A God of Suspect Praise
Kevin Archer

"Worthy of praise is Christ our redeemer…"

So starts a hymn I learned in my youth, echoing a passage in Revelation.

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." (Revelation 5:12)

It took me 20 years of loyal belief to ask the most basic question: "Why?"

Today, I have found that challenging God's worthiness stimulates a much more compelling discussion than does denying his existence. It allows me to engage more believers in conversation, who otherwise would turn off their hearing upon the slightest indication that I might not believe in him. By meeting them on their turf, even temporarily, I can ask them a more bothersome question: "Why would you want to worship him?" They somehow consider this to be more heretical than questioning his existence.

Note: Throughout this article, I am employing a precedent set by Jesus in the Gospel of John: "I and my Father are One." I am also honoring a statement from Paul: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." I will therefore treat these two personalities as one being, and consider all scripture as his direct words.

His Character

To answer my long-overdue question, let's consider the character of this god, and see what we might find worthy of worship.

He's Jealous and Possessive

"I am a jealous God…" Jehovah proudly proclaims in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:5, the first of many such declarations). This is reinforced in the New Testament by Paul (I Corinthians 10:22).

Of what is he jealous? Other gods: "For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14). His concern over the Israelites "playing the harlot" with other gods is repeated throughout the Old Testament. It's only fitting that he placed as the First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me."

His jealousy is complimented by his possessiveness. Moses speaks of Jehovah having 'bought' the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:6). Jehovah himself makes this more plain in Exodus 19:5: "You shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for the earth is mine."

Not only are the people his, but also the land on which they live (Leviticus 25:23), the first of all the crops (Deuteronomy 26:3, 10), the first-born children (Numbers 13:3), and above all, the souls of the people (Ezekiel 18:4).

The New Testament reminds us that we are now bought with something more precious than gold or silver (1 Peter 1:18-19). We've been bought by the blood of Jesus--a comforting thought if indeed we wish to be mere possessions.

He's Intimidating and Threatening

In the Second Commandment he warns the people that he will "visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." (Exodus 20:5) This is the most troubling thing about his jealousy. He uses it to instill fear into the people and thus maintain his power.

In lengthy passages such as Leviticus 26, and Deuteronomy 28 he elaborates on how he will visit their iniquity.

"But if you do not obey me," he warns in Leviticus, "I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that shall waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away." This is only the beginning: He threatens them with over 40 punishments from verse 16 to 39, ranging from pestilence to war to cannibalism. When he's finished, he declares, they will fear even the sound of a rustling leaf.

The list in Deuteronomy 28 is even more appalling. If they forsake him, he vows to curse them every where they go, including those in the womb; to send famine and drought, boils, madness, blindness, rape, slavery, foreign domination, more cannibalism, and the plagues of Egypt. Just in case he forgot something, he adds that he will send "plagues which are not written in this book."

He declares: "The Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you."

Just in case they think they can run far enough that he cannot find them, he informs them in Deuteronomy 32:39: "There is no one who can deliver from My hand."

This behavior is not limited to Jehovah. Like father like son, we might say, for Jesus displayed the same penchant for threats, although he did simplify them greatly.

"Bring my enemies before me and slay them." (Luke 19:27)

While he made this statement in a parable, his intention is confirmed in his condemnation of the cities that refused to hear his gospel. He vowed that some cities would be worse off "in the day of judgment" than Sodom and Gomorrah. (Matthew 11:20-24; Mark 6:11)

Jesus' threats of hell and eternal punishment for the unfaithful complete the picture. (Mark 16:16, Mark 3:28-29; Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 23:14, 33; Luke 16:19-31)

He's Violent

The threats of Jehovah are so extreme they can almost be considered humorous. But a look at what he actually did, according to the Bible, is not funny at all.

Through such episodes as the Flood of Noah (Genesis 6), the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), and the Rebellion of Korah (Genesis 16), we see his capacity for mass slaughter and destruction. In addition, the Jehovah-inspired Mosaic Law is filled with commands to kill individual law-breakers, even for small crimes.

But a more insightful episode occurred while he was visiting Jerusalem "in the flesh," as Jesus. John's Gospel tells it best:

"Jesus went up to Jerusalem…and found in the temple those that sold [livestock]…and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them out of the temple…and overthrew the tables…" (John 2:13-15)

It is significant to note that he took the time to make a whip from a bundle of cords. He didn't ask the men to leave, he didn’t yell at them. He beat them, right from the start. He's excused, of course, because of his zeal for the House of the Lord. (Though John seems to misappropriate Psalms 69:9 in exonerating Jesus.)

He's Unpredictable

Jehovah's unpredictable nature is one of the constants bridging both Testaments. For every law he lays down, he makes exceptions. For every harsh punishment he deals out, someone else gets away unaccountable.

In Numbers 15:32, the Israelites discover one of their men gathering wood on the Sabbath. We might speculate as to his purpose, but work of this nature was expressly forbidden by the Fourth Commandment (using standard Protestant numbering). In the New Testament we find that Sabbath-breaking has become Jesus' favorite activity. He flagrantly breaks this commandment repeatedly, and incorrectly cites Old Testament passages to support his actions (Mark 2:23-28; I Samuel 21:1-6).

Jesus was rightly accosted by the priests of his day and questioned on his habit. He was never punished for it. However, the poor gentleman in Numbers 15 was stoned for his crime—apparently on the same Sabbath day wherein he was working. It is okay to gather and throw stones on the Sabbath, but not to gather sticks.

At the end of his 40-year leadership of the Israelites, we find Moses punished rather severely for a disrespectful action (Numbers 20:7-13). David, on the other hand, got away with adultery and assassination (II Samuel 11:2-17). Such is the consistency of the Lord's justice.

He's Misogynistic

According to Jehovah and his servant Paul, women are to be considered as property. Their primary purpose is procreation, and they should remain in the home.

Exodus 20:17 includes a list of man's customary property, such as oxen and donkeys, even slaves. There in the list among the rest of the possession is his wife. The Law of Moses hammers this home in many other passages: Woman belongs to man. Very little rights are granted her in the Old Testament, and this is echoed in Paul's New Testament writings. He instructs that a woman be entirely submissive to man, not teach or exercise authority over a man, and in fact, remain quiet (I Timothy 2:11-12). The reason for all this subjection is, of course, that it was woman who transgressed in the Garden of Eden, and not the man (I Timothy 2:14). Thankfully, however, the woman can be saved through childbearing (I Timothy 2:15).

Paul's appalling treatment of women, however inspired it might be, becomes darkly comedic in the fifth chapter of this same epistle, where he describes young widows as idle gossips and busybodies. His solution for them: remarry, bear children, keep house. And please, have them keep quiet in church (I Corinthians 14:34).

He's Belittling

The Bible presents an extremely dark vision of mankind. We are reminded frequently that we are weak, unworthy, filthy, and cannot do anything without Jehovah's help. We are given very concise statements in both Testaments.

"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." (Isaiah 64:6)

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)

"When you do all the things which are commanded you, say 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" (Luke 17:10)

"If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us." I John 1:8

"You can do nothing apart from me." John 15:5

This view of mankind is to be expected from the Bible—it begins with man's 'fall' and doesn't diminish until the final 'amen' of Revelation. The salvation offered by Jesus is built completely around the concept of our weakness and inability to save ourselves. We need him because we are debilitated by our sins.

He's Irrational

"Where there is no law, sin is not imputed," Paul tells us in Romans 5:13. This seems quite reasonable. How can you hold someone accountable for a wrong they're unaware they've committed? This is the reason we offer the insanity plea in our courts of law, however it may be abused.

But Paul's rational statement is overcome by Biblical evidence to the contrary. We are ask to accept that Noah's neighbors were guilty of capital crimes (Genesis 6:5-7), that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were grievously sinful (Genesis 18:20-21), and that the builders at Babel were in violation of some godly decree (Genesis 11:1-9). In none of these cases is there any evidence of a law having been ordained, let alone broken. Yet they were punished just the same.

Jesus' threats against the cities of disbelief echo this same practice of holding accountable those who are ignorant. He makes no distinction between those who rejected him and the innocent children.

This all makes sense when we consider the being with whom we were dealing. In the New Testament, we are given an interesting look into his rationale. In Mark 11:12-14, Jesus approaches a fig tree, hoping for a light snack. The tree had no fruit, and Jesus cursed it in anger. The tree subsequently withered from the roots up. We are presented with an interesting tidbit in verse 13: "It was not the proper season for figs."

He's Unaccountable

This seems rather obvious. Of course Jehovah wasn't held accountable. He was a God, how do you demand accountability from someone so powerful? Besides, no one could ever get to him.

And that is exactly the problem. He could do anything to the people and get away with it every time. If he were too harsh, no one could demand restitution. He was as untouchable as the stars.

Not only was he unaccountable, but according to him he was blameless. The blame for his behavior was always placed on the people.

"You provoked me," he says repeatedly in the passages we referenced in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. All the punishments he threatened to send their way were not his fault. They made him do it.

The same is true in the episode where Jesus drove people from the Temple. He's not to be blamed for his violent and irrational behavior. They tweaked his zeal and his response was justified.

Today, his followers continually defend him. They appeal to his divine plan to redeem mankind, which justifies all things.

He's a Heroic Lover

The oft-misinterpreted Song of Solomon presents an ideal romantic love. Jehovah is the lover, the church (according to Christians) is the beloved, and the poetry that flows from their hearts is enough to make any one forget pain ever existed.

If only the pain weren't recorded in such vivid detail. But Jehovah's voluminous threats, and their subsequent fulfillment, are overcome by a single utterance from Jesus:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Believers' hearts melt again, and they swoon as they try to comprehend such a great love. There is none greater.

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Then the justification takes place. We could have never gotten to Jesus' death on the cross without all the plague, pestilence, stoning, mass murder, fear, intimidation, misogyny, and violence. His love is so incomprehensibly divine that all of this is worth it.

Add to this great love the grand promises of heaven. Even though it is without a definitive description, the allure of everlasting life with God is more than we could have ever believed possible.

Such an overwhelming love makes all the pain disappear. Or at least it helps us forget that it ever happened.

The Composite Picture

So this picture we now have before us, is it one that would provoke worship and adoration? Or does it elicit revulsion instead?

Earlier I asked the question: "Why would you want to worship him?" Forget worship.

Were this God a man you wouldn't even want to meet him on the street.

Were this God a man you would do all in your power to stop him.

Were this God a man we would protect his victims in whatever way possible.

Were this God a man we would more easily recognize him for what he is: an abuser. The character traits we've listed above are consistently found among perpetrators of domestic violence.

It is rather fitting, then, that he considers the Israelites his children (Deuteronomy 32:6) and the church his bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelations 21:2).

It is a startling family portrait.

And the father is not at all worthy of praise. He's worthy of prison.

So why does the family stay?

This family shares many traits with other families of domestic violence. The reasons spouses, and their children, stay in these violent situations are many and complex. A few of the most common are:

They feel they have no where else to go.

They fear the loss of security.

They fear that, were he to find them, the result would be death.

They share the blame for his actions and make excuses for him.

They believe his promises of good things to come.

It is rightly and widely believed that domestic violence is about power and control. The perpetrator's biggest tools are fear and intimidation. They make threats, they employ violent methods, and they have demonstrated their willingness to escalate as much as is necessary. They believe they have a right to do so. They keep their victims in the trap with a combination of terror and love. It's a sick and disturbing cycle. And as we've seen, it carries a Biblical sanction.

I refer to this pattern in my book, "In Lieu of Heaven." At one point, an old man challenges a young Christian on the concept of the church as the bride of Christ:

“Tell me, if you knew of a man who treated his wife in such a way--that is, he promised her good things which never seem to materialize, his jealousy moved him to threaten her and possibly even beat her, he told her repeatedly that she was worthless, all the while she was too afraid to leave and she even became somewhat dependent upon him--would you consider this good and recommend she stay?”

“No, I wouldn’t consider that good. I’d advise her to leave.”

But the sad fact is that most don't leave, whether we are discussing abused spouses or abused Christians. The character of the perpetrator is clear to all, but he professes a monumental love that covers all his sins. Where else would we find a love so great? Isn't a love this grand worth a little pain?

The Biblical God, whether in his Old Testament guise as Jehovah or in his New Testament pose as Jesus, has pledged that all the fears of the believers will indeed come true. He will find them; they will be punished more severely; they will lose their lands, their children, their independence, their economy; he gains their sanction for what he is doing to them; and he drives it all into place with a love that defies description.

He threatens, we respond. If we don't, he punishes us severely. We then live in fear that he might do it again, and submit once again to his manipulation and control. We excuse his violence and inconsistencies, we live with his irrationalities. We surrender completely. Our understanding of good and bad is skewed, our concept of love is distorted, and our reason is undermined. When it doesn't make sense to us anymore, we are reminded of these words:

"My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9)

We can't possibly understand it. Built into the cycle is a perception of our own inadequacy, the notion that our judgment is flawed and that we need a guide. Our guide is God and it matters not what our rational mind tells us. In fact, we are taught our inner wisdom is "demonic" (James 3:15).

"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool." (Proverbs 28:26)

Once we've bought into this portrayal of ourselves, we're likely to follow anything. Even a substantially flawed character named Jehovah, or his illegitimate son Jesus. Especially if we've been taught from birth that they love us more than anyone else. Tradition and cultural pressure add even more validity to this choice.

Underneath all this despair is something more tragic: We've sacrificed the beautiful ability we possess to guide ourselves.

We can make it on our own

Can we make it without a god? Do we need his correction to keep us on the moral path? Do we need his promise of a reward to motivate us to do good?

Working in this same context, that of the Biblical view of God, we can answer these questions easily with a few examples.

"An eye for an eye…" prescribes Exodus 21:24. While it is difficult to date the Exodus and the establishment of the Mosaic Code, this verse and those around it are clearly derivative of Hammurabi's earlier code of equivalent retaliation.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," states Jesus in his highly lauded Golden Rule. Yet this rule is at least as old as Confucius, who predates Jesus by about 500 years. He defined Perfect Virtue thus: "Not to do unto others as you would not wish done unto yourself."

The principle embedded in this rule, which Confucius calls "reciprocity," is also echoed in the Biblical maxim "You shall reap what you sow." (Galatians 6:7) The Hindu, however, will wink at both Paul and Confucius, knowing the karmic root of this saying.

This Biblical God, who would have us believe that his words alone are the words of life (John 6:68), is quite simply a plagiarist. He has stolen our own words and sold them back to us at a price that is too dear to pay. But the simplicity and beauty of our own statements exceed the grandeur of his promises and the drama of his threats. After all his belittling of our wisdom, he has the audacity to tell us what we've already told ourselves:

"Do no harm."

This alone possesses more wisdom and care than all the Old Testament laws and New Testament admonishments combined. Nowhere does Jehovah approach such a concise statement of morality, nor does Jesus. With this as our sole guide, we will far exceed the promises made by a charlatan god, without a crippling fear that threatens to defeat us with each step toward freedom.

© 2004 Kevin Archer

About the author...
Kevin Archer was for 14 years a missionary for the Church of Christ. His upbringing, coupled with two decades of intense Bible study, has led him to view the Biblical God much like an abusive parent - negligent and sometimes even malicious. He is now an atheist. Archer currently resides in Denver, Colorado. Besides writing, he is the owner of Red Falcon Media Group, a business dedicated to helping other authors and musicians further their goals. He welcomes e-mails about this essay.

More information about Kevin's book, In Lieu of Heaven, can be found below. Atheist Ground's book page has descriptions and reviews of more books about atheism and religion, if you are interested.


By the author...
In Lieu of Heaven
Kevin Archer

Former missionary Kevin Archer's In Lieu of Heaven is a fictional work that uses the Bible itself to explores God's character and the motivations for his actions. It argues that He actually parallels an abusive or negligent parent who punishes his children for misdeeds that they do not understand. The book revolves around two men who meet in the wilderness-one who wants to meet God face-to-face and another who claims to have already done so. Archer claims his book will appeal to a wide audience: " For those already free, it is very confirming. For those who need no confirmation, it offers compelling thoughts regarding our behavior and interaction within society and our relationship with those in authority. And for the readers who remain religious coming out of the book, they will at least be required to take an honest look at their beliefs."

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