Christian philosopher Randal Rauser is familiar with the more disturbing verses of the Bible especially those involving genocide, some of which he tackles in his book The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails, a book that I’d highly recommend.
First off Rauser informs us how Christians deal with the tough verses in the Bible (1). And given the flood of books in recent times focusing on biblical violence one might get the impression that it is a freshly discovered problem, however Rauser dispels such an idea as “That would be a misreading, however, for theologians have wrestled with this problem for centuries. Consider, for example, the extended discussions of the problem in third and fourth century theologians like Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.”
Rauser subsequently identifies the main force behind the surge of books focusing on this problem is from atheist writers, notably Dawkins and Harris:
“The post 9/11 discussion does have some distinguishing features, however. To begin with, much of the current discussion has been spurred on by self-described skeptics and atheists, many who convey a sense of urgency, boldness, and sweeping incredulity toward all claims of biblical revelation. In addition, the current discussion is often framed in the terms of modern legal concepts like ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
However, Rauser rightfully identifies the strength behind this challenge “As Copan and Flannagan recognize, the concept of genocide is particularly significant because it “carries a heavy rhetorical punch, which often calls forth echoes of Rwanda or the Holocaust,” and that charges of genocide against the Bible and God “has become, for many, a watershed issue which brings together incredulity and moral indignation toward the Bible and the violence it contains.”
But how do Christians deal with this problem? Randal tells us:
“In my experience, the overwhelming strategy is avoidance: we just don’t talk about those texts.” In my own experience this is true, I’ve never, if seldom, heard sermons preached on this issue or at least a sermon that includes it. In fact, a recent sermon had the young pastor talking about God’s love and righteousness in the context of the Torah, especially Leviticus. But as I well knew that was but half of the story. But other Christians hold the following view:
“Among those who do address the problem, the most common answer seems to be a straight reading that concludes God did command the genocide of the Canaanites and Amalekites because of their wickedness. This hard teaching is commonly backed up with a warning not to question the justice of God (Isa. 45:9; Rom. 9:20).”
This essentially, as Rauser notes, leaves us with two options to either “avoid the glaring topic of genocide or embrace it,” and “each, in turn, introduces a shattering cognitive dissonance into the heart of Christian faith. How are we supposed to bring together the image of mass carnage with that of God the Son telling us to love our neighbors (while defining neighbor with the hated Samaritan) and even dying on the cross with the words “forgive them, for they know not what they do?””
1. Rauser, R. 2015. Did God Really Command Genocide A Review (Part 1). Available.