God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? by Helen Paynter
A comprehensive introduction for those new to the questions it explores; will bring new insights to those familiar with the subject
God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today?: Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament
By Helen Paynter
BRF (The Bible Reading Fellowship)
Reviewer: Peter King
Over the past few years I have become increasingly troubled by the violence in the Bible. Although this is a subject we don’t often talk about in our churches, I know from a number of informal conversations that many churchgoers (and others) have questions they would like to explore on these issues.
Published to coincide with June’s inaugural events of Bristol College’s Centre for the Study of Bible & Violence, Helen Paynter’s new book offers a rigorous yet accessible exploration of Old Testament violence ideal for individuals or groups wishing to engage with these troubling texts and the issues they raise.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part offers valuable groundwork on the nature of the Bible and the nature of violence, and concludes with some very helpful suggestions on “Reading the Bible well”. It is good to be reminded that the reason that texts of violence disturb us is because of our core belief that God is good. It is important, too, to be made aware that just because the Bible describes violence this does not necessarily mean that it commends it.
The second part identifies a range of types of violent text, and discusses these in ascending order of importance from what is termed “Violence described” through “Violence implored” and “Violence against animals”(sacrifice) to “Violence as divine judgment” and what is the standout case for most people “Violence commanded”. I found this a very helpful way of classifying the different examples of violence in the OT. Each chapter concludes with some thoughts on how the type of texts under discussion might be read and used in churches today. Here I was particularly struck by what the author sees as the pastoral implications of ignoring the texts of “Violence described”. By ignoring these stories of interpersonal and sexual violence we risk silencing those for whom they are a reality in their lives today. Yes, indeed.
The book concludes with a chapter entitled “Shalom: God’s great plan”, which puts the violent texts in the context of what is arguably an even more significant OT theme.
The author herself acknowledges at the end of the chapter on “Violence commanded” that “there might be more to say” on these most troubling of all the texts of violence. Not everyone will agree with the suggested interpretation, but I hope that all will agree on the important suggestions for reading them “with ethical integrity” both in our churches and beyond.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in the questions it explores. If you are new to the subject, it offers a comprehensive introduction and the reassurance that you are being guided by a capable and safe pair of hands as you begin to engage with challenging and important issues.
If, like me, you are familiar with some of the literature on the subject, reading it will surely bring new insights and ideas.
Peter King trained at Bristol Baptist College and was ordained in 1988, serving for eight years at Eynsham Baptist Church, Oxfordshire. He now works for the Anglican Diocese of Chichester in adult theological education