Biblical Slavery: Are God’s Ways Higher than Our Ways?

[This post is a Beagle’s Bark.]

We have now arrived at the final excuse for biblical slavery in our series. Let me emphasize up-front that not all Christians use this reasoning. The excuse and this whole post apply only to that variety of Christianity that believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God.

God’s ways are higher than our ways.

Yes, God’s commands to enslave are puzzling. If we were to run the world we’d do it differently. However, his mind is infinite and ours are finite; he knows all and we know only what he deigns to tell us; he is pure and we are fallen; he is good and we are evil.

If he commanded slavery, or taking 32,000 virgins as spoils of war, or genocide, or anything else that troubles us, the trouble is with us, not him.

The strength of this position is that any argument mounted against it only bounces back as more evidence in favor of it. “You disagree with God? That only shows I’m right: the ways of men are not the ways of God.”

However, by taking refuge in that position, the believer should be aware that he has already admitted that the evidence is so thoroughly against him that he must believe that black is white. He must believe that what he thinks is unspeakable evil is actually good.

What can I say to someone who has deliberately placed himself beyond the reach of evidence and reason, and calls that a virtue? There is no argument I can offer.

So, I will make no arguments

Instead I will relate a story reported on a Christian Website. The young woman involved uses the pseudonym Gwyneth Nelson and calls her husband Tom. I have no reason to doubt her story. I have read enough others like it to believe that this is tragically common. I have also seen Christian men of good reputation in my own circle of acquaintances abuse their wives or girlfriends.

Gwyneth had met Tom at a Christian college where they were both students. He came from a fine, Christian family; his father was a pastor. They fell in love and married. Knowing their culture as well as I do, I have no doubt that they prayed over this decision and believed it to be God’s will.

As soon as they returned from their honeymoon, Tom started to be abusive. The abuse ranged from jaw-dropping selfishness to physical violence.

For me, the most heart-breaking part came on page 3 of her account.

Though I rarely received bruises, the ever-present threat of physical harm was devastating and, at times, immobilizing. By far, the most harm I received was emotional. He’d call me a self-righteous b**** or a f***ing “good-girl” and end a tirade with a Scripture reference: “I’m just speaking the truth in love.” He repeatedly told me what was “true” about me: I was controlling, disrespectful, unsubmissive, and self-important. I lost confidence in my ability to identify reality. “Truth” had been verbally twisted and used against me. The fear and constant threat of attack rendered me an emotional weakling.

My natural response was to work harder on myself. As a college-educated woman with a corporate career and a deep desire to serve God, I thought I must be capable of turning things around. “Surely,”I reasoned, “Tom loves me. I just have to respect him more. Sometimes I am self-righteous and controlling. If I could be more humble, then things would be better.” But nothing made a difference.

I see devastating parallels between this young bride and the Christian who uses the excuse that God’s apparently evil ways are good — but in some way that we mortals cannot understand.

The similarities are not just in the excuse itself, but in the very nature of the relationship in which this excuse takes root and flourishes. 

  • Tom informed his wife what was “true” about her, apparently in contrast to her own good judgment. God tells us that his ways are higher than ours. He says our moral faculties are so defective that we must rely completely on his pronouncements, even on as basic an issue as slavery.
  • Because of her husband’s domineering abuse, Gwyneth lost confidence in her ability to identify reality. In capitulating to the “God’s ways are higher” excuse for slavery, the Christian admits that he has lost confidence in his ability to identify moral reality.
  • Tom twisted “truth” to mean its opposite. God in the Bible does the same with the morality of slavery, and the Christian accepts this.
  • Gwyneth’s fear rendered her an emotional weakling. The Christian who uses the excuse we are considering has likewise been rendered emotionally and morally impotent.
  • Tom threatened physical harm. God threatens hell. Both threats create an atmosphere where there is heavy disincentive to doubt the other party’s virtue.
  • Tom called Gwyneth a “self-righteous b****.” God says even our righteousness is as filthy rags.
  • Gwyneth’s response to Tom’s abuse was to “work harder on herself.” The Christian’s response to being out of sync with what the Bible says about God is typically to double-down on her devotion. When things don’t work out as promised, she blames herself, not God.
  • Gwyneth continued to believe that Tom loved her and their problems were her fault. The Christian continues to believe that “God is Love” in spite of Bible passages that demonstrate he’s a monster.
  • The more Tom abused her, the more Gwyneth believed she had to be more respectful and humble. The more “mysterious” God’s ways are, the more the Christian believes he must humble himself and defer to God’s judgments.

Bible-believing Christian, if you find yourself suppressing your own moral faculties on issues as basic as slavery, rape and genocide then I tenderly urge you to consider whether your “relationship with God” might be one of codependency and abuse.

If you think not, I recommend this article as further reading: The God of Abuse. It’s pretty hard-hitting, but I have seen the truth in it first-hand.

Like most codependent people, I did not know how toxic my relationship to God was when I was in the middle of it. It was only once I was out from under it that I realized what a burden it had been. Now that I no longer have to defend the indefensible (as with biblical slavery), or blame myself when my prayers are not answered, or convince myself that a loving God is in control when horrible things happen, or struggle to find a reconciliation of science and the Bible — now that all those things are behind me I am amazed that I did not see the “relationship” for what it was.

As always, please leave comments. I will carefully consider each one. I reply to most.

Next in this series: a personal note on why this issue matters to me.

13 responses to “Biblical Slavery: Are God’s Ways Higher than Our Ways?

  1. Great Essay!
    Thank you!

    • Thanks for reading it, Sue! BTW, the essay to which I linked in the third-to-last paragraph was one of the big eye-openers for me when I was in the final stages of wrestling with my faith.

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  7. You are giving me answers as to why there is so much hate and ignorance in the world. The bible is full of both.I am feeling good about not raising my kids on the word of the bible but on compassion, common sense and accepting people from all walks of life.

  8. First, there is no need to respond to this comment. I just wanted to thank you for such a compelling dialogue. I left organized religion, specially Christianity, a number of years ago, though my parent still remains in Catholicism. It taught me to feel fearful, hateful, and guilty of or about everything. This dialogue was great! Thanks again!

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  10. I’m confused.
    1.You were a christian, but you didn’t believe in original sin. So why did you accept Christ?
    2. You seem to think that OT jews were the same as christians. We lived under different contracts in different phases of The Plan™.

    • 1. When I was a Christian, I did believe in original sin.
      2. This post (and this series, for that matter) has nothing to do with Jews being or not being the same as Christians. Christians claim to have a relationship with God. In the OT (and in the new, too — see the Book of Revelation) God revealed himself to be a monster, morally speaking. The fact that in the NT he no longer commanded slavery, or in the OT he had not yet threatened eternal punishment in hell, is neither here nor there, for he is supposedly the same God who does not change. So Christians must deal with the fact that they are in love with a slavery-commanding, hell-threatening monster. This post is about how they do that.

      • When God say we were created in His image. When God say He want to have relationship with me. When God say He died for my sin. When God say I will return to heaven to be with Him. These all make sense to me. I do not know how it like living without God of the Bible. However I appreciate your sharing because I know God have a better plan and He is the beginning and the end. I pray for you.

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