God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? - Book Review
God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? Review by Catherine Ball, Minister of the Free Church, St Ives, and Fenstanton URC, Cambridgeshire.
This is a particularly apposite book for our current political situation. John Lennon wrote the song ‘Imagine’, longing for a peaceful world, assuming that religion is one of the main causes of conflict. It would be lovely to be able to say that Christian scriptures do not advocate violence, or that only the Old Testament shows God as angry and violent. The temptation is to avoid difficult and violent Bible passages. Yet, the Old Testament is an essential part of the Christian scriptures. Helen Paynter shows that it is too simplistic to separate the Old Testament from the New.
Paynter acknowledges that violence is apparently directed and endorsed by God in Old Testament texts. In an intellectually rigorous and accessible way, Paynter wrestles with each text to show that in many cases, the violence may become more understandable, and in some cases may be fully explained. She shows that each story needs to be carefully read in the context of ancient Hebrew language and culture.
For example, Paynter compares the battle of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17 – in which David beheads Goliath – with Adam and Eve’s temptation by the serpent (Genesis 3). In both stories, there is a battle that will determine who has dominion and an evil force mocks God’s favoured. In the latter story, God curses the serpent and says that he will bruise the serpent’s head. God will have victory in the end. Though David – God’s chosen king, descended of Eve – is mocked by the giant who defies God, he is victorious. The pattern points to a greater king to come.
Paynter warns of the need to be careful how these passages are taught to children, and how they are used in preaching. This is an exceedingly helpful book for anyone who wants to honestly teach and preach the scriptures for contemporary society, affirming God’s plan for peace in the world.
From Reform magazine July - August 2019