Answering An Atheist
Original arguments are found in the post “Top Ten Worst Bible Stories”
On the web site “Not A Potted Plant” (NAPP)
In a previous post I began responding to an atheist’s (TL) criticisms of certain Bible stories and the first one focused on Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians when they queried him about Roman taxation. TL suggested Romans were the enemy and Jesus’ response was collaboration. You can read his arguments here and my response here.
Since atheists are not believers and usually judged as indifferent by those who are, some might wonder why I bother responding. It might seem like a waste of time. But, the truth is, an atheist will often ask openly what believers only wonder about quietly. And these questions need to be explored.
It is only the fearful and insecure that react defensively and run. So, we should be thankful the criticisms are made and diligent in our efforts to think through them.
The next criticism (number 2 on his list) involves God’s handling of the Egyptians during the Exodus, particularly in the matter of the Passover. You are probably familiar with the story.
At midnight on the evening of the Passover any family who failed to comply with the ceremony (evidenced by no blood on the door post) suffered the death of their firstborn child as well as the first born of all cattle.
Cattle were included because the bull was the Egyptian symbol of deity and owning cows was a symbol of status. In response, TL accuses God of terrorism. His words…
Terrorism is good if God says it is
In developing his argument he makes several observations some of which are misaligned with the facts and others just plain miscalculated. The arguments are:
- God instigated the whole thing by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
- He compares Israel’s deliverance to California seceding from the union.
- He questions the accuracy of the biblical account in two places: one, he says Israelite assassins and not God killed the first born and two, marking the door posts with lamb’s blood had no theological import but was necessary only as a guide for the assassins (terrorists).
- He accuses God of using others to do His “wet” work and refers to several incidences as proof: Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Satan inflicting Job and Israelite citizens stoning gay men.
- He accuses the Israelites of theft.
God instigated the whole thing by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
The implication is, God had unjustified evil intent from the start, knowing in advance that He would destroy Pharaoh, and therefore is a terrorist.
The real question, however, is how does God’s sovereignty work? Does He override human will or does He honor it? It is a sticky point even among Christians.
There are those who suggest that God can and does do whatever He wishes to any person He wishes at any time and is completely just whether we understand it or not even when the circumstances seem brutally cruel.
The people who hold this view are generally referred to as “Calvinists” or “Reformed” and they have had a lot of influence in Christian circles. They, however, are not the only voices to consider.
Respectfully, I, along with many others, disagree with the historic Calvinist position and for that reason see God acting only in conjunction with human will. Let me explain.
Firstly, Pharaoh’s heart is said to be hardened twenty times in the Book of Exodus. Ten times the hardening is attributed to Pharaoh and ten times it is attributed to God. The first two references are ascribed to God but only prophetically, i.e., it was going to happen, God at some point in the future was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart, but He had not started doing that when the prophecy was stated. And…that doesn’t automatically presuppose God made decisions on Pharaoh’s behalf against his will.
In the next six references Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart and it is somewhat back and forth after that. Sometimes Pharaoh and sometimes God.
The point? Pharaoh had opportunities to acquiesce but he willfully chose to do otherwise. All things considered, the terms at every point in the negotiating process, barring the last plague, were very generous. Greater leaders have surrendered with far less reason. What Pharaoh finally got is what he asked for and deserved. Even if his evil actions in the past did not qualify him as worthy of destruction his stupidity during this process did.
Second, we need to understand the figure of speech known as “metonymy” which associates actions and outcomes more directly than they really are. Let me illustrate.
In baseball we say that pitchers:
- Strike out batters, or
- Make them swing, or
- Make them hit into a double play and so on
In actual fact, no pitcher has the power to do any of those things at will. They can play skillfully enough to achieve these outcomes more ofthen than not, and we reward them when they do but they don’t force batters to act against their will. They can only coerce them by throwing pitches of varying speeds, planes and shapes. In the end both pitcher and batter act in character and willfully. To say a pitcher struck a batter out is attributing an outcome to a person or action more directly than is actually the case, metonymy.
The same is true with God and Pharaoh. God was forcing the issue knowing exactly how Pharaoh would respond and it didn’t require that much foreknowledge to figure it out. Pharaoh’s obstinate nature and abusive, murderous intentions toward Israel were well known. His psychological bent was solidly formed. God didn’t make Pharaoh assume an attitude he didn’t already have but He did bring it to a head.
God’s actions were patiently merciful not capricious. Everyone was better off, even the Egyptians, though Pharaoh’s obstinance cost them dearly in the end.
God did not make decisions for Pharaoh. If that were the case it would have much more efficient to mash him and all Egypt immediately and walk out of town with His people in tow, no questions asked or discussion entertained.
Instead, He, like a skillful lawyer drawing out a guilty defendant, bandied with Pharaoh to show his true colors for judge, jury and the whole world to see. If anything, this approach respected Pharaoh’s individuality and honored his independence.
LT compares Israel’s deliverance to California seceding from the union.
Israel, unlike California, was not a sovereign state. In fact, they were nothing but slaves in the worst way. Pharaoh had been systematically killing their firstborn sons for at least eighty years just to keep them from gaining enough strength to revolt.
Many more died under the imposition of unreasonably harsh demands. For double protection, he placed impossible work quotas on them and the pyramids no doubt were built on the back of their hard labor. He provided a new perspective on “cruel and unusual” punishment.
If California was enslaved to the same degree, they would be fighting for deliverance not negotiating secession. LT suggested we should see things from Pharaoh’s perspective but I think it would be easier to sympathize with Saddam Hussein.
The people who see this differently are all the groups or classes of the oppressed. They cheer Moses on, turning his political cry, “let my people go,” into songs and some of them don’t believe the Bible either.
LT questions the accuracy of the biblical account in two places: one, he says Israelite assassins and not God killed the first born and two, marking the door posts with lamb’s blood had no theological import but was used only as a guide for the assassins (terrorists)
This suggestion actually opens up many logistical problems. For several reasons the Israelites would have found it impossible to accomplish this task.
- Being a nation, not a city, Egypt was too large a territory to cover in one night. The Israelites were poor and had limited transportation but even with the best it would have been impossible to cover the area in the time allotted. The Israelites lived apart from the Egyptians anyway.
- Even if they could cover the distance it would have been difficult to identify the firstborn without time-consuming interrogation. Not possible.
- Terrorist operations, even small ones, are meticulously planned and organized. Given the spontaneous manner in which this plague was executed it would be miraculous for such an enslaved and operationally unskilled group to pull this off.
For the record, blood on the doorpost identified believers not Israelites. Egyptians could participate in the Passover also and Israelites did so only if they chose to. Egyptians left in the Exodus as well. There may have been some Israelites left behind.
LT accuses God of using others to do His “wet” work and refers to several incidents as proof: Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Satan inflicting Job and Israelite citizens stoning gay men.
Abraham and Isaac
No one died. No “wet” work.
Satan inflicting Job
Satan didn’t kill anyone and it is very possible that before Job’s troubles, his family had been protected, overly so, by God. This incident represented a lifting of protection rather than a command to kill.
Humanity has never had a shortage of people willing and capable of murder and the lesson is, God makes no guarantees of protection just because we seem to be His favorites. That still holds true today. Believer or not the same troubles befall everyone and are usually the result of things not directly controlled by God.
Israelite citizens stoning gay men
To my knowledge this never happened, ever.
He accuses the Israelites of theft.
This is a bit of a hoot.
- If it hadn’t been for Joseph, an Israelite, Egypt wouldn’t have existed.
- If it hadn’t been for free labor for a very long time (80 plus years) Egypt would not have excelled.
Please note that Israelites represented a high class version of slaves. They were very resourceful having to accumulate their own materials for making brick and there is no doubt their superior intelligence contributed to the building of the Pyramids, the mechanics of which we haven’t figured out yet.
Egypt owed Israel everything. What they gave them was just a token.
Terrorists don’t communicate diplomatically
Terrorists are basically cowards and always operate under the cover of darkness. Their suicides are motivated by strong delusion and in some cases drugs. God didn’t operate that way.
At every point Pharaoh and his people knew exactly what to expect and they had every opportunity to avoid it. God forced the issue but Pharaoh determined the outcome. The Egyptians were terrorized by Pharaoh’s actions not God’s.
Pharaoh might have felt terrible but he wasn’t terrorized. He was getting a taste of his own medicine.
What do you THINK!AboutIt?