Interviewee: Norman L. Geisler, Ph. D.
Right off the bat, the title of this chapter is misleading. When I read it in the table of contents (as you will see in my pre-read impressions), I was thinking of the children who died in disasters and the tsunami and famines. However, what this chapter actually addresses is the problems of atrocities commanded by God in the Old Testament. The objection could have been better worded as “God isn’t worthy of worship if he commanded genocide and cruel acts.” And as it turns out, only about half of the chapter addresses this question, while the other half focuses on proofs of the bible’s reliability.
Strobel presents the objection very well.
“God’s image as a loving and benevolent deity gets called into question by stores of seemingly cruel and vengeful behavior. Do these brutal accounts disclose the true character of God? And if they do, does he deserve to be worshiped?”
I’m not going to pick apart each and every argument given by Geisler as to why the Old Testament stories are not as cruel as they appear. But here are the highlights:
In answer to a charge from Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason that the Bible contained “cruel and torturous executions,” Geisler says that the charge of torture is due to misinterpretation in the King James Version. In fact, what David really did was force his enemies to either submit to forced labor or be killed. (Neither Strobel nor his interviewee gives Biblical references so I’m not going to try to find the passages in question.)
In the case of the Amalekites, Geisler basically says that they were bad people beyond any hope of salvation and deserved to be utterly destroyed--right down to the smallest infant and all the animals. How does he know this? Because
And did you know that the children who were mauled by bears for making fun of Elisha? They weren’t really children. They were a dangerous gang that threatened Elisha’s life and reputation. This is what Geisler says, anyway. And God viciously killed them as an example for anyone who would dare malign God or his prophet, so that maybe the people would take the hint and avoid his later wrath. This still sounds more like a tyrant than a loving deity to me.
Next Strobel brings up the cruelty that is built into the food chain in nature. This bit, I think, is rather out of topic for the chapter and should have been addressed in Chapter 1. Anyway, Geisler’s solution is that all animals were originally herbivores, but then were converted to carnivores sometime later as a result of the fall. My main problem with this argument has to do with the fact that predators are so wonderfully designed to be killing machines. The idea of a lion gaining nutrition from grass and fruit is totally absurd in the light that their teeth, claws, and digestive systems are specially designed for the killing and digestion of animal flesh. And can you imagine sharks eating seaweed? If Geisler is right, the curse must have been a new act of creation in its own right! Another problem is that this makes it out that God punished all of creation for the rebellion of humans. I can’t see how this could be considered just.
Speaking of cruelty to animals, it would be more in line with the topic of this chapter if Strobel would have asked about the justice in God commanding David to hamstring the horses of their enemies. This can be found in Joshua 11:6-9. What was the point? More references to biblical atrocities can be found at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/atrocity.shtml.
The rest of the chapter is concerned with arguments that the Biblical accounts are trustworthy. In the interest of shortening my chapter reviews, I’ll not address these arguments here—particularly since they have little to do with the topic of the chapter.