“The problem so many people, believers as well as skeptics, have with God really isn’t with God. It’s with the stunted perception of the biblical God we imbibe in our youthful years”
So says Gerald L. Schroeder in the introduction to his book, God According to God, A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along. The question for Schroeder isn’t some variation on – if God is all powerful and good, why is the world such a mess? The question is- what does the Bible and the natural world tell us about what God is like? We ought not to conceive an idea in our minds about what God is like and how God ought to act in the world. Rather we ought to look at the way the world is and carefully read the Bible to discover who God is. Schroeder suggests that we’ve caused ourselves all sorts of problems by bringing preconceived ideas about what God is like to the Bible and to our lives. He encourages us to read the Bible and to engage the natural world carefully, thoughtfully, and with some depth to discover who God is.
Gerald L. Schroeder is a physicist (his Ph.D. is from M.I.T.) and a Jewish bible scholar and in this book he is enriching and expanding my ideas about the relationship between science and religion. When I read the Old Testament, I have always found Jewish bible commentaries helpful. I may or may not fully agree with their ideas, but my understanding of the Bible is always enriched and expanded. Schroeder, as bible scholar is giving me plenty to think about.
In chapter one, “A Few Words About What God Is Not” Schr0eder gets right to one of life’s toughest questions, If God is good, why do bad things happen?
The argument against the biblical description of our cosmic genesis is quite basic. If this supposed Creator is actively interested in Its creation, then that Creator has a very perverse sense of compassion and perhaps humor- more like that of a monster: earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones have swept hundreds of thousands to their deaths; approximately eighty million humans have been murdered by fellow humans in the past century. Logic, so their argument goes, dictates that a Creator God, if It exists, would have more empathy in Its guidance of the world It produced.
A simplistic reading of the Bible might seem to support the idea that God is some sort of monster or an ineffective, less than powerful deity. Schroeder wants us to read the Bible carefully and to think about God more carefully. He suggests we drop our preconceived ideas about how God ought to act (along with our superficial reading and thinking) and to discover what nature and scripture actually reveal to us about God.
For example, one of the difficulties for Christians ( and I presume others also) in reading the Old Testament is that genocide appears to be condoned by God in the conquest of Canaan. How can a moral and loving God order genocide? How could God have commanded the destruction of the people who lived in Canaan, merely so Israel could move in? Schroeder thinks there is more to the story and careful reading and thinking will help us discover the truth. There was, he believes, more going on than simply getting one nation out-of-the-way so another could have their land. In Deuteronomy the reason for the conquest is explained. “In order that they [Canaanites] do not teach you to emulate their abominations that they have done for their gods…for even their sons and daughters they burn in fire to their gods’ (Deut 20:18; 12:31) The Canaanites burned their children to death and this was not acceptable to God.
The Canaanites did not want Israel entering their land, probably for several reasons, not least because the Israelites would not tolerate the murder by the burning of children as an offering to the gods. There was, perhaps inevitably, war. But in the book of Joshua we read, “And Joshua made war a long time with all these kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel except the Hivri, the persons of Givon.” (Joshua 11:18-19) Schroeder notes that this verse tells us that Joshua offered peace to the cities before he made war. Schroeder writes
That all but one refused was their choice. Perhaps giving up child sacrifice, if you are addicted to it, is not so simple. Having neighbors who practiced these abominations is socially destructive to the entire society. In offering peace, Joshua was not abrogating God’s command. He was merely executing its actual intention, to get rid of the abominations, not necessarily the abominators. To put these acts in perspective, consider living next to a home from which screams of horror and anguish regularly emanate. You discover the cause. Dad is busy raping his daughters while mom gets her pleasure from snuffing out her cigarettes on junior. If you don’t take action, then you too are a monster. Now consider discovering that your neighboring village is actively conducting these abominations. That’s what Joshua discovered upon his entry to Canaan. I imagine that even an avowed atheist steeped in relative morality would recoil at such horror. There was not divine command for genocide; the Canaanites had to either live as decent humans or get out. Had the world taken a lesson from these biblical chapters, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin would have been footnotes to, and not chapters in history. (12-13)
Does this explanation make sense to you?
Is this explanation sufficient or is something lacking?
What does this say about who God is and how God acts?
How well (or not) does this fit with the gospel?
I’d like to know, what do you think?