Monday’s a rough day for pastors. The term “Monday morning quarterbacking” applies not only to football games but sermons as well. This morning was especially rough since we had a Super Bowl party at our house last night and now I’ve woken up with a terrific headache.
…and NO, it’s not a hangover! It was a church party. People don’t wake up hungover and naked after those…usually ;0)
Bleary-eyed, I start checking through notifications on my phone and see a message from Twitter. It’s an atheist responding back to a tweet from the other day. I was having a back-and-forth with him, trying to keep things respectful, but then I needed to leave to get ready for church.
That’s when you get in trouble debating atheists on Twitter. If you say you’ve actually got a life and have something else to do, often you’ll get back a schoolyard taunt about “running away” and being “chicken”.
They don’t realize you’re not sitting in your underwear all day in your mom’s basement, just waiting to answer the next molotov cocktail they throw…
So I knew that if I didn’t answer back this morning while my babies are screaming for my attention and my head’s pounding, I’ll look like I’m avoiding his questions. And I do want to answer, not in hopes of “winning an argument”, but believing that God can speak to the heart of even the angriest atheist.
Therefore instead of coffee which I desperately need, on this morning’s breakfast menu is slavery and rape…bon appetit!
Why would God allow slavery?
Why did He allow Israel to own slaves and beat them?
Why did He allow a daughter to be sold after she has been raped? (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
These are “gotcha questions” atheists often lob at Christians to confuse them. They’re confusing because they usually come from what many Christians would consider “fly-over country”: the Old Testament laws. Christians don’t always spend a lot of time learning those laws because many of them applied to the Israel nation-state, which was at that particular time in history. Since we are not living in that ancient country, many of the laws simply do not apply today although their underlying principles are still important.
So when confronted by texts they’ve rarely if ever studied, believers scramble to understand how God could have allowed such things. Add to that the guilt for not having memorized each and every verse in the Bible, and it can be a tough day for an unsuspecting Christian on the internet.
However, a little book once warned me “the first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17) The real Truth takes time to find, especially when dealing with 2000+-year-old books of antiquity. And most atheists are simply unwilling to explore the Bible enough to find out if their own critiques hold water.
For example, one of my favorite quirky questions is: “how do you explain the UNICORNS in the Bible?” And lo and behold, when you look at the King James Version, there are no fewer than nine mentions of the fanciful little beast from fairy land (Numbers 23:22, for example). Wow, the Bible really is just a bunch of mythology after all! We might as well be getting our theology from Tinkerbell, right?
Well, the truth is when you look past the surface to the original language, the Hebrew talks not about “unicorns” but instead about a large animal with one horn. When translated, the KJV Bible gave it a name that at the time had a different connotation than it does today. But the animal they described is actually not mythological at all and fairly easy to recognize…if you’ve ever heard of a RHINOCEROS!
But to discover that, atheists would actually have to do something they claim to be all about: research. They would have to look at scholarly sources and understand textual criticism and the Hebrew language. By the way, there is a name for people who actually do study those things and whose job it is to understand them…
They’re called “pastors”.
It’s the same issue when looking at the “rape” passage above. In truth, the Hebrew doesn’t say rape, and in fact avoids the actual words like chazaq used with anah as in Genesis 34:1-7 where it is indicating actual rape. Instead, in opposition to the culture of the day which said an unwed woman who had sex could be abandoned or abused, the man would not get away without marry her or paying a fine to her father who was her protector.
So what my atheist friend used to try and prove the Bible’s unacceptable morals actually shows a respect for women which stood in stark contrast to the accepted ethics of that era. In fact, Deuteronomy 22:25-29 gives a sentence of death to the rapist while warning them that the woman shares no fault in the rape. Here again, the Bible honors and defends women in a society that saw them only as property, no better than cattle.
Again, for the quick-on-the-draw atheist, “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. And to jump to their conclusion, a “little” is all they’ve evidenced.
While today I don’t know of anyone beyond Boko Haram who approves of slavery, in ancient times it was simply a reality of life. Tribes warred with other tribes, and often taking slaves was the kinder option instead of simply killing prisoners of war.
To release a prisoner from a neighboring warring tribe meant they would only run away, regroup and attack you again. And since these POWs lived with you and not in some far away camp, often physical punishment had to be used. This was the reality of the era. But when the Bible deals with the reality of slavery within the culture, it puts limits on punishment of unruly slaves and makes their lives more humane.
So why didn’t God just ban slavery altogether? Well, He basically did…later in Galatians 3:28. The Apostle Paul also wrote a whole book against it called Philemon.
So why didn’t He just say that back in the Old Testament? Why didn’t He demand society adopt a wholesale, drastic change of operations?
There were many things during Old Testament times God didn’t approve of but allowed to continue. Try polygamy and premarital sex, for example (actually, I’d prefer you NOT try them). Yet the Ten Commandments only really dealt with “adultery” specifically, and not all the other creative options we’d come up with to martial fidelity. So, how come?
We tend to think of the Old Testament God as one of harsh judgment and the New Testament God as one of grace. But in truth, He’s the same God and His grace was evident in the Old Testament as well. His consistent nature is one of love that tried to deal patiently with His children, even when they were looking for loopholes in His laws.
What He did was to bring His people through a progression, moving them continually forward. By the time we get to that emancipation proclamation of Gal 3:28, He announces that “In Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek (anti-racism), male nor female (anti-sexism), slave nor free (anti-slavery). The fact this statement was dropped in the midst of a pagan culture that would think it crazy-talk reveals how ahead of its time the Bible was, and still is.
As stunning as that verse must have been to 1st-century ears, it would have fallen on deaf ears in the barbarism of Old Testament times.
I find it funny that skeptics expect a 2000+-year-old book to perfectly reflect their own contemporary politically-correct thinking. Their delicate sensibilities are offended that God would dirty His hands dealing with such uncouth cultures.
It’s as if they expect the Apostle Paul to walk into one of those coliseums we saw in the movie GLADIATOR, and start scolding everyone like a substitute teacher with an out of control class of teenagers. “Now now, everyone. Don’t you realize you’re being unkind to each other in here! Those swords are very pointy and could put an eye out! Put those away right now, and let’s all play nice…”
They all look and stare at him for about 5 seconds. Then they release the lions on him, and go back to their fighting.
One of the things I appreciate most about my God is that His patience through the Old Testament proves He’s not the demanding legalist atheists often accuse Him of being. He’s a loving Father who patiently moves His children along, even though there are things about them which truly offend His standards of love, kindness, and respect.
One day, I may look back on some of the things I found acceptable and tolerated about myself and wonder how God ever put up with me. Thankfully, from looking at His patience from the Old Testament through the New, I can see He won’t just give up on me either.
And I’m not going to give up on my atheist friends either, even if they want to spar on a Monday morning when my head hurts and kids are screaming. If there’s hope for me, maybe there’s hope for them as well.