God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? - Book Review
Review by Ray Vincent, Progressive Voices Issue 30 September 2019
Helen is Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College and the new Editor of BRF’s Guidelines Bible reading notes. She is well placed to write this very accessible book. She deals with the problem in a very straightforward, systematic way, beginning with the less difficult and moving on to the most difficult ones.
First she considers the places in the Bible where violence is simply described as part of the story. Then she moves on to where suffering people pray for vengeance on their oppressors – a natural human reaction. Next, violence against animals, pointing out the huge cultural difference between the Bible’s world and ours. Then she tackles violence as divine judgment, and finally the most difficult problem, the places where God seems actually to command acts of violence against innocent people.
Paynter approaches the problem humbly, freely acknowledging that she does not have the answers but is still wrestling with the questions. However, it seems to me that her perception of the violence as a ‘problem’ comes from her relatively conservative view of the Bible as the
Word of God. While acknowledging the humanity of the Bible and reading it in the light of critical
scholarship, she seems nevertheless to be trying to justify everything it says, and hesitates to say that parts of it may be simply mistaken.
I suspect that the way in which most of us perceive the Bible means that we do not see the violence in it as a ‘problem’ in this kind of way. At the same time, this book is clear, honest and admirably arranged. It is well worth using as a basis for discussion in churches. Some PCN groups too might find it useful. It is informative, reminding us of parts of the Bible we sometimes neglect, and it is thought-provoking and sometimes challenging.