In my previous two blog posts (Part I and Part II), 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 many 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.
Of course, ClubSchadenFreude is picking and choosing what she presents. But she raises interesting issues. So this post doesn’t get too long, I’d like to examine the second of the last two of her charges and save the last for my final post on this topic. You can see my previous posts for my thoughts on her earlier statements, and my next (and last post) on this topic for her last one.
The Penultimate cHarge
… a god that kills a people who are ruled by a king and who can’t do anything about him …
It’s hard to know, but I believe ClubSchadenFreude was referring to either 2 Samuel 24: 1 – 25 or 1 Chronicles 21: 1 – 30. The wording is slightly different in these verses, but they tell essentially the same story and relate the same event.
If this is the incident to which ClubSchadenFreude refers, I think it is her strongest accusation, because I, too, find it hard to reconcile God’s actions with the God I know — at least from a modern point of view.
In these sections of scripture, David decides to take a census of the people of Israel. Even Joab (whose morality had always been an undependable and fluid thing) thought this was a bad idea.
This strikes the modern mind as an odd thing. Whey did it matter if a census was taken or not? I could make guesses, and they might be right, but they are only guesses. Had David’s heart become proud about the number of people in his kingdom? Was the census done without a ransom for each man? (In Exodus 30:12, It says here that if a ransom isn’t given, a plague might result!) Again, to a modern mind, this makes no sense. Why does God require a ransom for a census? Why would a plague result if there were no ransoms? I simply don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that it was clear what might happen.
Whatever the reason, once the census is taken, David realizes that he has sinned. You and I, from thousands of years of distance, might wonder about this, but David is certain of it. Through the prophet Gad, David is given three choices as punishment: seven years of famine, three months of war, or three days of pestilence. David chooses to fall into the hand of God (whose mercies, he says, are great) rather than man — in other words, he chooses the plague, something that God warned was a possible result if a census was taken without ransoms.
It was a horrible plague. It lasted three days, and death was as quick as the 1918 Spanish epidemic. If my math is right, 5% of the population died. (I was an English major, so feel free to correct my math!) It made the coronavirus look tame by comparison. On the third day, God held the angel back from destroying Jerusalem.
David recognizes the inherent injustice of this, and cries out to God, “Behold, it is I who have have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done?”
God permits David to make atonement for his sin, and the plague is over.
Where I am on this
First, I trust God. I’ve learned over the years that if there’s something I don’t understand about him, I only need to wait and pray. Eventually, I understand him better. Should an atheist or non-Christian read this, he (or she) is sure to be unimpressed by that statement. But those of us who know the God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ know the truth of it. God is worthy of trust even when we don’t understand him. We have learned this.
For instance, just in researching this, I noticed for the first time that a plague could result from a census that was unaccompanied with ransoms. It’s given me something to think about that I didn’t have before. (Another reason I appreciated the comments left on my previous post.)
Lastly, as I have said in last week’s post, death is an end only for those who do not believe. To an atheist, death is the ultimate evil. To the Christian, death is a doorway to a better world. This was something I addressed in my first post on this topic. I am confident that once we know all, we will see God acted from mercy, not caprice.
This is what I mean
For instance, had God not done anything, what might have happened? You and I don’t know, but God does. If he looked ahead and saw that worse things than the plague might happen if he took no action, then what we see as horrible plague (and horrible it was!) is an act of mercy. He prevented worse things from happening.
Someone might say: why couldn’t he have done both? But let me ask this: if God is going to allow his created beings to sin so they can have free will — and who can dispute he does — should he then prevent the consequences of that sin because he allowed it? I think God’s answer is “no.” He has told us what is good. He has shown us what he wants. He has even told us the consequences of disobedience and unbelief. And then he allows us to obey or not. To expect God to let us “sow our wild oats” and then expect him to give us crop failure is a little too much, I think.
What we learn from this
The man and woman of faith learns that the actions of those in positions of authority impact those of us who are under their authority. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you can agree with this, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Is your governor permitting people to go back to work too early? People may die from that decision. Is your governor keeping your state locked down too long? People may die from that decision (from a drug overdose or suicide — both of which have been increasing under the shutdown) — or at least they might lose their economic livelihoods. You might think it acceptable if someone loses their livelihood as long as they stay alive, but others might be willing to risk it! We might support a president who goes to war to stop Hitler, but we would all suffer if a president went to war to conquer Canada just because he coveted their oil fields.
As you just read, I don’t have all the answers. But this I know: God is good. If he appears to be other, it’s because you and I don’t fully understand what is happening — we only think we do.
I said it before, but I’ll repeat it.: a statement like that last one is unlikely to persuade the unbeliever. But it’s not in my job description to save the world. I am only trying to help any one who is interested in considering the things of God.
And in this post, I hope I have.