God’s actions can be hard to understand. He is God. He transcends our ability to understand. God is also above the Law that He set down for us to obey. We don’t share limits with God.
As such, God has had critics over the centuries. Richard Dawkins was neither God’s first nor His last. Dawkins misunderstandings are not limited to him, so it is good to explain for the benefit of all.
In my last entry I dealt with Dawkins tirade about the character of God (particularly as described in the Old Testament) up to this point:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: … filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion)
I can think of only one situation where God could be called “filicidal”, and it is an important one to understand. Filicidal refers to a parent killing their child. Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac after Abraham had waited for his wife to conceive well into his 90’s. From the beginning of this story (Genesis 22), both God and Abraham understood this as a test. God did not want Isaac sacrificed. In fact, God is vehemently opposed to such sacrifice (see Deuteronomy 18:10). But something like it was necessary to save mankind. The request of Abraham was also a prophecy. Abraham would not kill Isaac, but his actions would foreshadow what God would do with Jesus for us. Jesus’ sacrifice was not forced on Him. Jesus willingly did the Father’s will and went to the cross, but filicidal would not fit this situation as an adjective. Love is more like it.
God is a being that will not change a righteous Law. He is a being that will carry out justice, regardless of cost. The life of Jesus was a way to fulfill God’s Law for the whole of humanity. The death of Jesus was a way for Jesus to bear the set punishment for sin that human’s could not endure–namely being forsaken by God. For those who can’t accept that God can’t or won’t just wave off sin as nothing, Jesus’ death seems unjust. If you can grasp that God can approach human judgment as a group (Jesus as a representative for all of us) then you can see God’s action as tremendous love for our species and all creation.
Pestilential. Here I assume Dawkins is alluding to the plagues on Egypt, tumors on the Philistines, and snake bites on the Israelites. Does God have occasion to discipline or punish whole nations? The answer is “yes”. Group behavior and even leader behavior can garner dramatic action from God. These plagues are usually short and with a goal of repentance. They are also exceedingly rare.
Megalomaniacal. Good grief, Dawkins. We are talking about God. God doesn’t think He is God. He actually is God. This is just a stupid insult.
Sadomasochistic. I’m not sure what Dawkins had in mind here, unless it is the punishments of Sheol or ultimately Hell. God does not create people to damn. He does not stand over the damned to punish them. Much the opposite. The worst part of being damned is being abandoned and forgotten by God (forsaken). Sadomasochism would require God enjoying the suffering. He certainly does not. This is projecting a motive and emotion on God that is not valid.
Capriciously malevolent. This is generally off base. God is consistent if anything. He does what He says. This is not only in terms of punishment, but even more so in blessing. If we are talking about situations where God’s actions are contingent on human action, God would much rather bless than curse. Jesus, quoting the Psalms, says that God,
causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.Matthew 5:45 (NIV)
He is not capricious or malevolent.
Finally, bully. Is God a bully? Perhaps from the standpoint of a lower, created being who wants to be God himself, which I think describes many people including Dawkins. To those who know God and have experienced His guidance, God is anything but a bully. He is extremely patient, eager to forgive, kind and merciful.
The Dawkins quote, though impressive in its use of vocabulary, shows the depth of separation and ignorance that can overtake a person once they have set themselves up to oppose God. Unfortunately, when God is rejected as God, the quote from Dawkins is how one might experience God. This is unnecessary and a great loss. Friend and papa is the better experience.