Friday, March 14, 2008

Divinely Inspired Infanticide and Genocide?

A number of years ago I read a Christian apologist who argued that one proof of the Bible's inspiration is the fact that it is "the most beautiful book ever written." Now, I believe the Bible is divinely inspired. But this statement made me wonder how many books this guy had actually read. In fact, it made me wonder if he'd read the Bible!

Here's an inspired verse I don't find particularly beautiful.

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction...
Happy are those who seize your infants
and dash them against the rocks (Psalms 137:8-9)

When an army conquered a city in the ancient world the victors would sometimes celebrate by smashing the heads of the infants against rocks. (Possibly inspired by this verse, this practice was resurrected by Christian Crusaders conquering Muslim cities). In this dark passage, the Psalmist is eagerly looking forward to this being done to Babylonian infants. He thinks the warriors who get to do this are lucky!

Most beautiful book in the world? Sorry. I'm not feel'n it.

Let's be honest. This passage is barbarically ugly, and we've got to wonder what on earth it's doing in the "inspired Word of God"! How are we to see this passage as "inspired" in light of the fact that Jesus taught us to love and bless our enemies, not hate and curse them? How could the same Lord who taught us to turn the other cheek, never retaliate and never use the sword inspire the Psalmist to gloat over the splattering of infants' heads? If harboring anger and speaking nasty words ("Raca") to another person puts us in danger of hell, as Jesus taught (Matt 5), what kind of danger must the Psalmist be in for harboring this utterly vindictive attitude toward the Babylonians?

What intensifies this problem even more is that it's not like Psalms 137 is an isolated case of celebrated violence in the Old Testament. It's found all over the place! The worst episodes happened when the Israelites enter the promised land. As they approached certain cities, the Israelites were commanded -- by God -- to slaughter men, women, children and even the animals! Yahweh is aiming at complete genocide of the Canaanite people. Could anything be more antithetical to what we learn about God in Jesus Christ? Honestly (we've got to be honest here, even if it hurts) doesn't this depiction of God look more like the God of Osama Bin Laden than the Father of Jesus Christ?

In my opinion, this is the most challenging objection to the Christian faith and most difficult theological question of the Christian faith. It's a problem I want to wrestle with in my next few posts. But I want you to be forewarned: If you think I'm going to have nice and tidy answers to this question, you're going to be disappointed. I don't. I'm still in process, entertaining a number of possibilities.

But I invite you to join me in the process.

In the meantime, I encourage you to walk in the self-sacrificial, loving way of Jesus, not the baby-head-smashing way of the Psalmist.