In my previous blog post, I decided to do my best to answer charges from blogger ClubSchadenFreude who left several long comments on a previous post of mine. ClubSchadenFreude is an atheist, and you can read her blog posts on WordPress. In her comments on my posts, she strung together some things in the Bible that struck her as unanswerable. Here’s part of what she wrote:
No reason to think you or anyone else knows what this god is “like” since Christians cannot agree on that nor show that their version is the right one. What do you think about a god that kills a child for the actions of its parents, a god taht [sic] requires a man to make a choice between freedom and his family, a god that kills a people who are ruled by a king and who can’t do anything about him, a god who kills a man who simply tried to keep this god’s magic box upright, if not vicious? If a human tried to make people do these things, killed children, etc, would you think that human vicious?
Your bible betrays your claims of a good and benevolent god.
I’m sure she could have found more, but I’m only going to address what she wrote.
Answering things like this is called “apologetics.” From my point of view, God doesn’t need to make apologies, but you and I might need someone to explain things to us, especially if what we read seems to contradict what we know about God. We might need to have God explained to us because we can misunderstand him. And that’s often what happens if we approach God — not from faith — but our own intellect.
In my previous post, I answered the first two charges ClubSchadenFreude levels against Christianity. I’d like to try to answer the next charge in this post. While I doubt ClubSchadenFreude will be impressed, I’m not writing for her — or any non-Christian. I’m writing for my fellow believers. Non-Christians are invited to look over our shoulders, of course, but I doubt I’ll say anything so profound as to change minds.
… a god taht [sic] requires a man to make a choice between freedom and his family…
While ClubSchadenFreude doesn’t cite chapter and verse, I think she’s referring to Exodus 12: 1-6.
In my book, Solid Ground, there is a chapter titled The Question of Slavery. The chapter can be purchased separately as an eBook, but I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version here absolutely free because I wrote the book — not to become wealthy or famous — but to help believers and unbelievers understand Christianity better.
When the Old Testament was written, slavery was the norm. Every culture owned slaves. In fact, if someone was in financial need, that person could voluntarily sell himself to a richer person. (Leviticus 25: 39 – 43) In Exodus 12, we learn that this man could serve as a slave for six years, but after six years, he was to go free. If he had a wife and children before he became a slave, that wife and children were to leave with him. But if after he became a slave he married a woman who was already a slave and they had children, he was to leave without them. He had the option to stay and remain a slave forever because he loved his master, wife, and children.
And I think ClubSchadenFreude has a point. Might a man not stay with a harsh master imply to remain with his wife and children? Why would God do this?
Stay with me
What I’m going to say next seems (at first) to have nothing to do with this issue, so stay with me.
In the New Testament, Matthew records a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees in chapter 19, verses 3 – 9. They are talking about divorce. Our culture has embraced divorce with gusto, but Jesus says here that “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
The Pharisees are unhappy with this answer. Basically they say, “Then why did Moses permit divorce?”
Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce….”
What we learn from this
What we learn from this is that there is a higher law than the law of Moses, one which is harder and more difficult. It is the perfect law of God. The law of Moses (given by God) was not the final end God wanted, and he permitted some things he didn’t want to prevent even worse things from happening. Because of the hardness of hearts of the people of Israel, God permitted things that did not have his full approval. This is why the prophet Jeremiah famously says that a new covenant is coming. (Jeremiah 30: 31 – 34)
Some theologians have a name for these kinds of laws: they call them laws that “limit evil.” And I think they have a point. So, because God knew that men would divorce their wives without good reason, he put a limit on divorce instead of forbidding it outright by commanding how it would be done to limit just how bad it could get.
Back to slavery
I believe laws like the one in Exodus 12: 1 – 6 we are discussing were to limit evil. A Hebrew man could not be kept more than six years. There was a limit on how long he could remain a slave. If he was married when he became a slave, his wife and children were freed with him. The slave owner could not keep the wife and children. He was limited. But if that poor man turned slave married a woman who was already a slave, then she and any children from the marriage were to remain with the slave owner.
Of course, this was a known rule. It was part of the law. It would be smart for a man in that position of extreme poverty to remain unmarried in any case. If you can’t support yourself, you can’t support a wife and children, either. If he was so poor he couldn’t support himself, what would happen to his wife and children if he left with them? But humans being what we are, we don’t always do the smart thing. If he married while a slave and left, he did so knowing he would leave behind his wife and children.
Or at least, that might have happened. If his master was really one he loved, he could stay. But he had other options, too. Stay with me, and I’ll explain why that wasn’t the final word.
Slavery was never what God wanted
God permitted slavery as a way to provide for the poor, though I believe he would have preferred charity, and he says so in Leviticus 25:35-38. God calls the rich to sustain the poor in these verses. But I suspect God knew what was coming. He knew that people’s hearts would be hard and they would not sustain the poor, so he permitted slavery (in the next verses Leviticus 25: 39 – 43) as a less desirable method for preventing starvation. And, even here — read the verses — God instructs the master to treat the slave as a hired man. He is not to be treated severely.
I think it was because of the slave owner’s hardness of heart, God permitted the slave owner to keep the wife and children of a marriage that was contracted while a slave, not because it was his desire.
What makes me so sure?
Because it Deuteronomy 23: 15-16, we read this: You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him. Although the pronoun “he” is used, back then (as in many languages even today) the masculine address was used to refer to all human beings, man, woman, and child.
Any slave could escape and leave a harsh master. And I am confident that God would treat a man who escaped a harsh master with a wife and children the same way.