This question was submitted anonymously: “Has God ever “condoned” child abuse? How can Christians explain the following verses?”
Genesis 22:2-10, Exodus 12:29, II Kings 2:23-24, Psalm 137:9, Jeremiah 19:9
(My reply): Many people have struggled with reconciling these verses with our understanding of other parts of the Bible. I am one of those people. If life was simple, then the Bible could be simple. But that’s not the way life is. And so the Bible reflects – accurately – the complexities of living in a world where good and evil are daily at war.
Response # 1
I want you to notice that every passage you mentioned is found in the Old Testament. Perhaps you have heard a Christian preacher or teacher say, “We are a New Testament people.” Although it’s true that the roots of our understanding of God are found in the Old Testament, the tree and fruit now look substantially different. They come from the roots, but they are not the roots. Do you see?
[Jesus] “told them this parable: ‘No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.’”
Jesus brought us the new garments and the new wine. Attempting to mix the old and new leads to destruction. It can’t be done.
Response # 2
The passages you mentioned do deserve some scrutiny. Let’s look at them together, one at a time.
This passage is too long to quote here. I hope you’ll open your Bible and read it. Go ahead; I’ll wait… ready? Okay! (Now, for those who didn’t bother to read it, I’ll tell you – this is the passage where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac).
Are you aware that Abraham is called the father of the Israelites? Do you know why? He started (or re-started) monotheism. In Joshua 24:2 we learn that Abraham’s father worshiped other gods. Child sacrifice was common. The amazing thing about this story is that Abraham didn’t sacrifice Isaac. It was revolutionary! Picture Isaac in school, with other boys (all second-born or later) saying, “Why are you still alive? Doesn’t your father do what’s right?”
So – how did God speak to Abraham? The same way he speaks to us – he spoke to Abraham within his cultural context; within a framework that made sense to Abraham. God is the Great Communicator! He met Abraham where he was, with the understanding that he had – and then God showed him a different way. God stopped a way of life and created a new culture. Don’t stay in the place where Abraham started; move forward to the place where Abraham went.
“At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well.”
You probably won’t like my answer…
In “Ask Bob #13” I wrote, “God is less concerned with length of life than we are.
God is far less concerned with our physical comfort than we are.”
God is sovereign. He made you. You are his. You are alive by his permission and for his pleasure. You are not entitled to live a life of a particular length. There are no guarantees. Everyone dies. While we live, suffering is unequal.
For a different perspective, let’s at least look at this instance through the eyes of the children of Abraham. This event happened to their oppressors after 400 years of cruel slavery. A credible case can be made that God’s punishment wasn’t too severe – instead, some might argue, it was too little, too late.
Also – if you’re still with me – remember that “firstborn” doesn’t mean “child,” and your question was about child abuse. My firstborn is 33 years old. My oldest brother (my parents’ firstborn) is 64. Some of the firstborn in Egypt that died that night were abusive slave owners.
II Kings 2:23-24
“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”
Hmmm… once again, this passage doesn’t say how old these boys were… let’s try a parable…
It was 1953 in Alabama. A black man was walking down the road on his way home from an honest day’s work. The sun was setting; it would be dark soon. He heard something behind him. He turned around and looked. Then, he saw a group of white fellows – looked to be mostly about high-school age – coming toward him.
“Hey!” they called out. “What are you doing in our town? Get out of here! In fact, we’re going to help you along!”
The black man was terrified. He turned toward home and started to run. But he wasn’t fast enough for the high school track stars and the football team. Soon he was on the ground. Before dawn, he was dead, hanging by a rope from a tree.
I called the story above a parable, but it happened, with only minor changes in the details, more than once, in more than one state, in more than one year. Instead of being critical of God for sending two bears on a rampage in Israel, perhaps we should be critical of God for NOT sending a couple of bears to Alabama in 1953.
The story in II Kings is very short, and we don’t have many facts to go on. People who want to be critical of God can take that lack of information and fill in the gaps with the implications of their own choosing. I would suggest that a better place to begin is with the character of God, and fill in the gaps from there.
“Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
There are a few Psalms like this. They are called the Imprecatory Psalms. These Psalms contain curses against Israel’s enemies. Would it surprise you to know that some of the original Jewish readers of this verse had seen Jewish babies killed in just this manner? They saw it with their own eyes! It is in this context that the writer says, “Oh Babylonians – we would love to see you watch as your children are treated the same way you treated our children! You should have to watch what we watched, and live with the memory of it! You should feel the pain, so you would know, and understand, and stop doing these things!”
But the Messiah has come. Jesus has shown us a better way. He has given us new garments, and new wine.
“I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.”
This one verse, by itself, is so out of context. If you haven’t read the history of the Jews and the Book of Jeremiah, this verse is going to need a lot of explaining, and this article is already very long. Short background, then: Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, had not yet conquered Jerusalem. Jeremiah encouraged the King of Judah (King Zedekiah) to surrender Jerusalem, the capital. His prophecy, which includes the passage above, was a prediction of what would happen if Zedekiah didn’t surrender. Well, Jerusalem didn’t surrender. Instead, Jeremiah was imprisoned for treason. Nebuchadnezzar placed a siege around Jerusalem. The food inside the city walls was depleted. Starving people died. The remaining starving people resorted to cannibalism and ate the dead people. Sort of like the Donner Party in the winter of 1846-47. Jeremiah was trying to prevent this!
I’m going to quote myself, from near the beginning of this article:
“Jesus brought us the new garments and the new wine. Attempting to mix the old and new leads to destruction. It can’t be done.”
Then, near the end of the article, I wrote:
“But the Messiah has come. Jesus has shown us a better way. He has given us new garments, and new wine.”
My friend, look at your hands for a moment. God made you! He cares for you. Life is not without suffering. God himself suffers. He is in agony, daily, over the rejection that he faces, and over the human suffering he sees that could so easily be avoided. Now look away from your hands, and look at God’s hands. They are stretched out toward you. Come to him!
December 5, 2010