Belief, Books, Culture & Race

BOOK REVIEW: God behaving badly: Is the God of the Old Testament angry, sexist and racist?

While I’m deeply grateful to have had spiritual influences in my life who encouraged me to wrestle with tough questions of faith, I’ve still encountered plenty of voices along the way who have preferred to silence them.  Avoiding difficult questions about the Bible seems to be a sad reality of evangelical Christianity these days, and I’m often drawn to those willing to walk this path (see sidebars).  So clearly, when I saw David Lamb’s new book, God behaving badly: Is the God of the Old Testament angry, sexist, and racist?, I was intrigued.

The book’s chapters cover the following topics:

  • Angry or loving?
  • Sexist or affirming?
  • Racist or hospitable?
  • Violent or peaceful?
  • Legalistic or gracious?
  • Rigid or flexible?
  • Distant or near?

With clarity, candidness, and humor, Old Testament (OT) theologian David Lamb makes his case that while Yahweh’s actions often sound angry, sexist, or violent to modern day ears, we must first consider the context of Yahweh’s actions and the overarching narrative of the OT before assuming we know His true motives.

With regards to Yahweh appearing angry, he asserts that because the fundamental nature of God is kind, patient and loving, we must interpret specific incidents in the OT in light of this.  He also illustrates some strong examples of how the OT is “shockingly progressive in its portrayals of divine love, acceptance of foreigners and affirmation of women” compared to other ancient Near Easter literature – again reinforcing that the Bible must be read in the context of its time.  In dealing with each topic, he examines difficult Biblical scriptures, looking for the foundational truth in them over the specific *shocking* actions that we may not fully understand because of historical context.

I also appreciated Lamb’s fair-mindedness in his treatment of differing opinions.  For example, in discussing if God is sexist, he explains:

I would like to side with the Christians who defend the Bible against charges of sexism, but their arguments can sound superficial, like they are shocked anyone could ever say such a thing about the Bible.  I wonder if they have ever sat down and listened to someone who is a feminist, particularly one who decided she could no longer be a Christian because of what she read in her Bibles about a God who seems sexist. 

He also doesn’t take himself too seriously by humorously and truthfully acknowledging current cultural realities, “The first thing that God says about women is that they are like him,” he writes.  “Men are also Godlike, but most men think that already.”

On a more personal note, part of the reason Lamb’s respectful treatment of these topics spoke to me was because each topic is a question I grapple with as I grow in understanding of my own faith.  He even introduced a few questions I would have liked to ask and hadn’t thought of yet!  I’d recommend this book strongly for anyone with skepticism about how the God of the Bible can be considered good when there is so much bad in both the Bible and the current world we live in.  David Lamb’s book provides an anchor for such questions that can rage in the minds of those seeking to understand who God is.

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