God Behaving Badly: Is God Angry, Sexist and Racist?
The cheeky title sucked me right in, so I contacted Dr. Lamb to learn more about his new book. I read a (free) PDF copy, and shot him some questions. His answers are below. Since he took the time to write about the tough stuff, I figured he’d be okay if I pitched with a hardball. I hope you enjoy it.
PLUS. Check out what I wrote up as a review for the book at Amazon, here. I don’t pull punches, with my pros and cons. It’s a blogger integrity thing.
Also–See how you can get your very own free, signed copy at the end of the post.
Dave, thanks for giving me a PDF copy of your book to read. Here are a few burning questions:
1. Your sense of humor comes out a lot in GBB, which makes it enjoyable to read. (Old Testament and theology stuff is often a dry topic, have you noticed?) So, am I right to assume that you and D.A. Carson are not involved in a comedy improv group together?
Carson keeps asking me to come on tour with his troupe, but previous engagements prohibit.
Yes, I’ve noticed that books on the OT or theology aren’t generally enjoyable to read. The most critical initial reader of the book didn’t like my tone and humor. He wanted me to use words like “ontological”, but I’ve told close friends if I ever use that word they have permission to dope-slap me instantly. I wanted to write a book that not only discussed some of the most troubling passages in Scripture, but also made people laugh. George Bernard Shaw said, “If you are going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, or they will kill you.” That’s my personal motto.
2. What prompted you to write the book? (An experience? A conversation? A “journey”? A course you were teaching? etc.)
I love teaching on difficult texts and ignored texts. This book brought those two interests together.
It’s hard to say something fresh about John 3:16 (“been there, done that”). It’s not hard to say something fresh about Uzzah (2 Sam. 6 The guy God smote after he touched the ark to steady it for falling.) because preachers and teachers are afraid to talk about texts like that. No one’s heard a sermon on Uzzah before, so the one I give might be the best one they’ve ever heard.
It also comes out of either insecurity or defensiveness. When you teach OT in the world where the NT reigns supreme you feel like you want to address that situation, to defend the OT and YHWH. Ultimately, it breaks my heart that people don’t love and appreciate the OT and the God it describes.
3. So, do you consider GBB a theological book? ….Or, what category do you think it fits into?
My favorite question to ask students while discussing a biblical text is, “What do we learn about God here?” I guess that makes me theologian, although, I’d rather be called a student of the Bible (or better yet, “a Bible guy”).
GBB is mainly a book about the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. I don’t quote many scholars, theologians or apologists, but at the back GBB has a 5-page Scripture index filled with literally hundreds of Bible references.
4. I think the ones most likely to best appreciate your book are
Seekers, Doubters, and untrained or new Christians. Though well-researched, it does not read like an academic-styled book. Who do you think it’s best for?
The primary audience includes people who are troubled by what they read in the Old Testament. I think that means everyone.
5. Your book covers a really tough and confusing issue with regards to Old Testament Law. Rape. On page 179 you say, “Even though God hates rape, he commands a woman to marry her rapist.” Ugh. I don’t think this argument really works to help your point, Dave. Can you explain this topic a bit more?
The dynamics of courtship and marriage in the OT context are indeed much different than they are today. Many of us realize that most rapes are committed not by strangers, but by acquaintances, and I’m pretty sure this was true in OT times, so some of these dynamics may come into play into contexts like Deut. 22, which may have been comparable to a “date rape”. The distinction between rape, and seduction between people who know each other sometimes blurs, but the fact that various OT laws are engaging this topic, and are generally mandating severe penalties for the perpetrator in order to protect the victim was progressive in the ancient Near East.
6. Suppose someone argues that you are just making a bunch of excuses for God to make him a “better sale”. How would you respond to that?
Yep. That’s true. Although, it’s hard to sell something if you believe your product is crap. Gifted salespeople could do that. I couldn’t. It helps to have a product that you believe in. The God that I encounter in the pages of the Old Testament is highly compelling, so it makes for an easy sale, even with all the smiting.
I don’t deny that I have a bias (I’m post-modern). I try to state my biases up front. I would want to hear what the bias is of people who think I’m making excuses for God. Once we get our biases out in the open, then I would want to look at the text together and discuss it. Hopefully, we could then learn from each other.
7. I appreciate that you don’t claim to know everything about the meanings of the laws, recorded acts, and motivations of God in the Testaments. In general, would you like to encourage readers to be okay (flexible) with not knowing all the whys and particulars in the troubling passages of the Bible? Do you see a practical application for doing this?
We’re going to need to be OK without knowing all the whys because these texts will never fully make sense to anyone. We need to work to gain understanding, but we won’t arrive at that point ever. If someone thinks they understand all the troubling Bible texts, they are either naïve, deceived or arrogant. In GBB, I’m trying to give people helpful tools for understanding tough texts (I hope to do more of that in a future book). If we’re OK with not fully solving these problematic passages, then we can be free to look at them and begin to make more sense of them.
The practical application is that students and teachers of the Bible would not avoid, but they would seek out troubling texts and be eager to teach on them. These texts have profound lessons to teach us about God and God’s character. I personally believe Paul wasn’t high when he said “all Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof…” (2 Tim 3:16), so maybe we should teach “all Scripture”. And Paul was talking about the Old Testament primarily. Most pastors and Bible teachers might say they agree with Paul, but when you look at what they teach and preach on, they don’t agree with Paul.
8. What one thing (or you can pick a few) do you think people get wrong when they try to understand the God recorded in Scriptures?
I could pick a lot of things, but if I had to focus on one thing people get wrong I’d say people want a God they can completely understand and predict. Our tiny brains can’t fully comprehend God and his behavior. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but he’s not going to fit neatly into our systematic theology framework. This shouldn’t surprise us because we can’t fully understand people and people are made in God’s image. Both God and humans are complex, mysterious.
God also wants to have a real relationship with us not to fit into our conceptual framework of the divine. At risk of being trite, C.S. Lewis said in the Chronicles of Narnia that “Aslan is not a tame lion”. The first time I read that it didn’t make sense to me. Later, it just made me mad. Now, I think it’s brilliant. We want to tame God by putting him into our conceptual frameworks so we can understand him. That’s just not going to happen. If I were God (a big “if”), that would piss me off.
9. Anything else you’d like to add?
This book is meant to encourage people to not be afraid of the Old Testament and the God it describes. It addresses 7 problems, each in only 1 chapter. So, it’s not meant to give a final exhaustive answer to these questions, but hopefully it can be a starting point. I could recommend other books that go into more detail, but the best way to keep working on these issues is to study and discuss problematic passages in the context of community, with family and friends, in small groups and Sunday school classes. As people do this, they will deepen their relationships with each other, as well as their relationship with God.
I agree! Thanks, Dave, and thanks to all of you for reading. To read more from Dave find his blog, here.
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