“Lothlórien” – woods, old growth, and new thoughts about faith

Great Smokey Mountains covered in forests

Today’s “Weekend Post” delivers more beauty from the Smoky Mountains, plus addressing a question that’s been coming up in some facebook and blog conversations recently.

The issue at hand comes from a friend who says that he pretty much wants nothing to do with following Jesus because of the terrible violence (apparently) sanctioned by God in so many Old Testament stories.

In fairness, I’ll post this direct quote from my friend. We’ve had several versions of this conversation before, but I’m going to take another run at a reasonable response. First, here’s part of his (name withheld) statement:

I keep coming back to the God-sponsored atrocities of the Old Testament because it ts that much of a stumbling block for me, that I would choose to align myself with a being that condones wholesale slaughter… So tell me I would NOT have been expected to put the kids and mothers and animals to the sword in Gods name. No ones ever said…”No, you’ve got it wrong. God never told anyone to be butchers or put to the sword babies.”

“Lothlórien” – the mythical elven realm in Middle Earth

YOU HAVE IT WRONG! So I’m going to go ahead and say it (once again, but in another way). “You’ve got it wrong. I don’t believe it is ever – or has ever been – God’s plan to put people to the sword; not men, not women, not children.”

Here’s my thinking, and this does not mean I’m not a “Bible-believing” Christian (see Religion and Culture, What does Bible-believing really mean?). I see the Old Testament narrative as the honest account of the ongoing struggles of the Children of Israel, as they learned – and failed, and learned again – and failed some more, to work out what it means to have an authentic relationship with God.

These were primitive people. They lived in a brutal time where life was cheap, where violence was constant, and where atrocities such as child-sacrifice passed as acceptable religious practice. These folk believed that God wanted them to execute gays; they believed women were the property of men; they believed God wanted them to stone disrespectful children. They fit right in with the Middle Eastern culture of the time.

Abraham (for example) found out that God was calling his people to a different way of expressing devotion when the angel stopped him from sacrificing his own son. “That’s not my way,” God seemed to be saying. “You had the wrong idea.”

Rebekah amongst the amazing “old growth” trees

So atrocities were committed in the name of God (as they still are), and the story-tellers wrote it all down, good and bad. Commandments such as “Don’t kill,” tell us a lot about God’s fundamental values. But the stories cover thousands of years of tragic error and learning and re-learning. But, time and again, the Children of Israel (like so many people and nations today), went ahead and did what they liked, and then they justified it by saying that God was on their side and sanctioned the whole mess (sound familiar?).

NEW AND LIVING WAY: Then God sent along Jesus, to put things right. Christ said that the entire weight of the law and the prophets can be summed up in the foundational commandment to Love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Rebekah enjoying the magical forests

“So who is my neighbor?” the people asked. Jesus answered that our neighbor is the person in need, quite often our enemy, and quite often the person we’d rather avoid.

“But what if we get into a fight?” they said. So Jesus explained about turning the other cheek, about loving our enemies. Jesus even said that we should do good to those who “dispitefully use you…”

And so it goes, Jesus demonstrates that the heart of the law is to be found in the practice of love.

EASY ANSWERS? Are these tidy answers and neat solutions? Lord, I sure hope not!

But I do – honestly – find it helpful to realize that the journey of discovery is constant when it comes to God, and that the Old Testament portion of the Bible is an honest look into the infancy of that process.

Great Smokies: great views at every turn

May God bless each one of us as we continue to struggle with what it means to follow Jesus, and to be discerning students of God’s Word – DEREK


  1. This is such a hard one. My way of understanding it (for what it is or isn’t worth) is that the ancients did not know about germ theory, or weather cycles, or psychology, or tectonic plates, or even a long sweep of history. Their world understanding was simple, perhaps brutally simple: if something happened, God (somebody’s god) did it. So God got credited/blamed for all kinds of things that weren’t God at all. Further, If they were God’s people and destruction of their enemies or trouble makers kept them safe and stable, it must have been their God rescuing them. To complicate that, both then and now, people glue God’s name on their own agendas. (It’s called “taking the Lord’s name in vain” and it is forbidden, but we do it anyway.) For me the issue is embracing the eternal faith without the ancient mind set. Even in the Older Testament violence is not the only picture of God; the mercy breaks through and is celebrated. In Jesus who saw everything more clearly than the rest of us, we see God’s best intentions and activities: love, grace, the perfect mix of mercy and accountability. My belief in Jesus means to me that when the record conflicts HE is the standard for understanding God …


    • So all these errors God has allowed to creep into his book? If God inspired the authorship (breathed) why would he allow Himself attributions and credits for the horrendous thing done in his name. Especially if it would only serve to confuse people later. If as you wrote here…essentially, these people gave God credit for things done, that God didn’t do. That is an error. The Bible is supposed to be free of errors


  2. So if I understand correctly, your position is that the Bible is not always accurate, or may be inaccurate when it reads, “And the Lord said…” or “God said…” And that it was simply mans wishful thinking?

    If the answer is yes…then why in the world would or should I believe “and Jesus said…”?


  3. ” The Children of Israel went ahead and did what they liked, and then they justified it by saying that God was on their side and sanctioned the whole mess”

    Derek, first, im quoting you…Then Miss Karen with:

    “Further, If they were God’s people and destruction of their enemies or trouble makers kept them safe and stable, it must have been their God rescuing them. To complicate that, both then and now, people glue God’s name on their own agendas.”

    and then…

    “You are my battle-ax and sword,” says the LORD. “With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms. With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer. With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens. With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers. “As you watch, I will repay Babylon and the people of Babylonia for all the wrong they have done to my people in Jerusalem,” says the LORD. “Look, O mighty mountain, destroyer of the earth! I am your enemy,” says the LORD. “I will raise my fist against you, to roll you down from the heights. When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of rubble. You will be desolate forever. Even your stones will never again be used for building. You will be completely wiped out,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 51:20-26)

    Quoting the Bible, just one case, for instance, where God has given apparent approval to the killing of women and children. Uh huh, I guess your right…God never ever told anyone to kill women and children. Or, did clever human being wrote that there to justify it. Which is it?

    And you were saying why I should fall for “Jesus Says” when man is giving credit to God where credit isn’t due? Or were you explaining why I should follow the God of Love and Mercy who would kill?

    And..AND, Jesus is part of a trinity, and therefore, a part of God. I guess Jesus was at the right hand of God saying, “Gee, Father, you know, this is going to be tough to explain later?” No. Jesus cant go against himself, because HE IS GOD AS WELL. So, the 1/3 of God that is Jesus happily went along.

    Can you begin to understand why this doesn’t make any sense to me.


    • Yes, I do understand… that’s the problem with trying to write about an infinite ineffable timeless larger-than-the-Universe God using terrestrially-based language and thought-processes that emanate from brains at best a few standard deviations above “normal!” But at least we’re all trying. And it’s worth the conversation. And I’m kind of thankful that I can’t make sense of it sometimes because, well, what would that say…? And I really do believe that this is why God sent Jesus, to help us figure out more reasonably who God is and what God’s intentions are toward human-kind.
      Peace and love – DEREK


  4. I guess I just dont understand.

    You both state that man, In the Bible, wrote that God told them to do something…or said something, but he, God, really didn’t say any such thing. You both state, in essence, that man made it up, to justify, in this case, atrocities:

    Derek: “The Children of Israel…justified it by saying [wrote down] that God was on their side and sanctioned the whole mess”

    Miss Karen: “…then and now, people glue [wrote down] God’s name on their own agendas.”

    Now, if you will, can you please explain why the same phenomenon didn’t or doesn’t occur in the writing of the Gospels and New Testament? That is, where people glued God’s name on their own agendas, only this time using Jesus Christ?


    • Not made it up so much as missed the point, wrote down what they understood (or wanted to understand)… I’m merely speculating, as I have nothing to go on other than my personal experience of the character of God. I believe that Jesus is the best clue we have as to what God is like, and the atrocity stuff just doesn’t seem to be consistent with the picture of God that is painted throughout the biblical narrative. Again, what I said in my last “reply” is as good as I can do right now.
      It’s a journey; I’m glad I’m on it; I’m pleased that Jesus is my guide and that God is patient with my small mind; I love the community of faith we’re in; I’m thankful for the witness of selfless love that is all around me; I can’t wait to see what happens next. It’s all good – DEREK


    • I probably can’t explain in the “here’s an air-tight trump-card argument” sense. We are honest when we say faith is involved. Both belief and non-belief are leaps of faith, just in different directions – neither position is clear cut and we have to weigh it all and decide where the tipping point is and what we will embrace. But here is some of what makes sense to me. Sorry, but I can’t do it in just a few words….

      I’m not in the “every-word-is-consistent-and-scientifically-correct” camp. I don’t think the original writers were either. They were recording the history of their experience with God as they understood it, and their understanding grew. Chronologically we see the ideas move toward the gospel. The first writers did not know that other people would be reading their words in translation in a country they didn’t know about in a century they never thought would come. They wrote for their own audiences in changing times over a couple thousand years. There is poetry, preaching, that inscrutable stuff called prophecy, court history, old stories recorded because they were precious (whether or not they were consistent by modern western standards), and so on. The gospels are primarily testimony and proclamation. I accept them as the peak of the book, the ideas to which the rest of the record was progressing, and the lens through which I see the rest of the book for several reasons. The people who wrote them had little to gain by the telling; in fact it probably cost them. They wrote what they had witnessed and heard and from other witnesses for the sheer love of telling it. Study of eyewitness testimony says that if eye witnesses agree completely the witnesses have been in collusion; these witnesses haven’t been in collusion. There are clearly multiple traditions converging; while that bothers people in the “it has to agree” camps, in any other study of history multiple independent traditions are considered to be evidence for something really happening. The gospel writings now seem to be closer to the time of Jesus himself than many other documents about ancient figures – Plato, say, or Julius Caesar, accounts we accept. And, to be honest, I opted for Christianity as an adult because I was more impressed with Jesus than I was with my own doubts, so I tiptoed into faith. I still wonder and struggle and doubt – my greatest doubts usually brought on by why people who call themselves Christian can be such stinkers sometimes – but I’m a Christian because of Jesus. I do have a sense of his presence and experience him as more than a historical figure. That may not be – probably isn’t – an explanation in the sense that you were asking, but you did ask! That is a very brief summary of why I believe our record of Jesus is sufficiently reliable that I can follow him. Peace and grace! Karen


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