By Tom Quiner
A faithful Quiner’s Diner reader, who is also a faithful atheist, posed a good question to me:
“If God has the ability to change people instantly, why would he need to kill so many men, women [pregnant women], and children like he did throughout the Bible? Why kill so many so violently in a flood when he could have just made them better people?”
God can only change us if we allow Him.
Since God is Love, it was imperative that our Creator give us free will. Freedom is necessary for love to flourish. Some people are changed in an instant. I think of the criminal on the cross next Jesus. His life had been wasted on criminal activity, living only for himself.
And yet Jesus saved him at the last instant of his life when He allowed Christ into his heart.
St. Augustin was another who denied Christ for much of his life, actively opposing him in the public square. Even more, Augustin led a lustful life, prompting this great quote from the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
“If there was ever a man who could be said to have adored sex, it was Augustine.”
Augustine didn’t “change” or convert to Christianity until he was 33 years old when an inner voice told him to pick up the Bible. He did, opening it to Romans 13:13,14:
“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”
So, as to the first part of the question, conversion for many is a process, a lifelong journey where God reveals Himself if we let Him into our hearts.
Some meet God through a dramatic revelation.
Some, like St. Paul are knocked off their horse.
Some, like contemporary Christian writer, Lee Strobel, come to God through an intellectual investigation into the history and logic of the faith. Mr. Strobel was an atheist who set out to disprove the claims of Christ only to be persuaded by them after interviewing scholars, as you can read in his book, “The Case for Christ.”
But the larger, and more challenging question is the seeming inexplicable contrast of the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament. Here’s how atheism’s high priest, Richard Dawkins levels the charge in his book, “The God Delusion:”
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Besides that, He was a pretty nice guy!
I’m no theologian. I realize, though, that neither a St. Augustin nor a Bishop Sheen could provide an acceptable explanation to anyone with a hardened heart, one whose mind is already made up on the subject.
Here, I think, is the answer. The Bible is a collection of books. Collectively, they reveal God’s mind, His Truth. But they do it in different ways using different styles and literary techniques. Some books are history; some are poetry; some are letters; some are allegorical.
Some are a combination.
Fr. Robert Barron suggests that many of the violent stories of the Old Testament are “allegories of the spiritual struggle of the way we need to fight evil ‘all the way down’.” He points out that writers of the Old Testament were quite comfortable with symbolic teachings.
Many Christians who embrace a literal interpretation of the Bible will bristle at such a notion. But how else do we square the competing depictions of God?
Fr. Barron says that the Bible tells us how to interpret the Bible in Revelations 5:1-14, to read the Bible through the eyes of the crucified, compassionate, non-violent, forgiving Lamb of God. Only he can break the seals on the sacred scroll in heaven.
Watch his commentary above from beginning to end. Regardless of your religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I think you will appreciate his even-handed and intelligent discussion on this challenging question.