The lack of consistency among Evangelicals who hold to a strict inerrantist position on Scripture can be mind-boggling at times. Take, for example, one of my former LDI mentors (currently a pastor at Hope Community Church), Cor Chmieleski. In a recent blog post anticipating the spiritual ecstasy of Easter (trust me, it’s a really big deal at Hope), Cor provides a lengthy excerpt from renowned Evangelical author Max Lucado. I’m not sure if all of the words in the post belong to Lucado, but it looks like Cor spent some time at least moving over and formatting Lucado’s content. The excerpt from Lucado is a commentary on the story of King Herod slaughtering the innocent baby boys (you can read the Biblical version in Matthew 2)*.
Anyways, Lucado wants to stir up some of our emotions around this event. He says “Is there any passage in Scripture bloodier than the killing of the children by the soldiers of Herod?” (emphasis mine) and then goes on to provide some extra-Biblical details which he inferred from the story:
It’s a grisly scene: horses galloping, mothers with small boys running and screaming. The flashing of weapons. The flow of innocent blood. The sudden stillness of tiny hands. Mothers clutching lifeless bodies to blood-soaked breasts.
And during it all, a fat king sits on a throne less than ten miles away, blind to the tears he has summoned, deaf to the anguish he has caused. Herod drinks wine the color of the blood he is spilling.
The wail heard in Bethlehem echoes through the stars. A chorus of chaos refusing to be comforted. A thousand tears with one voice, a hundred hearts with one question.
It’s all quite poetic and moving. Just what a Christian needs to feel the Holy Spirit during this Easter season. We want a God who will triumph over this sort of barbarity and bring an end to senseless destruction. We want a God who will stand above all of the bloodshed and put a stop to it.
Except…there’s just one problem. As a former participant in LDI (the leadership program that Pastor Cor helps to oversee) I was required to read through the Old Testament. And, as anyone who has read the Old Testament can tell you, there are a lot of scenes in it which far outstrip the violence of Herod’s slaughter. I won’t go over those passages here, but I will note that I have dealt with some of them in previous posts (linked at the bottom).
Lucado’s (and presumably Cor’s) angst about Herod’s slaughter is quite ironic when one considers that from an inerrantist standpoint almost all of the massacres in the early part of the Old Testament must be seen as perfectly justifiable. Plenty of ink has been spilled defending “God’s Holiness,” “God’s Wrathfulness” and “God’s Justice” in his dealings with the Canaanites. I cannot recall a sermon at Hope where I was made to feel sorry for the Moabites that David enslaved or the young children crushed under the rubble of Jericho’s walls. Where was the outcry over innocent blood then? Where was the savior for that society? The problem is that the moral agent behind those acts wasn’t the oafish and despicable Herod (an easy target for our frustration at human evil) but Yahweh himself. According to the Biblical authors, it was Yahweh who sanctioned those atrocities and not any mere human king. This is one reason why so many non-believers and skeptics struggle to connect with churches that are conservative in their doctrine. We see this type of blatant double-standard and it bothers us. We see the twisting and squirming; we see the attempts to justify the unjustifiable (while still claiming that God is good and perfect and that his word is perfect) and…it just doesn’t make sense. Who is deaf here and who is mad? If Herod is a mad-man for ordering the slaughter of baby boys in one small village, then what does that make “God’s chosen people”? They didn’t just wipe out one village but dozens. If we take the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges at face value, then it is clear that the Israelites were responsible for far more bloodshed than King Herod and his sons could ever claim.
Say what you will about Rob Bell (and I know first-hand that many conservative believers have an extremely low opinion of him) but at least his theology does not require him to condone genocide. Sadly, the same thing cannot be said for the leaders of many modern mega-churches.
Endnote: Just so I’m not accused of taking things out of context or assuming too much, some quick googling turned up an example of Max Lucado defending God’s actions in the Old Testament and stating that “God has used warfare as a form of judgment against the enemies of God.” (Why Does God Allow War). Many similar sentiments are repeated in places like Hope CC and they are the natural byproduct of believing in Biblical Inerrancy. I was taught that the Canaanites must have been so bad that all of them, including their young children and infants, deserved death at the hands of the Israelites. I won’t rebut that idea here, but please check the posts linked below if you are curious about this issue as I think it has far-ranging consequences for how we approach moral issues in the 21st-century.
*This passage in Matthew brings up another interesting issue, namely the manifest contradictions between Jesus’ birth story as told in the gospel of Matthew and that given in the gospel of Luke. Remember, for many sincere believers there are No Contradictions Allowed in the Biblical text (despite the problems that come about when apologists and scholars attempt to “harmonize” such different stories).