right, which in itself is inevitably a morally corrupt concept.

    Do you really find vengeance and murder as some form of justice from an entity that supposedly is all-capable? I personally find that just a culturally primitive concept and a description of a very limited image for a god.

    If I make something and then give it away to a nother person, no matter how stupid the person who recieved the gift is, I have no special right as the maker of the object over the rights of the owner of the object. A father does not own his son, altough that is how people in iron age Levant might have seen it. Does he?

  21. The Creator has given us this life to choose our owner. We can own ourselves and have a life of whatever this world allows, until our bodies die (which is perfectly fine and acceptable for most, apparently), or we can give ourselves to our Creator, and live beyond the limits of our imagination. It’s that simple.

  22. @ Quack,
    Did you write this before you saw that I don’t accept sarcasm or fictitious comments? For the thinking that we either follow God or don’t is prevalent thinking in many religions, and it is an evil philosophy.

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