Violence in the Bible

Thom DickFeatured4 Comments

One of the Church Renewal Practices is “Learn about God and know God” and clearly the most important way to do this is to read the Bible. But does that mean all of the Bible? Should we focus on just the stories about Jesus (and only the safe ones at that)? What about the Old Testament and the book of Revelation, should we be reading these to our kids? Well I guess that depends what you want your kids to know about God.

I was recently reading a toddler’s version of the Bible to my son and we got to the Ten Plagues of Exodus and then the parting of the Red Sea. In both stories many people die and thinking ahead, I wondered how the authors would translate those details down to a child’s level. I was surprised that they were quite honest, although quick on the details, about the tragedy of the event; people died. As I read it, I found myself thinking, would I have written it the same way? I have had similar feelings when I have read Christian material on sex ed. Now clearly there comes a time when kids can handle it, and clearly that age will vary from child to child, but when do we tackle some of the uncomfortable parts of scripture?

Well first of all, our kids need to know God. All of Him actually. And they need to also learn that there is a reason for the violence in the Bible. We need our kids to understand that God is holy and jealous and just and that sin always leads to action on His part. Of course the way the Bible handles violence is very important to notice; it is not gratuitous. What I mean is that although there are details and some of them are gory (I’m thinking of the dedication of the temple for example), there aren’t usually too many details. AND BEFORE I get a bunch of emails about how David wrote that he wanted to smash the faces of his enemies, let us all recognize that when that kind of language is used, it is almost always hyperbole. The Jews LOVED hyperbole. (And let’s be honest, David was pretty raw and honest anyways.)

We live in a world that on the one hand exposes children to sexuality and violence in movies and video games at an alarmingly young age, but on the other hand criticizes Christians and the Bible for celebrating violence. But there is a critical difference between the two because all the stories of the Bible have a redemptive purpose; even those which are violent. If something is in the Bible then God had a purpose in: 1) Telling the story in the first place (e.g. so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes or to understand that God is holy and just, etc.) and 2) The event itself. It’s not like God sits in heaven just waiting for an excuse to go and hurt His creation. The Lord was grieved at the consequences of sin that led to The Flood (Genesis 6:6) and He was even patient with the Amorites waiting until they had gotten bad enough to warrant the kind of discipline they received (Genesis 15:16).

War is always sad because invariably people get caught in the cross fire, but that’s a lesson too! There is no sin that happens in isolation. It is impossible to sin and not have that affect other people, this is a simple and profound reality. The key in all of this is knowing your child and what they can handle and focusing on the character of God over the events recorded for us. This is actually what the Bible is in the first place – the self-revelation of God! It isn’t primarily a moral book, or historical record; although it contains both moral instructions and historical data; the Bible is primary about GOD! So I would suggest that when you read to little children, be quick to move past the grim details and on to a God who revealed Himself in the midst of a really big mess on Earth.

For the book of Revelation my focus has always been on the emotions surrounding the stories. Are your kids afraid when they hear about the events prophesied? I am from time to time quite frankly. So help your kids to work through the fear. Help them to use their imagination not to picture the potential nightmare and help them imagine the great Saviour on the other side of the chaos! This gives us another chance to help their little hearts grow closer to God.

Do we need to read the entire Bible to our kids? Maybe not, but then on the other hand do kids need a full revelation of who God is? Yeah actually they do!

I have a challenge for you, first go searching for some of those uncomfortable stories and ask the Lord what He was teaching His creation about Himself in it. Second, look ahead in your children’s Bibles. Anticipate the stories that are coming next and make a plan on how you will introduce them to their loving Heavenly Father.



4 Comments on “Violence in the Bible”

  1. The genocide in the Bible is difficult to reconcile with our understanding that God considers life to be sacred.

    1. The Renewed Family

      Hi Jerry, thanks for your comment.

      Genocide is a strong word but I know that many critics of the OT use it. I think there are several ways to reconcile this view of the actions of God. First of all I work with the premise based on John 5:39-47, Hebrews 13:8 and Numbers 23:29 (among many others) that Jesus and His Heavenly Father are the same Yahweh we read about the OT. I am also convinced that God is love. We see this not only in the NT but also in the OT in many of the Psalms and the stories of God’s unbelievable protection and mercy towards those who submitted to Him. However God’s unfailing love and mercy must be reconciled with His holiness and justice. With those things in mind I would suggest that if God mandates violence then there is a good, just and loving reason to do so, which fits into His ultimate plan of redemption, fulfilled in the NT. For example, it is possible that He was actually PRESERVING the maximum number of lives by eliminating some evil ones (and of course God was not arbitrary in His actions.) We understand this – we’ll bomb and kill our enemies to preserve the maximum number of lives. If we do this, do we assume God cannot and with more reason and justice? And allow me to anticipate an objection, “What about the innocent children who died as collateral damage?” I have already made the point that sin always affects others and that innocent lives are always hurt by sin and its consequences. But there are also innocents caught because of the discipline required as well. For example, if I sin by having an affair my children clearly suffer. But I would also be justifiably disciplined as a pastor and that would impact a great many more people. I think that when we use words like genocide we betray a gross underestimation of the dire, dire consequences of sin.

      Furthermore I trust God. I trust that even when there are uncomfortable passages in the Bible that He who is loving and good also has a loving a good reason for His actions. I’m not ready to break with the clear teaching of scripture that the God of the OT is the same God represented in the NT, indeed even the same God incarnate in Jesus Christ. This is why I think it is supremely reasonable to see both the justice of God and the sacredness of life in the stories we read in the OT.

      Jerry, I look forward to your anticipated response.

      Thom Dick

  2. Thanks Thom. To take this passage literally and acknowledge that God eliminated everyone on earth, accept one family, certainly begs the question is life really sacred to God?
    I don’t take it literally and rather see the ancient Hebrew author expressing their perception of God as one who preserves and values right living, as opposed to the competing pagan accounts that were ethically bankrupt.

    1. The Renewed Family

      I can see your point of view but even if the flood was local I can’t see the entire flood account as being figurative – although I’ll admit it’s not a salvation issue! My problem is that it seems that passages in Psalms, Luke (spoken by Jesus), Hebrews and 1 & 2 Peter would suggest that a flood event did literally happen. However I really don’t think that God wiped out human life per se. I suspect the bene-Elohim – the Sons of God – had so polluted the human race that it is quite possible that Noah’s family was the last remaining family with and uncorrupted bloodline. (An alternate translation of the description of Noah being righteous and blameless could be “untainted”). If that was the case then it really was very just of God to preserve Noah and his family safe in order to keep the prophetic promise of a savior coming from the seed of woman alive. But I tend to have a very supernatural view of these events – I think we have lost so much of the true ancient Hebrew mythology. But I don’t see even their mythology as figurative but as literal. I’m sad that we have lost that perspective of scripture and reality. Cheers – Thom.

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