One of the most-read posts on this blog is What did Jesus say about slavery? People often land there by Googling exactly that question; although biblical slavery ended millenia ago, people are still troubled by it. So, I am not totally surprised when the series on biblical slavery that I wrote almost two years ago continues to garner the occasional comment.
The latest was from Henry. I had been addressing a passage where God commands Israel to sack distant cities and enslave their populations. Henry said of the captives,
They were prisoners of war, what do you expect them [Israel] to do capture the city and let them regroup for retaliation? (Only Americans and British let their enemies go free so they can come back to fight again.)
Henry asked, “What do you expect them to do?”
I suggest that this is not the most fundamental question. It was supposedly God, not the Israelites, who came up with the idea of enslaving these cities. I suggest a better question would be, “What do you expect God to do?”
Here are some possibilities.
Instead of directing the Israelites to enslave distant cities, God could have told them, “March around the city 7 times, praying for them. Upon completion of the seventh circuit, I will send my Holy Spirit upon them. They will welcome you into their city and you are to teach them my ways.”
If that would be just too easy, God could have said, “You are to be missionaries to the distant cities. Some of you will suffer and even be killed for my Name’s sake, but you must continue to faithfully spread my love.”
If that would be asking too much, God could have just said, “Stay away from them, and I will make sure they stay away from you.”
If God had really wanted those distant cities to be judged, using Israel as his instrument (which I highly doubt), he could at least have said, “You are not to use my solemn judgement as an occasion to gratify your carnal lusts. Keep your hands off the women.” (But of course, he said just the opposite. See the last part of this post.)
…and I’m sure you can think of more ideas.
If I were to steal a loaf of bread to feed my child because I have no food, no job, no friends, no money and no alternative, few people would condemn me.
If I were to do the same thing when I had a refrigerator full of food and all the money in the world, people would think I was compulsively evil.
Of all the characters that have ever been reputed to live, the one with the most embarrassing richness of alternatives for everything he does is God. That’s why his horrible acts in the Bible troubled me enough to finally push me out of the faith.
If he exists, he could have done so much better.
The important thing, I think, is not to be bitter… if it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he is evil. I think that the worst thing you could say is that he is, basically, an under-achiever. If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse.
I read your post and immediately thought of that gem.
It’s funny — I thought about including that exact quote from Woody Allen in the post! Thanks for adding it.