God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011) by David T. Lamb
In his 2004 bestseller, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris first introduced the world to the popular New Atheism. Listen to leading apologist William Lane Craig talk about the new atheists.
Christopher Hitchens followed with his attack on God in his 2007 book: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The very next year, Richard Dawkins made his claim that the God of the Old Testament is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction” (The God Delusion, p.51).
David Lamb, associate professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield Pennsylvania, believes that Dawkins “simply isn’t reading his Bible well” (p.16).
Lamb, with refreshing wit and respect, responds to accusations being made against God in his book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist? (June, 2011).
Lamb says that the avoidance of certain texts by Bible teachers has actually made it seem that atheists are reading the Bible more carefully than those who accept it as God’s word. Far from ignoring problematic texts, this OT scholar writes from his extensive study of history and Scripture to provide insight into the biblical context, which he claims is the key to proper interpretation.
Lamb notes that the God of the OT has a bad reputation. Are the critical perceptions valid? He doesn’t deny the difficulty with certain texts, but he insists that God’s hesed (love) is abundant in the OT. He rejects the Marcionite heresy that the God of the Old Testament is cruel and vindictive, not the same loving God of the New Testament.
He writes “compared to other ancient Near Eastern literature, the Old Testament is shockingly progressive in its portrayals of divine love” (p.23).
Lamb addresses those OT texts that reveal God’s anger, commands of violence, appearances of sexism, racism, legalism, and what seems to be a stubborn inflexibility in God. Lamb touches on those passages that are most often quoted to show that God is a big meanie.
Why did God kill Uzzah for touching the ark (2 Sam 6:1-8)? Does the Bible present an unfavorable view toward women (Gen 3:1-19; 19:5-11)? Is slavery, racism, and genocide being supported in the biblical text (Josh 10:40; 11:12-15)? Does God endorse child sacrifice and violence against enemies (Gen 22; 2 Kings 2:23-25; 19:35)? And what about all those pesky out-dated commandments (Ex 20-23; Lev 17-26; Deut 12-26)?
Lamb believes that the OT text should be harmonized with the life and teachings of Jesus. He seeks to accomplish this by finishing each chapter with relevant passages from the Gospels.
What is God like? Lamb wants to make it clear that “this book is essentially about the nature of God” (p.177). He writes: “Instead of ignoring passages that seem to portray Yahweh negatively, we need to study them, discuss them and teach them to gain understanding. While all our questions may never fully be answered, we will find that Yahweh and Jesus can be reconciled and that the God of both testaments is loving” (p.178).
I’m recommending this book to all of those wrestling with what seems to be a dichotomy within the biblical text—where God appears to be bi-polar and where Jesus finally managed to satisfy the bloodlust of his abusive Father.
God Behaving Badly should be required reading for all skeptics and students of theology, especially those Christians who habitually yank verses from their OT context to skillfully ignore the teachings of Jesus.
I want to thank Adrianna Wright at InterVarsity Press for sending me Lamb’s book to read and review.
D.D. Flowers, 2011