Hard questions about God I wish someone had asked me earlier

By Clay Gibney | 8 February 2015
Life After 40

For most of my life, I intentionally avoided hard questions about the Christian faith. I rationalized and compartmentalized. I routinely threw my hands up figuring “there were answers” to the difficult questions about Christianity but there were none.

What follows are a few of those difficult questions.

The Flood of Noah (If you believe the story is true)

Why would a supreme being create a world, and then a few thousand years later decide to kill everyone except for one man and his family? Apparently, God’s own creation turns out to be corrupt and evil (He didn’t know that would happen??). Why does a deity make the situation even worse by choking out the innocent life of children? If you’re God, why go through the elongated method to kill? If a supreme being regretted creating humanity (as Genesis 6:6 states), why doesn’t he just snap his fingers and start over? Why cause all the incredible anguish? And why kill all of the innocent animals in the process?

If the story is true, why is there no scientific evidence of a world-wide flood on the earth? Instead we find overwhelming evidence that the earth is incredibly old with fossil records that stretch back for millions of years. If God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago, why do we find fossilized species in the strata (rock layers) which shows a slow progression of evolutionary life over very long periods of time? If human life began at the same time as all other life, why is it that we can find countless examples of fossilized remains for most life forms, except for humans? If, as some would say, “any contradictory evidence against the Bible is there to test our faith”, then why do that? If you’re God, why perpetrate a ruse?

The Flood Story (continued) 

Why is it that after Noah disembarks from the ark, he is compelled to kill and burn some of the animals to please God? Why is a supreme being pleased with the aroma of burning flesh? Genesis 8:21 says “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma….” If Noah was chosen as the only righteous man alive, why does God’s “only righteous man” grow a vineyard, get drunk and naked, and then curse one of his sons for merely seeing him naked? (Gen. 9:20-22). And even if something else happened beyond mere nakedness, why does this righteous man curse his son Ham and all his descendants to lives of slavery? (Noah says of Ham and his descendants, “the lowest of slaves will [they] be to his brothers!”). How is that righteous or moral? Or is it more likely that this fictional story merely served as justification for one tribe to exert righteous authority over another tribe and enslave them?

Slavery 

Speaking of slavery, why does a book that purports to give moral code endorse slavery at all? Aside from murder, enslaving another human being is one of the most immoral things a human can do against another human. So why does a holy book endorse it? (Lev. 25:44-46). Some say that the Bible merely allowed the practice, but if that were true, why give rules on the treatment of slaves including how hard you may beat them with a rod? (Exodus 21:2-6, 21-21). And why allow a father to sell his daughter as a sex slave to another man? (Exodus 21:7-11). Also, if slavery was just a horrible thing from the Old Testament days which God allowed, why did Jesus or the apostles not condemn it? Instead they commanded slaves to “obey their earthly masters” (Ephesians 6:5). Why give commands about a thousand other trivial things but not give commands to abolish this immoral treatment of other human beings?

Blood sacrifices

Why have all of the barbarism and blood sacrifice of animals? If God is benevolent and loving, why create animals with extremely complex nervous systems that can feel pain and who will suffer immensely when offered up as a sacrifice? Why is gutting and burning animal flesh described as “pleasing to God”? Or is it more likely that these ancient tribal people just believed that the pleasing aroma of cooked meat was also pleasing to the supreme being that they assumed caused all of the thunder, lightning and natural disasters that randomly befell them? Or were these burnt offerings just a variation on earlier pagan rituals of sacrifice to help call on the gods for rain during droughts, and/or to appease the gods for the natural disasters that occurred on the planet?

Abraham and Issac 

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, circa 1601-02.
The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, circa 1601-02.

Abraham is a very prominent character in the Old Testament, but why would God ask Abraham to “take your son, your only son, whom you love — Isaac — and sacrifice him [on the mountain] as a burnt offering”? If you are an omniscient God and you know us to the degree that the Bible purports (i.e., you know even our unspoken thoughts), why ask a father to murder his child to test his faith? Why ask him to do something grossly immoral as a test? And if the request was meant to be the hardest thing imaginable for a father to do (kill his beloved son), how would others in the future correctly discern if/when they are asked by an imaginary voice to do the same horrendous thing? We have had cases of parents who believed exactly this — that God commanded them to kill their children as a test of faith — and unfortunately their children are now dead! So how is the example of Abraham’s test of faith not an example for other parents to follow? And does this request by God not just come across as petty and egotistical? (i.e., “if you truly love me, you’ll kill for me if I ask you to!”).

Killing Others 

When is it ever morally justifiable to kill all the innocent women, children, and animals in a military conquest? (Deuteronomy 13:13-19). Why does the Old Testament give the commandment of “thou shalt not murder”, but then gives many commands to kill: those who don’t listen to priests (Deut. 17:12); kill those believed to be a witch or sorceress (Ex. 22:17); kill a man who lies down with another man (homosexual) (Lev. 20:13); kill fortunetellers (Lev. 20:27); kill children who strike their father or mother (Ex. 21:15) or who curse their parent (Lev. 20:9); kill those who commit adultery or fornication (Lev. 20:10, 21:9); and kill those who were non-believers or followers of other gods (2 Chron. 15:12-13, Ex. 22:19). And if God is a God of mercy, why command that a new bride be stoned to death by the town if it’s discovered that she’s not a virgin? (Deut. 22:20-21). If God is so displeased with this sort of conduct, why doesn’t God strike down those sinners with a big bolt of lightning? Doing so would certainly have had a very compelling effect on those who witnessed such a frightening display of power. Why stain the hands of innocent people with the horrible action of killing others for their deeds? Or is it more likely that these rules were man-made and gave control to the rulers of the time?

Sex, rape and body parts 

Why is God so concerned with the flap of skin at the tip of a man’s penis? Why is God so concerned with whether a girl’s flap of skin (hymen) is still intact on her wedding night? Why is the Bible so hateful and misogynist toward girls such that virgin girls are viewed as “spoils of war” for the men of Israel to enjoy? (Numbers 31:7-18). Similarly, why are virgins spared during a military conquest (Judges 21:10-24) while women and young boys are to be slaughtered without mercy? Why is it okay for a man to rape a girl with the only penalty for the offense being that the rapist need just pay the father some shekels of silver and then marry his victim? (Deut. 22:28-29). How is that moral or just? And if the Old Testament is to be viewed as “oh, that was just how things were in the past” then why did Jesus say that he “did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”? (Matt. 5:17-19).

Creation 

Why is a holy book that is supposedly authored by God so horribly inaccurate and contradictory about the creation account? Why is the written account for the order of things created not even consistent between Genesis 1 and 2? Why is the order of creation not even logically or scientifically accurate? For example, how can there be light and darkness (day and night) on the first day of creation when the sun and stars aren’t created until the 4th day? Wouldn’t it be redundant to create the sun on the 4th day if there’s already light on the first day? And why are plants made on the 3rd day before the sun is in place to drive their photosynthetic process? Why does it say that God made two great lights (1:16) — the sun and the moon — when we know that the moon doesn’t create light — it merely reflects the sun’s light? And why after creating those two great lights does the Bible say (like an afterthought) that “he made the stars also” which we now know are so great in number (300 sextillion) that they outnumber the grands of sand on the earth? And why does Genesis say that the earth was made before the sun and stars, which clearly contradicts the evidence of the age of the universe (13.7 billion) vs. the age of the earth (4.5 billion)? The issues with the creation account are so numerous, it begs the question as to how one could conclude the Bible is “the word of God” instead of the early imaginations of men?

Hell and the Lake of Fire 

Why is there an utter lack of harmony on the doctrine of eternal torment in the Old Testament vs. the New Testament? If our eternal destiny is so important, why does the Old Testament — the most voluminous section of the Bible — have so little to say about life after death? For the 31 occurrences of Sheol (grave) in the OT, why weren’t readers warned of a future eternal torment if there was one? When hell is brought up in the New Testament, why is it Jesus (meek and mild), who gives us the doctrine of eternal suffering which includes such descriptive words like wailing and gnashing of teeth? Why would a loving God choose the most horrific type of pain that the human body can experience (burning flesh) as the picture for eternal torment? Why make it last forever? And why would a loving God use a threat (hell) to inspire a relationship with that same God?

I am a flawed human being but I’m also the parent of 5 beautiful kids. I will always love them no matter what they might do in the future. They could curse me, reject me, spit on me and deny me but I would still love them. If man was created in God’s image and if He is the author of love and the greatest thought magnified, how could a compassionate, nurturing father send his offspring into eternal torment? Why is merely “not believing” such a profound crime? Why are petty crimes worthy of hell? And finally, why would a loving God who is omniscient (all-knowing) create human beings that He knows will reject Him, and let them suffer in a lake of fire, forever and ever?

Or is it more likely, that these are man-made contrivances to convince people through extreme fear to follow the commands of those who want to be in control?

The Bible*  

If God’s extensive moral code from the Old Testament is good and if His law is perfect, why does so much of it no longer apply today? Why create a set of rules and commands that change? If the New Testament is the newer revelation that should be followed instead, why are so many parts of it now ignored? Why is it that when we discover contradictory verses or verses that are found to be immoral, disturbing, or scientifically inaccurate, the church then decides that they must be a metaphor for something? Why were the first 3 gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) not even written by actual apostles of Jesus, and even worse, why were all four gospels written anonymously? Why was there much dispute by the early church regarding which books were inspired or not inspired by God? Why, for example, was the gospel of Peter and the gospel of Thomas considered abhorrent and uninspired but the other gospels (which often disagree in detail) were considered inspired and inerrant? Why did it take several hundred years (long after the apostles had died) to have all of the books currently found in the New Testament be recognized and accepted? Why would divinely inspired books require intense debate regarding inerrancy by the early church? And why does the Catholic church still disagree with protestants and include 9 additional books (the Apocrypha) which Protestant churches reject as being uninspired and filled with error?

If Jesus was bringing the most important message to humanity it would ever receive, why didn’t he write that message down himself? Why allow it to be passed around in an oral tradition for decades (and we know how reliable that is), before it’s finally written down? Why do we only have late copies of copies of copies of copies that have discrepancies, and which aren’t even written in the language that Jesus and his disciples spoke? And if the words of those books and letters are so important, why didn’t God make sure the original manuscripts survived? Why send us this supposedly vital message in a book that’s so hard to understand and interpret that we have 40,000+ different christian sects, each interpreting the book in a different way?

“Then I began to see that not just the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born-again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost.

Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place.

Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman, American New Testament scholar, current James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In summary, if the message of the Bible is so important, why couldn’t an omnipotent God have provided it timely, without error, clearly written and without dispute on authorship and free of contradiction? Or is it possible that significant portions (or even a majority) of the Bible is actually myth, legend, or grossly exaggerated accounts from antiquity?

Effectiveness of the Gospel 

Why does the Christian gospel sound more like a cycle of abuse rather than truly good news? The Bible declares the doctrine of original sin with eternal damnation as the punishment for man’s evil deeds. Why is it “good news” that humans are put into severe psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind? The Bible declares man as guilty and responsible, with eternal punishment at stake. Yet you have no real ability to do anything about it. Why is it a good thing that one must conform to a mental test of “believing” in an external, unseen source for salvation, and then maintain that state of belief until death? Since a person cannot ever stop “sinning” altogether and therefore must continue to confess and be forgiven by an invisible being, how is it not a cycle of abuse when all a person can do is hope that they have met the criteria despite complete lack of feedback about whether they will actually make it to heaven? Salvation is supposed to be a gift of love, but for the sincere believer, the result is an unending cycle of shame and pleas to an invisible being who never actually answers. And this is a good thing?

If the gospel of Christ is incredibly powerful and if it’s absolute truth, why do churches make it a point of targeting children with a philosophy of get ’em while they’re young? Could it be that children are just easily indoctrinated with the odd teachings of the Bible because children have already been conditioned to believe whatever adults tell them? Would Christianity be as prominent today if children were “off limits” to religious teaching? If only adults were exposed to the gospel message, would there be a change in the number of people in churches? And if that’s the case, what does that say about the actual power of the gospel message?

If the gospel message of Jesus is truly transformational, why are divorce rates among Christians and unbelievers the same? Or even higher among protestants? And for those who consider pornography a grave sin, why do we see no difference between the secular population vs. the Christian population? In fact, why do we find that protestants are even more likely to view porn even though they cite guilt as an inhibitor? Why do we often find that some of the most judgmental, hateful and intolerant people are those of the Christian faith? If Christianity is transforming and if disbelief in god is evil, why do we find that the prison population of the U.S. is largely absent of those who are atheist or agnostic? In fact, why do those in prison who identify as Catholic and Protestant constitute nearly 75% of the incarcerated while less than 1% are atheists or agnostics?

Competing Faiths

If Christianity is the only message with absolute truth, why do we see an overwhelming pattern of children who believe what they are raised in, regardless of the religion involved? Children of Muslims become Muslims, children of Mormons become Mormons, Hindus raise up new Hindus, etc. If your specific religious faith is primarily a factor of the country you were raised up in, how does that show that it’s truth? Why do we find a long history of mankind having invented various gods? Sun gods, moon gods, war gods, love gods, demigods and immortals. There are gods with names that start with every letter of the alphabet except “W”. Why do we so easily discount and disregard the hundreds of man-made gods that have come before, but Christians know for certain that Yahweh and Jesus are real, even though his promise to return during the lifetime of his early followers failed to happen? How many centuries have passed since his promise of “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”?

Prayer 

If your daughter suddenly became gravely ill, would it be more important to take her to the doctor, or to pray for her? If you feel that both are important, which is more effective? If you found out that you had breast cancer, would medical treatment be more effective? Or prayer? If your brother or sister suffered a horrific accident that led to the loss of an arm or leg, would prayer ever restore that missing limb? If no, why not? If Jesus promised that prayer could move a mountain, why has an amputee never had their limb restored by prayer? Why have faith healers never cured anyone with a clear physical disability? Is it possible that prayers have no effect and just merely make the believer feel better?

Why do the millions of prayers by mothers in Africa go unanswered as they watch their children die of disease and starvation? Why do over 7 million children die every year from hunger, disease and illness if prayer is effective?

And why does God hate the children of Africa?

Or is it more likely that the god of the Bible is the man-made concoction of earlier tribes in their attempt to explain the world and to also give themselves the license to kill other tribes and take their land?

* (My thanks to ubi dubium at https://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ for his comments to my previous post which I gratefully used in the first section about the Bible).

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Clay Gibney is a former Christian fundamentalist. Check out his blog Life After 40: A Former Liberty Student’s Journey with Christian Fundamentalism.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Actually there is a god whose name begins with the letter W. Wotan the German version of the Norse god Odin. I agree with your article. I started questioning my Pentecostal faith as a teenager. One by one the bricks of faith were pulled out until the whole crumbled. It is such a relief to be free of the mental slavery of religion.

    • Makes a two of us. Born and raised in Africa, South Africa to be precise, I was raised in a Pentecostal family. Exposure to information and reality became my reasons to question. All the bricks have been pulled out. None left, and I found that the idea of hell is very ridiculous.

  2. I was exposed to Baptist religion as a kid, but fortunately not much. At 18 I was exposed to fundamentalist religion. That lasted about 5 months. Thankfully I abandoned all that horseshit and eventually discovered Unity(Universalists). What a refreshing difference…no dogma, no original sin and hell fire crap! In recent years I found A Course In Miracles…definitely not your grandparents’ religion. Pretty cool, level-headed stuff!

  3. ​Epicurus (Greek philosopher 341-270)
    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    – Then he is not omnipotent
    Is he able, but not willing?
    – Then he is malevolent
    Is he both able and willing?
    – Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    – Then why call him God?"

  4. And isn't it odd that religion flourishes best in countries where the people are powerless and immiserated, poverty is rife, and inequality extreme? Why is that?

  5. With regards to Noah, since we are all tarnished by original sin, why not kill everyone? Why use a bad batch of starter dough to repopulate the planet?

  6. The above article is grossly inaccurate , filled with oversimplification and misrepresentation of the spectrum of possible Bible interpretation and Christian thought .

    One of the many ways the essay above plays fast and loose with the source material , and glosses over distinctions , is found in the following portion of text which reads ,

    "Also, if slavery was just a horrible thing from the Old Testament days which God allowed, why did Jesus or the apostles not condemn it? Instead they commanded slaves to “obey their earthly masters” (Ephesians 6:5)."

    (1) That was Paul who wrote Ephesians 6:5 , NOT Jesus nor the other apostles ! To conflate what Paul wrote in that verse of that epistle with what Jesus taught is appallingly loose and grossly lacking in accuracy .
    In Matthew , Jesus instructs his disciples to 'be ye NOT called masters' . In Mark and elsewhere in the gospels , Jesus proclaims a very anti-authoritarian , and egalitarian ethos as to how the disciples should behave , one that is incompatible with slavery and master slave relations , when he states ,

    'The Gentiles exercise authority over their subjects …but is shall not be so among you. Him that would be first let him be last of all and servant of all ' . St.Paul , in I Corinthians 7:6, indicates that not all of the advice he writes is equally authoritative , for in describing the advice he gives to married couples in the previous verses he writes , 'but this I speak by permission and not of commandment ' .

    It would be wrong to claim that the advice that Paul declares with regard to social matters is as of equal importance as what he writes regarding central tenets of Christianity such as the resurrection of Jesus, the atonement , or the duty to love the neighbor and practice brotherly charity . In reading the writings of Paul, one ought to separate ancillary matters of doctrine from central tenets .

    (2) The sort of slavery St.Paul was referring to also happened to have been composed of people in the Roman empire who were slaves from the same national stock as those that were their masters . That is quite different from the scenario of people who were kidnapped and made slaves by slave traders travelling abroad and taken away to a foreign land –the latter which was the case in the American South prior to the Emancipation Proclamation .

    As for the following portion of references, .that is cited as supposed evidence of Bible authors claiming Divine support for killing those who worship other God's than the God of Israel , the following citation nd kill those who were non-believers or followers of other gods (2 Chron. 15:12-13, Ex. 22:19).

    has included a verse that does NOT even pertain to people worshipping other gods . Exodus 22:19 refers to capital punishment to those who would have sexual intercourse with a goat , and does NOT even refer to people worshipping other gods ! The verse in 2 Chronicles 15:12-13 , that refers to those who do not seek the God of Israel being subject to capital punishment was not commanded by Moses , nor part of the initial Torah that Moses brought from Mt.Sinai . Furthermore, it applied only to Israelites . That is worth mentioning , for some who are hasty to be detractors of Christianity , on other online articles have played fast and loose with that text and have wrongly tried to claim that somehow that capital punishment somehow meant killing NON-Israelites who worshipped other gods , when the text does not even state that and applies it only to Israelites !

  7. Continued From Response Above

    There are many other truncations, and grossly inaccurate interpretations found in the essay above .

    The following portion of text taken from the essay above provides other examples of gross inaccuracies and hasty supposition :

    'Why is the Bible so hateful and misogynist toward girls such that virgin girls are viewed as “spoils of war” for the men of Israel to enjoy? (Numbers 31:7-18).

    Response : Though the above text is problematical and does leave some questions which ought to be inquired about further, from an ethical standpoint, several points are in order .

    For one, contrary to what has been hastily surmised , it has been plausibly argued that no special virginity test for the girls would have been necessary since , according to some investigators of ancient near east customs , reportedly young women who were unmarried and presumed virgins wore different clothing and jewelry to demarcate them from those who were married and hence no longer virgins —so , in light of that consideration, a grisly virginity test would have been unnecessary, if such claims are veridical .

    Secondly, though the practice of slaughter of adult males and older married women is still problematical and troubling , careful interpretation of the text does not warrant the hasty conclusion that the virgin girls from the vanquished peoples of Canaan were to be regarded as "spoils of war" . It has been plausibly argued that the young virgin women who were spared and incorporated into the tribe were given some sort of chance to live that would have been denied them had they not been incorporated into the tribe, for if their parents and older relatives had been slaughter and they not taken in as domestic partners by the Israelites , the survival skills of such young women , who would have lacked the farming and hunting skills of the males in the cultures they came from , would be so meager that they would have been far less likely to survive in the wilderness, if they had not been taken in by the Israelites .

    "Similarly, why are virgins spared during a military conquest (Judges 21:10-24) while women and young boys are to be slaughtered without mercy?"

    Response: See the notes in the previous response above .

    As for the following portion of text, " Why is it okay for a man to rape a girl with the only penalty for the offense being that the rapist need just pay the father some shekels of silver and then marry his victim? (Deut. 22:28-29)"

    Response :The above sort of scenario mentioned in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 does NOT state that the girl was raped . It describes a young man lying with a girl (having intercourse of some sort) but it does NOT state that the intercourse in question was non-consensual !

    It is quite distasteful when online articles of the current sort resort to hyperbole and pass off fast and loose hyperbole as if it were what the text the article is actually proclaiming .

    .

  8. As for the portions of text in the New Testament writings which discuss what in English languages of the Bible is often called by the word 'hell ' , there is an appalling LACK of accuracy and nuance, in the essay above, about the matter .

    The authors of the essay above, when discussing what Jesus taught about divine punishment, should take a closer look at the etymology (word origin ) of the word 'Gehenna' (the original Greek word) that is often translated 'hell' in the Gospels ,and find out more about how it was described in the rabbinical writings which were cited in the time Jesus was teaching . What Jesus meant by the use of the word 'Gehenna' (translated "hell") was different, in terms of the concept behind it and the purposes for which Jesus used the term , quite *different from* what the fire and brimstone preachers of today use the term .

    Furthermore, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke (which has often been taken as if it were some sort of grounds for a crude conception of hell :one which some people loosely *interpret* in terms involving physical torture) the word for 'tormented' is a word that apparently is elsewhere used to denote sorrow rather than physical torture , since the term in the original Greek apparently was used to describe the state of mind predicated of Mary and Joseph when they found Jesus as a child in Jerusalem, after thinking he had been lost , during the period he went to meet with the scholars in the Temple , in Luke 2:48 .

    In critiquing the Bible , far more careful attention to precise detail is in order . The Biblical criticism advanced by NON-fundamentalist scholars such as James Barr, is a far more sound approach than such typical loose internet era critiques .

  9. Interesting article (I have been questioning in much the same way since I was a young teen.

    A quick note: This statement "There are gods with names that start with every letter of the alphabet except “W”. " Is not accurate.

    One of the alternate names/spellings of Odin is Wōden, depending on which part of the Germanic people who worshipped him were located. Odin/Wōden was the All-father archetype of the Norse Gods. Just thought I'd put that in there.

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