I was having a very deep and intellectual conversation with a good friend recently, which does tend to happen when you are with me, and we are playing Mario Kart, and I am winning, which is always. Hey, being better than my friends at things is just my muse. That’s why I don’t play basketball with my friends. I don’t feel like bestowing knowledge and wisdom on them after getting whipped at “horse.”
Anyway, the question at hand was why God seems to have a massive personality disorder. Why does he seem like an angry, abusive, possibly-intoxicated-on-human-blood God in the Old Testament, and like a Care Bear in the New Testament. This is a question that a lot of people seem to struggle with, and one that I’ve pondered over a lot, but until that night, I don’t think I had come up with any good answers.
However, since I was beating him particularly badly at Mario Kart, the answers I came up with were particularly good. That’s just how God works with me. I think there’s a verse about that…“Yea, when thee thrashes thy friend with green shells and banana peels, knowest that I am pleased with thee.”
Anyway, here’s what I came up with.
Four Reasons God May Not Be Schitzophrenic
The Old Testament is the “Highlights”
When we read the Old Testament, we can flip from one chapter to the next, and it seems God is always going Incredible Hulk everywhere, smiting this guy, or calling down plagues on that king, or sending the Jews to kill those other dudes. (Though we tend to overlook all time times God actually send other people to smite the Jews. Somehow, killing Jews doesn’t make God a bad guy.) Does God ever catch his breath in between all that carnage?
We can read through the Old Testament really fast, but we forget that the Old Testament is, like, really really long. But think about all the time it covers. That’s a few thousand years. A few thousand! The Bible crams a few thousand years of history into a stack of pages just an inch and a half thick. That means there’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t exciting enough to include. We aren’t getting the “director’s cut” of history, we’re getting the highlights.
That means that there are long periods of time where God is catching his breath from all the bloodshed. There are long periods of time when God is not doing anything violent. When we remember that we just spent ten minutes covering a few centuries of time, it makes God seem much more reasonable, with only a few bouts of violence here and there. Besides that, there’s a ton of lovey-dovey talk in the Old Testament too. Enough love stuff to make you sick to your stomach, really. Bottom line, Old Testament God is a lot less angry, and a lot more “New Testament-y niceness” than we assume.
People in the Old Testament Were No Good Jerks
I know we want to give all those people the Israelites killed the benefit of the doubt. We don’t like the idea of war. We know killing is wrong. And I’m not saying this is a completely satisfactory answer. But it’s an answer anyway. Why don’t we think there was a good reason God wanted some of those people wiped out? It’s pretty clear that ancient people did nasty things. They had sex with relatives. They put babies on spikes. The reason God had to tell the Israelites not to do all that nasty crap was because they were used to doing all that nasty crap, or at least watching their neighbors do it, and being tempted to join in.
Like it or not, no one’s innocent.
The New Testament is Really Short
How much time does the New Testament cover? Less than a hundred years. That doesn’t give God too much time to smite too many people. Jesus was kind of in the spotlight. But I’d say he did his fair share of smiting and table-turning. Sure, maybe he never went nuts on someone in “biblical” proportions, but I think Jesus carried the same sense of righteous indignation that God has always shown.
But with the New Testament being so short, that leaves the last two-thousand years for God to go Old Testament on our butts with no one writing it down. That’s a lot of wars. I think the twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history. Wow. That’s a lot of war. I’m not saying I agree with Pat Robertson when he says God sent an earthquake to Haiti to judge them. But there’s been a lot of carnage since Jesus left the earth, and people still blame God for it. If God was really all angry in the Old Testament, maybe He hasn’t really changed as much as we’d like to think.
Which brings me to the final point.
Is God Responsible for it All?
First of all, there’s a ton of stuff in the Old Testament that God never told people to do. People go on and on, page after page, and God’s just sitting there saying, “What on earth are you idiots doing?” That’s kind of the whole gist of the Bible, people not doing what God wants.
Now, this is going to be one of the rare points that I make that I don’t totally agree with myself. I’m opening up Pandora’s box by bringing this up. But there’s been a lot of wars waged in God’s name since Jesus’ time. The Crusades come to mind. The church was convinced (on some level) that it was fighting a holy war, and God was on their side. These days, Christians would beg to differ. God never told the Pope to reconquer the Holy Land. (Or did He?…)
Is it possible, just possible, that the people of the Old Testament thought (or hoped) God was telling them to go kill these or those people, when God really said no such thing? I know, if the people in the Old Testament weren’t clear about what God was saying when they wrote it all down, it creates more problems than I want to think about. But it’s something to think about.
Is this a problem for you? Does God seem like He has a personality disorder? How do you deal with it?