David Lamb: Is God really’Angry, Sexist and Racist’?

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Evangelical theologian David Lamb tackles some of the Bible’s most troubling passages in his book, “God Behaving … Continued

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Evangelical theologian David Lamb tackles some of the Bible’s most troubling passages in his book, “God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?” His answer: yes and no.

The book has received mixed reviews in the Christian blogosphere, but Lamb was well received when he recently spoke at a church here. Religion News Service sat down with Lamb, an Old Testament scholar at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa., to find out how believers’ long-held views of a wrathful Old Testament God might waver with his findings.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write about how God “strikes, smites, slays and slaughters.” Why is it important to understand why God is angry?

A: I think the biggest thing that God gets angry about is injustice: when poor people are being oppressed, when widows are not being cared for, when orphans are not being provided for. And those are really good things to get angry about. And let’s face it: When people are angry, it gets our attention.

Q: You write that while God “may seem sexist, He is affirming of women.” What is one example to sum it all up?

A: The very first thing we learn in the Bible is that women are divine — they are God-like. Now, men are too, but I think most men think this already. The man and the woman, when God creates them in Genesis 1, they are made in his image. And there’s nothing more positive you could say.

Q: You also write that while God “may seem racist, he is hospitable.” What do you think is key for people to know about cultural context in trying to understand this?

A: We need to go to Genesis 12, where we encounter God first talking to Abraham. He is calling the father of the nations. He wants to bless them, but he wants to bless them to be a blessing to all nations. God gets angry when foreigners are not being cared for. God wants his people to be concerned about people that are different from them.

Q: You talk about the distinction some people make between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How do you unify the tension between the two?

A: If one looks at texts in the Old Testament where God seems to be mean or violent, and people look at texts in the New Testament where Jesus is compassionate and caring for people and healing people, you can see kind of a dichotomy.

I see God in both testaments doing the same things. Jesus bases his teaching, as does Paul, on the teachings of the Old Testament. And the things that Jesus does in the New Testament — healing people, forgiving people, caring for people — we see God in the Old Testament doing the same things.

Q: You give several examples of negative depictions of God. What are some of the biggest cultural contributions to people’s perceptions of God?

A: The classic I look at is this “Far Side” cartoon where God is at his keyboard, and there’s an innocent-looking guy walking down the street, and God’s got his finger over one key — the “smite” key.

I talk to a lot of college students, and a lot of people read, or are at least familiar with, books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the so-called New Atheists. So, you’ve got these New Atheists out there writing about some of the most problematic texts in the Bible and the Old Testament, and it shapes culture.

Q: You respond in the book to the New Atheist movement and to atheist writers such as Dawkins and Hitchens. What kind of responses have you received from atheists?

A: I sent an email to Richard Dawkins and got no response, which is perhaps not surprising. I’ve had some great interactions with atheists, and they love to talk about this. Some of them feel very strongly about it, which I think has been fantastic.

A lot of Christians, we do the same thing that Dawkins is doing — Dawkins just focuses on the negative texts, and Christians just focus on the positive texts. And I think Dawkins needs to acknowledge the positive texts in the same way that Christians need to not ignore these negative texts.

(Kellie Kotraba is the editor of Columbia Faith & Values.)

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

  • WmarkW

    There’s no such thing as “the God of the Old Testament.” The nationalist tribal God who slew the first-born sons of Egypt arises from a completely different tradition than the prophet Elijah.

    If you want to ask about “God’s” sexism, start with the story of Lot offering his virgin daughters to his visitors.

  • SimonTemplar

    LOT chose to offer his daughters, not to the visitors but to the people of Sodom. God did not make him or ask him to do that. In fact, God defended actually defended the daughters by striking the rioting mob with blindness.

  • cs9243

    It is amusing that these people know what God wants and does not want, ” God is angry,sexist ,racist etc”

    Do they have any direct communication with God ? who wrote those books? we created God and the books. it is time to move away from all these imaginery things. this is 21st century.

    Whose god we are talking about? luckily Buddhists and Jains do not believe in any God.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.