[Cover of Illustrated Stories From The Bible by Paul Farrell]
How then do we reconcile the good stories with the bad? And what does this tell us about God? Would God really cause innocents to suffer just to further His Will?
I have not read Illustrated Stories From The Bible by Paul Farrell, an agnostic, who brings up a challenging point just by looking at the cover: we pick and choose certain tales to tell our children. Let's take a look at the tale of Elisha and the two She Bears (illustrated on the cover) found in 2 Kings 2:23-25:
23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 25 And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.This IS horrifying! Elisha calls down a curse in the name of God and two bears maul 42 of the youths. So I believe a question worth asking is why would God send bears to kill these kids (or youths, but kids make it sound a bit more shocking)? [Click here and here to read a couple interesting views on the text.] Notice, I'm not asking why God allowed this to happen because terrible things happen everyday without divine intervention. The interpretation by Traditional Christians would be something along the lines of "Don't mess with God and His prophets, EVER!" Talk about a loving God who doesn't use fear tactics. How would a child interpret this story? Would they believe that if they're bad that God would send something awful after them? This may be a reason why Christians sugarcoat certain parts of the Bible during Sunday school.
Although I don't know what the authors originally intended by including this story (other than "Don't mess with God") I agree with David Kerr over at Lingamish that the bear attack was purely coincidental and that we, the readers, made the connection between the bear attack and God being sore about the name-calling. 2 Kings ends with Nebuchadnezzar taking God's Chosen people into captivity and burning down the house of the Lord. You would think that God would be pretty peeved for burning down His house and send a whole army of bears after Nebuchadnezzar.
Let's go back to our main question: why would God send bears to kill these kids?
I believe that if God is a bloodthirsty, violent character who demands worship then 1) this story would fit in perfectly with his character and 2) we're all in a whole heap of trouble. A God who uses fear to encourage His creation to Love him is not an image of a loving God no matter how you try to cram the two different views of God into one Almighty. It just doesn't work. I'm sure other Christians would claim that I'm taking the portions of the Bible that makes God look bad (and there are quite a few) out of context without looking at the Big Picture. This doesn't get us anywhere because I can say the same thing about how Traditional Christians portray God by focusing on the stories that only show God's goodness while ignoring the troubling ones. If God's Character is indeed found in the Bible then we must look at ALL of the texts, both the good and the bad.
I do not think that stories like these reflect a God of Love and tell us more about mankind then they do about God. Is it not possible that these are just stories and not literal history? Is it not possible that the authors of the Old Testament penned myths and legends from oral tradition that speak about how they viewed Reality? If we read scripture literally then we are trapped making excuses for all of God's bad behavior. When read spiritually we can learn and delve into fathoms of knowledge of our inner most selves, the human experience, and the reality we call God.