Part 2: God: Gracious Master or Moral Monster?
Chapter 3 Great Appetite for Praise and Sacrifices? Divine Arrogance or Humility?
Chapter 4 Monumental Rage and Kinglike Jealousy? Understanding the Covenant-Making God
Chapter 5 Child Abuse and Bullying? God’s Ways and the Binding of Isaac
The New Atheists accuse God of being proud and vain. God demands worship and brags about his superiority to other gods. Yet pride is thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, or presenting yourself as better than you really are. God is a perfect being — it would be dishonest for him to pretend that something else was better than he is. The Lord created people as kings and priests, not so they could be pressed into slavery, but so they could experience the joy and love of knowing him and living in his bountiful creation. God has created human beings to know him, but for any creature to really understand God, they must see how great and awesome he is. When God calls human beings to worship him, it is so they can recognize what is best and live accordingly. Far from being full of pride, God is actually humble and willing to stoop to be with his sinful creatures. In the Trinity there is no competition or jockeying for honor. God is said to dwell with the lowly rather than the important. In the New Testament, God the Son became a man and was willing to die in the shameful agony of the cross so that sinners could be forgiven and redeemed. No other religion has a God so humble.
In the Old Testament, God is described as jealous. The New Atheists latch onto this word as one example of God’s pettiness and all-too-human character. In context, however, jealousy refers to a strong reaction against violations of an intimate, covenant relationship. There would be something wrong if one spouse was completely unfazed by the other spouse’s adultery: in such a case, the right response is anguish and exasperation. This is the way God responds when his people — metaphorically referred to as his wife — abandon their covenant vows to pursue false gods and self-destructive behaviors. God has made himself vulnerable for them, and is deeply pained and angered at their spiritual adultery and the way it harms them. His jealousy is not petty, but rather borne out of deep concern and passion for his people and what’s best for them.
God’s test that required Abraham to nearly sacrifice Isaac is strongly condemned by the New Atheists. They do not, however, recognize any contextual or wider biblical components that help us interpret the event. Abraham is a model of faith, even standing in direct contrast to the unbelief of Moses after the giving of the Law. This is important because it shows that justification is by faith apart from the Law. Abraham had already been given the covenant promises of God, and God had reaffirmed to him that the covenant blessings would come through Isaac rather than Ishmael. When God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice Isaac, the original Hebrew language shows that God does so very gently. Abraham has such strong faith in God that he believes God will raise Isaac from the dead — in other words, Abraham believes that nothing he does will ultimately harm his son. In the end, God tells Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac, and the Lord provides a substitute sacrifice. This event provides a lens to help us understand the magnitude of God the Father’s sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus was willing to die for his people — it was not child abuse, as has been claimed. Furthermore, Jesus died but then was resurrected to live forevermore.