Problem Bible Texts (Response to Anthony Le Donne: Where The Problem Arises)

download (1)Over at The Jesus Blog, Anthony Le Donne has responded to my prior post on problem Bible texts. His response is a must-read, and makes me question why I’d enter into public discussions with someone who is a PhD, published author and pastor. Two possible answers: these discussions are good for my developmental efforts at humility (still on the drawing board), plus maybe I’ll provoke a piece of writing from Anthony as good as the one we just got.

My favorite part of Anthony’s response is when he talks about how his Christianity is “fused” to him in a way he cannot shed, how he wrestles with texts, and how sometimes “I limp away from Scripture and wonder what sort of God I’m dealing with.” Anthony quotes Ursula Le Guin, who here gives about as good a short description of how to read text as you’re likely to find anywhere:

In the tale, in the telling, we are all one blood. Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it’s not poison; and we will all come to the end together, and even to the beginning: living, as we do, in the middle.

Wow. That’s great stuff.

Anthony’s post makes me regret the introduction I wrote here, which is not adequate to our task. To discuss problem Bible texts, we have to discuss why they are problem texts. It’s not enough to do as I did, to briefly discuss a few Bible passages, and then choose Ephesians 5:22-24 because of its well-documented connection with violence against women. Yes, obviously, violence against women is a huge problem. But we have problems with many other Bible texts that have no such direct connection with violence against women, and if we’re going to discuss the problem with problem Bible texts, we have to understand the problem in general terms as well as the specifics.

Why do we have a problem with problem Bible texts? Anthony began his discussion with the premise that the Bible is true, then admitted that the truth of many Bible passages is not clear to him. Is this where the problem arises, in our inability to discern Biblical truth? I think I understand what Anthony is saying, but for me the problem lies elsewhere. I suppose, if pushed, that I’d describe the Bible as “true”. I hedge here, and put “true” in quotation marks, because I don’t know exactly what I mean when I say that the Bible is true.

When I pray in synagogue, my prayers include the statement that Torah is true. Moses Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith include that the words of the prophets are true, and that Torah is God-given. Yet I do not believe that Adam and Eve were historical people, nor do I believe that the world was once destroyed save for Noah and the others in his ark. The “truth” of the Exodus is historically suspect. There may never have been a King David, or a King Solomon, corresponding to their Biblical descriptions. These potential gaps in the truth of the Bible trouble me very little. I don’t expect the Bible to be true in this way.

If I were to reason from first premises, I might start with the idea that the Jewish Bible is my family’s history. I should mention that Anthony has chided me privately about my Old Testament chauvinism, suggesting that this attitude is not conducive to interfaith dialog. So, let me say that I’m not claiming exclusive rights, either personally or from a faith perspective, to the Old Testament as a family chronicle. This chronicle is available to anyone who wants it, regardless of faith. But this is my starting point. When one of my distant relatives does something cool, I kvell. When not, not. When the family chronicle reports that a member of the family has done wrong, I do what any family member would do under the circumstances: I deny, or I make excuses, or I feel guilt by association, or I argue that the wrongdoer was not really a member of the family.

But we all have family members we’re not always proud of. So if Moses hit a rock when he wasn’t supposed to, or if David violated the Sixth Commandment so that he could violate the Tenth Commandment, I’m capable of getting over that. One reason I’m proud of my family’s chronicle – er, I mean the Old Testament – is that it’s not afraid to show the human flaws in even the greatest figures of Israel’s history.

Where my Bible problems arise is when we’re dealing with texts that show the character of God. (Thanks to commenter Mark P for helping me see this.)

Let’s consider the problem text of Deuteronomy 20-16-17, where God commands the Israelites to conquer certain cities in a way that does not “leave alive anything that breathes.” If I adopt an historical perspective, I can easily dismiss this text – it’s not historically likely that the Israelites conquered Canaan in the way the Bible describes. But if this conquest never happened, why does the Old Testament remember God’s war instructions in this way? And worse, what kind of God would order the wholesale murder of conquered men, women and children? What happened to the God who was willing to spare Sodom if there were ten righteous people living there? Were there not ten righteous people among all of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites?

(The text is more troubling if we remember that when it came to Sodom, Abraham pleaded with God not to “sweep away the righteous with the wicked”. Why did no one plead with God for the sake of the residents of Canaan?)

When it comes to a text like Deuteronomy 20-16-17, I don’t have a clue how it could be true. As I noted above, the text may have no basis in history. The text also violates every rule I’ve ever encountered for how to conduct war in an “acceptable” way.

So, for the moment at least, the premise that the Bible is true is not helping me understand problem texts. I need to start with something different. Anthony’s premise is about the Bible itself, which makes sense, since this is the text we’re reading. But I prefer instead a premise about God, since it’s the Bible’s portrayal of God that creates my Bible problems. So as an experiment, I’d like to approach my problem Bible texts with the premise that God is good. Not great. Not immanent, or omnipotent, or omniscient, or transcendent, or anything complicated or fancy like that, though God may be all of these things and more. I want a simple premise. God is good. If the text portrays God as not good, I’m going to assume that something has gone awry somewhere.

In my last post I said that I don’t like canons within canons, and in case anyone is wondering, I don’t see the premise that God is good as a canon within the canon. I’m not trying to interpret Deuteronomy through the lens that God is good. I’m saying that when I see God ordering the murder of adults and children, I have a problem, because I don’t think a good God would do that. Ditto for Ephesians 5:22-24: I don’t understand how a good God allows a text into the Holy Bible that’s frequently used to justify wife abuse, and that’s relied upon by supposedly well-meaning clergy to advise battered wives to return to their violent husbands.

So … Anthony and I have traded opening premises. But I want to return for a moment to Anthony’s premise that the Bible is true. Anthony followed this premise with the terrific stuff I noted above, about being fused to the Bible and wrestling with Bible texts. I think that Bible truth and text wrestling go together. If the Bible is true, it’s not true sitting unread on a shelf, or in a nightstand, or even on a web page (where I’ll invariably link to it!). Unread text is dead letter. The truth of a text can only emerge when it is read.

Does this mean that Anthony and I disagree? Anthony said that the Bible is true, and by this I understand him to mean that the Bible is true even before he reads it (and more than this, that it’s precisely his reading of the text that creates a gap between the Bible’s truth and his understanding of this truth). But at the moment, I don’t perceive any disagreement between us. I understand Bible “truth” and our willingness to wrestle with Bible text as being nearly the same thing. The Bible is true for those who regard it, as Anthony does, as “fused” to us. This fusion is, properly understood, an amalgam of both our acceptance of the Bible as a part of us, and also our struggle against the Bible as an “other” with which we must wrestle.

One last thought: in his recent post, Anthony promised to take me to task on my previous post. Knowing this, I made an effort to be particularly nice to Anthony in this post. Keep an eye on Anthony’s blog over the next few days to see if my effort pays off.

  • Anthony Le Donne

    Really grateful for this Larry.

    anthony

  • edwardtbabinski

    Le Donne mentioned, “Problem passages.” “The truth of many passages are not clear to me.” “Maybe God is crawling along the strands of these relationships like some great Spider?” “Trapped in the perilous middle…”

    How poetic. But there is no “problem” once you recognize that humans wrote and later gave authority to various texts, teachings and practices.

    Just ask yourself this question…

    INSPIRED IDEAS OR CULTURAL-CENTRIC IDEAS? “Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands” (Eph 5:24). In this case, it seems that the author is instructing followers of Christ to live by the paterfamilias culture common in first-century Ephesus. Holy cultural centrism, Batman!

    In similar fashion the Bible assumes that endless generations of descendants inherit blessings/promises made to their long dead relatives as well as curses placed on their long dead relatives (curse of Adam, curse of Ham).

    That apparently includes assuming the concept of inherited kingships, as in Luke 1:32-33, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever.” But today the idea of an eternal promise or curse seems questionable — as well as the idea of an inherited kingship. The U.S. was founded in DEFIANCE of a king who had inherited his rule, whose nation also had a national church that promoted the worship of an orthodox Trinitarian Christian God. Holy DEFIANCE, Batman!

    • lbehrendt

      Robin, I think it’s good that you’ve come here to talk.

      Humans wrote and gave authority to various texts? Sure. The Bible did not fall from the sky, and neither did the concept of a canon. The Bible contains culture-centric ideas? I don’t know what you mean by “culture-centric” (see, for example, here, where “culture-centrism” is advocated as an alternative to “ethno-centrism”), but if you mean that Bible ideas are the kind of ideas that have a cultural origin and context, well, of course. What other kind of ideas are there? Do questions arise when we regard the “then” of the Bible in light of the “now”? Naturally. How could they not?

      It’s a funny business, where humans invest meaning, but it’s often the case that humans find meaning in ideas that belong to the “then”. The Bible belongs to a long-ago “then” (really, to multiple long-ago “thens”), as does the Magna Carta, the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Dickens, the music of Stravinsky, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and “The Sopranos”. When we invest meaning in an old idea, that investment brings the idea into our “now”, just as effectively (although perhaps not as comfortably) as if we dreamed up some completely novel idea (if there can be such a thing).

      We could get into long discussions of tradition and memory, both of which fuse the “then” and the “now” … but I think this is enough for the moment. Robin, I understand that you are young and that the appeal of the “now” is very strong for you, but when you’re older and you’ve fought crime for as long as I have, your point of view is likely to change. Also, you have a run in your tights.

  • Kris

    Wow. You’ve really penned down some biblical issues I’ve been thinking through lately—and done so in an eloquent and pleasant manner. Thanks. A couple thoughts (and know that I’m in no way trying to downplay r-e-a-l troublesome texts, that on first glance—and second and third and fourth—make one think twice about God being “good”; I’m just throwing out some “resolutions” that I’ve come across lately):

    God, Abraham & Sodom: I was recently reading through Gentry and Wellum’s “Kingdom through Covenant” and I came across a part where Gentry talks about this Abraham-pleading-God episode and he said something I hadn’t thought of before. Remembering that God had just made a deal with Abraham about turning him into a father of many nations, and, moreover, that would be a blessing to *all* nations (pagan and non), it’s almost as if—Gentry suggests—that God was letting Abraham have a go in his new boots of being a priest for the nations, manifest in his interceding and all. So it wasn’t that God was just gonna blow through a couple cities with hot lava—without checking to see if he’d be killing the good-guys too—he was letting Abraham get a taste of his new role. Besides, God knew it was full of bad-guys all along. 😉 That said, this perspective—I think—paints a softer picture of a righteous God who is willing to rain down hot wrath on wicked people.

    Ok, so now for the instructed Canaan massacre: this one still gets me. I understand that God is wanting to establish His holy people, a nation of priests in the world so that they can be a light for the nations, but (as you suggest), wiping out a horde of people is hard for me to wrap my head around, if I’m really honest with myself. And isn’t there a better way (דרך) to be a light—like love your enemies and praying for them? I can’t see the God I know through the face of Jesus commanding anything like this to a people group in our modern times—or in the 1st century for that matter! I understand, according to my beliefs, that Jesus’ arrival crystalized and somewhat re-engineered the old game plan. I also understand that the ancient people routinely claimed their god had instructed them to conquer and destroy (and even “Christians” with the Crusades), but it just seems so hard to accept that Yhwh commanded Israel to destroy in such a way.

    A while back I pointed to Peter Enn’s interview with a guy (Dr. Seibert) that’s written a seemingly fascinating work on this subject (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/02/when-the-good-book-is-bad-challenging-the-bibles-violent-portrayals-of-god/). I haven’t read Seibert’s book yet, but I think it’d be helpful in our wrestlings.

    In response to my post a friend of mine made an elucidating comment, I think:

    “From what I have read, covenant breakers in the ancient world were seen by the community as deserving to die (at the hands of kin!). The human rights philosophy of the modern world, on the other hand, would have us all be autonomous individuals deserving to live no matter what. But what if we are wrong about human rights? What if God has the rights, not only as creator of but also as covenant partner with humanity, to deal out covenant curses to covenant breakers such as the Canaanites? I’m not dying on that hill but I do think its worth a closer look…” (http://oldschoolscript.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/thinking-through-violence-in-the-old-testament/)

    He is speaking in generalities of course, but I think you catch his drift. (Well I’ve already said way more than I wanted, and I hate when people write such long comments because then I get intrigued and go down silly rabbit trails. Tetelestai.)

    • lbehrendt

      Kris, thanks! What follows is a critical reaction to some of the ideas you presented above, but this criticism is not directed at you. I think the ideas you’ve presented belong in this discussion, and I don’t necessarily understand that you personally endorse any of these ideas.

      I have trouble with the interpretation you describe for Abraham, God and Sodom: God was being a jerk, so that Abraham could tell God not to be a jerk? If God tests us by threatening to do un-Godlike things to see if we will protest, then why didn’t Abraham protest when God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? THERE we are told that the story extolls Abraham’s silence as proof of his great faith in God – some even excuse Abraham’s silence by supposing that Abraham knew that God would intervene at the last minute to save Isaac. So, what is it then? Are we supposed to protest when God’s program appears to go off the rails, or are we supposed to quietly trust that God will make things right before any harm is done?

      I also have trouble – big trouble – with Eric Seibert, and Peter Enns for that matter. (Links to Seibert’s posts on Enns’ blog are here, here and here.) When Seibert writes that “the Bible should never be used to harm others”, I want to give him a standing ovation. I plan to say much the same thing in upcoming posts. I’m still standing and cheering when Seibert writes that “if we are going to keep the Bible from harming others, we need to learn to have problems with it.” But at least in his posts on Enns’ blog, Seibert looks only to the Old Testament for his “passages of Scripture that sanction violence”. It also seems that Seibert looks solely to the New Testament for grounds to protest Biblical violence, though this may be simply a matter of Seibert preaching Christianity to other Christians.

      To take Seibert’s argument into an interfaith context requires that the argument be revised to account for the significant violence, murder, even genocide, performed by Christians over the centuries in the name of Christianity. For Jews, who have been the primary victims of this violence, it is horribly ironic to read folks like Seibert who seemingly cannot see the potential for violence in the text of the Gospels and the remainder of the New Testament – particularly since this potential has been realized, repeatedly and tragically. In fairness to Seibert, he may have addressed this tragedy elsewhere, and he (like Enns) is addressing a Christian audience about Christian concerns. Neither author needs to be terribly concerned about me. But as a faithful reader of Enns’ blog (I really like most of what he writes), I’m greatly bothered by the notion that Old Testament wrath needs to be tempered by New Testament love. Tempering is fine by me, but it shouldn’t end with the last Bible page before Matthew.

      Great comment, Kris, and thanks particularly for bringing Seibert into this discussion. He belongs here, notwithstanding my problems with him.

  • Chris Eyre

    I like Anthony’s characterisation of being fused to the Bible and wrestling with problem texts. I don’t actually start with the presupposition that everything in the Bible is true, but I do work on the premise that the Bible is an authentic account of man’s developing relationship with (and understanding of) God over a long period and in a particular geographical and social setting, and I am always aware that the Bible is what we’ve got as scripture. All of it, even those books on which I would have agreed, if taken back to an earlier age, with (say) Luther about Revelation or certain Oriental Christian churches about the Pastorals.

    As a result, I don’t expect to see a fully developed picture of (or relationship with) God in the earlier texts; there is still something to come in later experience (as recorded in later scripture). I don’t expect to see full development anywhere in scripture, in point of fact; there has been 2000 years to refine that, and we still employ theologians.

    So, what we have in Deut. 20:16-17 is a situation where the Israelites have appreciated that they have a relationship with God and that God is good in respect of them; they haven’t yet grasped that God is the God of the Canaanites as well or that the good of the Canaanites is something to be taken into account. They have a partial revelation (otherwise, why bother with prophets/rabbinic schools/yeshivas or prophets/Jesus/Paul/theologians?). It then preaches as “who are our Canaanites now?”.

    The problem with this way of presenting it is that some will say that even at the earliest stage, the whole revelation is already there. This is possibly implicit in Torah-only thinking, it’s certainly implicit in some conservative Christian explanation. As a result of that, there’s a danger of being caught up by the Myth of Redemptive Violence (http://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99.pdf

    I think various parts of scripture struggle to avoid the MRV. Revelation is one, so are the mini-apocalypses of the synoptics. It could then further preach as an attack on the MRV.

    • lbehrendt

      Chris, thanks for providing the link to the Myth of Redemptive Violence (MRV) piece by Walter Wink. According to Wink, the myth is that “our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it.” Wink seems to be indicating that the myth persists only because it is pervasively presented to us (today, largely by mass media). Wink also says that the biblical myth in Genesis 1-3 is a rebuttal of the Babylonian version of the MRV. Interesting. I need to consider this in upcoming posts.

      Also interesting to think about the ongoing development or revelation of our relationship with God. So we might say that Deuteronomy 20 is an artifact text dating back to a time when Judaism was still in the early stages of its formation. (I’m not sure that this argument would help us with Ephesians 5:22-24, but let’s stay focused on Deuteronomy for the moment.)

      I see problems here. For example, Deuteronomy is firmly within the canon, both Jewish and Christian, and each canon was formed after the fall of both Temples, and after Jesus. So, we cannot say that Deuteronomy belongs solely to a period prior to the scriptural refinement we see in later Bible texts. Deuteronomy also belongs to the (much) later period when the canon was formed, as well as all of those periods when Deuteronomy’s oral traditions were collected, compiled, edited and interpreted.

      Also, while I think you’re right to emphasize the development of our shared religious tradition, I think that our religious traditions undergo continuous development. So long as this development is continuous, we cannot very well say that (or when) any religion has experienced full development. We might say that a religious tradition is new, or young, or mature, but these stages are just names we use for different periods of development. There’s no clear “line in the sand” in the development of a religion to separate texts that do and do not represent a “refined” version of that religion

      So, no, I don’t think we can solve the problem of Deuteronomy by relegating it to a kind of religious prehistory. I am interested in understanding problem Bible texts in terms of their time and place, but I don’t think that doing so necessarily solves the problem.

      Notwithstanding all this, I DO think your argument works in a more specific sense. We might say that we see God today as a universal God, and then ask if Deuteronomy 20:16-17 sees God in the same way. If Deuteronomy 20:16-17 is based on a different view of God, we should at least take note. In fact, I think we should do more than just take note … more about this in later posts, but I think this argues for Deuteronomy 20:16-17 to be a part of the canon that requires special handling.

      Great comment. Thanks.

      • Chris Eyre

        One slight niggle, and then I’ll get on to the positive stuff. While I agree the Jewish canon wasn’t absolutely settled until post-70CE, it was settled as far as the Torah was concerned by the 3rd century BCE, when the Septuagint translation of the Torah took place. I think it’s inconceivable that any serious alteration could have postdated that (the fact of Jewish authorisation of the preparation of the text, assuming that to be correct, seems to me to demonstrate that). I also think that except for some outliers, the rest was fixed by the very early years of the first century. Evidence from the NT writers is that they considered the Septuagint at the point it had reached in the middle of the 1st century to be “scripture”, and the result was that some, at least, of Christianity ended up with what we now call the “apocrypha”. It seems that Judaism decided against “the apocrypha” after several of the NT writers had already been deeply influenced by them, which produces some embarrassment in Protestant circles, as the Reformation rejected those books which Judaism rejected, leaving some conservative Christian theologians struggling with sets of references to declared non-scriptural books. If we were talking about Daniel, I’d take your point!

        I agree that religious traditions undergo continuous development (I did drop in the remark about “still employing theologians”, after all). If I follow Isa. 55:8 and 1 Cor. 13:12, I can argue from scripture both that it is entirely right that they do so and that there will always be more work to do (thus securing the theologians’ future employment). I don’t merely think of this in terms of “progressive revelation” in the sense that God grants revelation in bits and pieces as he considers humanity to be capable of receiving it (although I do think that that tends to be the effect); I also consider either that the revelation may be in effect constant but (1) mediated to such an extent by the recipient’s capacity to understand (whether by virtue of language, philosophy, societal imprinting or otherwise) that nothing more than what we now see was capable of being transmitted, (2) that there may have been much fuller expressions of revelation, but that the fact that the society of the time was incapable of understanding or appreciating them meant that they were ignored or deliberately adjusted by third parties, or (3) that the recipient received what he could, thought “I can’t possibly say all of this” and deliberately moderated it to what he judged the audience could receive.

        I don’t know how you would tell which of those had been the case with a particular writing. I suspect that no.2b or no.3 might display some characteristics in writing fluency if the passages hadn’t been redacted afterwards, but I’m not equipped to judge that kind of thing.

        Incidentally, no.2a represents a kind of “natural selection of inspired writing”, which I think could be a powerful concept, and nos. 2&3 illustrate ways in which you could explain the Ephesians 5 passage; complete gender equality was an unattainable objective in the circumstances of the time.

        However, following the above lines of thinking, I do note that Deut. 20:10-15 displays a technique which would probably have been regarded pre-5th century BCE as fairly morally advanced, namely always to offer surrender to a city and content ones self with forced labour thereafter; sadly this was not extended to the immediately neighbouring “usual suspects”, 16-17 being an exception to that rule. I could definitely see this as still a case of God moving the Israelites as far as it was possible to move them in the moral climate of the time.

        I could predict that we’ll see an alteration of concepts of God on much the same basis as we explore later!

        Thanks for the opportunity to write in a rather more frequented location than my own blog!

        • lbehrendt

          Chris, agreed that there was no danger that the canonization of the Jewish Bible might have excluded Deuteronomy. The point I was seeking to make is that Deuteronomy cannot be said to be the product of a single time and place. This is true for a lot of Old Testament texts, and it complicates any effort we might make to track the refinement of Judaism based on hypothetical dates of “authorship”.

          Also agreed, there will always be employment (not necessarily lucrative) for theologians, particularly when it comes to how God does revelation, a topic that is WAY outside of anything I’m competent to talk about. I’ll mention only that there is a Jewish sense that we gradually lose ability to understand God’s revelation the further removed we are in time from Israel at Sinai. I’m personally not inclined to see human progress in our understanding of God – at best, I think that our understanding changes, but does not necessarily improve. What I’m describing here is not something that all Jews feel – it’s something I’ve heard expressed by Orthodox Rabbis.

          Yes, I’ve wondered if (taken as a whole) the Torah rules for war can be seen as more merciful and humane than the rules adopted by other cultures of the time. I do think that we need to look at problem Bible texts in this sort of context. More on this in upcoming posts.

          You are always welcome to share thoughts here. I AM reading your blog, by the way. Good writing and thinking there. For those interested, you can read more of Chris here.

          • Chris Eyre

            I feel a blog post or two coming on here…

            I’m interested in the idea that we may lose the ability to understand a revelation due to the passage of time. It seems to me that this should be the case – after all, the general circumstances in which we are reading are very different from those of Palestine (or Babylon, or Asia Minor or Greece) in the period ending in the second century CE (to be generous on timescale).

            We are thinking of it in different languages, we have philosophical ideas which have moved a long way from those available then, our societies are constructed substantially differently, we are by and large dwellers in cities rather than the countryside and our activities are industrial or post-industrial rather than agricultural (or in the cases of the earliest strata, nomadic herders). We are going to have to work a lot harder to understand than would, say, someone in the late first century.

            I might partly counter that and partly support my ideas of progressive revelation by saying that as circumstances have changed, we have actually had subsequent revelations, whether they be associated with visions as part of a major metanoia as evidenced by Paul or more gentle ones as evidenced by groups of Rabbis arguing the toss over scripture and precedent. It may be that we’re slightly hampered there by the fact that both our canons were set by at the latest the fifth century (and largely by the middle of the second) and are reluctant to consider anything later as the equal of what has gone before. But then, anything later is going to build on what has gone before, so arguably isn’t equal in any event.

            I might argue that Ephesians 5 is an example of an understanding becoming retrograde very quickly, from the egalitarianism of Galatians to the androcracy of Ephesians.

  • Mark P

    Thanks to Larry for making his point of view much clearer–I think we largely share a viewpoint rooted in the ideas that the Bible is “our family story” and that it only makes sense to us if we start with the premise that “God is good”. Others can approach it differently, but for me that is central to why I continue to wrestle with both the text and with God in a world where there is so much suffering.

    A friend, Karla Koll, who is a theologian teaching at the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) in Guatemala City, is a master at wrestling with the text and bringing it to life in today’s world, recently wrote the following which helped me think about this in a new way.

    “‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted yet he did not open his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter’ (Is. 53:7).

    In our class on the history and theology of salvation, we were reading a text in which the Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino describes the peoples of Latin America who are dying needless violent deaths as servants of Yahweh today. We talked about the common graves that have been uncovered here in Guatemala where the army buried those they killed during the armed conflict that lasted from 1960 to 1996. Ubalda Juarez, a young woman who just started studying theology this year, starting crying. Later that day she told me her story.

    In January of 1982, when Ubalda was 10 years old, the army came into their village near Rabinal, in Alta Verapaz. The army ordered everyone to gather in the town square. Ubalda remembers that there was a marimba that played while soldiers passed out toys to the children. Then the army rounded up all the men while they sent the women and children away. The men were then tortured and their bodies were thrown into a pit. Ubalda never saw her father again.

    Ubalda has been an active member of a Pentecostal church for many years, but never before had she heard that God was there with the people of her village that day, sharing in their sufferings. She now knows that her father’s death was the result of injustice, not God’s will.”

    • lbehrendt

      Mark P, thanks for sharing that story. Somehow, whenever the Bible is discussed seriously, the question of human suffering is bound to come up. I appreciate the idea that suffering is not God’s will. I don’t necessarily agree with this idea, but I do appreciate it.