Friday, December 12, 2014

A God Who Kills Children

Last night I saw Ridley Scott’s biblical epic, Exodus: God’s and Kings. As you may have already heard, Yahweh is represented in the movie as a young boy. The relationship between Moses and this Boy is, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect of the film.

In the beginning of the movie, Moses notes that the name "Israelite" means one who wrestles with God (Gen. 32:28). As the story unfolds, and Moses sees the extreme, indiscriminate devastation caused by the plagues, he begins to question God’s actions. Finally, when God reveals his plan to kill the firstborn, Moses is horrified. When he protests, the Boy flares up and says, "These kings think they are gods, but they are only flesh and blood. I will have them kneel before me." After the last plague, Pharaoh carries the body of his son to Moses and says, "Look at the work of your God. What kind of fanatics worship a God who kills children?"
While this depiction of the Biblical story will no doubt make some uncomfortable, I think we have to acknowledge that there is a sense in which Scott has been faithful to the text. The account in Exodus does seem very strange and troubling, at least to modern ears. God is explicitly clear that he is orchestrating Egypt’s destruction for the purpose of displaying his power; Scott doesn’t whitewash the story.

I imagine many atheists will walk out of the theatre being even more convinced that belief in God is morally reprehensible. Many Christians, on the other hand, will walk out questioning whether they really believe that the narratives in the Old Testament are anything more than barbaric myths, shedding only the faintest light on the true nature of God.
At this point, however, we must note that the God of the Old Testament was the only God that Jesus of Nazareth acknowledged. Therefore, I suggest we should at least consider the possibility that narratives like the Exodus can be reconciled with the God who is love (1 John 4:8).

I find the following example helpful. Imagine you receive a  receive a phone call in the middle of the night, and the voice at the other end of the line tells you that your son has been murdered. How would you feel? Now imagine the same scenario, except instead of being told that your son has been murdered, you are told that your son has murdered someone else. How would you feel?
Would the second scenario be easier to bear than the first scenario, simply because your son was still living? Probably not. I suspect all of us feel that the moral/spiritual well-being of our loved ones is ultimately more important than their physical well-being, especially if we believe our loved ones are destined for an eternal existence beyond this fleeting life.  

Is it not possible, therefore, that God might be willing to unleash a great deal of physical suffering and death on his offspring as part of a larger plan to bring about their ultimate salvation? Perhaps it was better for each Egyptian killed in the Red Sea to breathe his lungs full of water knowing that there is one God who rules heaven and earth - and who is to be feared - than to live a full eighty years and die without the knowledge of Yahweh.

Recall the effect that God's actions had on the harlot Rahab:
We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Josh. 2:10-11)

1 comment:

Debbie said...

I'm always uncomfortable with extra-biblical portrayals of God in man-written stories. If Moses was told to remove his sandals because the place where he stood before God was holy, it doesn't then seem that God wants us just traipsing up to the story and changing the portrayal of God in it and the words He spoke. The entirety of the Word of God is inspired--the words, not just the thoughts. People need to read the Word before they comment on the story in the Bible. Just seeing some man's portrayal of the story in a movie is not at all the same as reading it in the Bible. Actually, as Dr. McGee, a man who knew the Word well, pointed out--Pharoah was the one responsible for the deaths of the firstborn in Egypt. At the burning bush, God told Moses: "Then you shall say to Pharoah, 'Thus says the LORD: "Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn."'" (Exodus 4:22, 23) Pharoah refused to let Israel go, and God kept His Word to him.
Your points about some things being worse than death are excellent. In fact, sometimes I wonder whether a culture can be so destructive to its children that God finally steps in and takes many of them to Himself in death and brings destruction to that culture. I don't know how He works, but as you said, I know that He is love. He also is holy and righteous and what He does is completely consistent with all the totality of His Wonderful Person. If we don't understand, that reveals our lack of understanding and not His lack of character.