God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

The present volume comes for review courtesy of the goodly folk at IVP Academic.  God Behaving Badly, by David Lamb addresses the somewhat common idea these days that God is a bad guy.

Lamb’s work is simultaneously witty and touching. The personal anecdotes which pepper the volume illustrate the point and bring a smile to the reader. And his familiarity with popular culture is made plain in references to The Office and Monty Python (along with numerous others).  But these references aren’t merely window dressing or pandering to a hip audience.  They illustrate points.  Many a biblical scholar would do well to learn the art of illustration.  Lamb has it down cold.

In eight chapters Lamb examines some of the more ‘difficult’ texts in the biblical writings.  Specifically, he looks at God’s ‘bad reputation’, asks if God is loving or angry, sexist or affirming, racist or hospitable, violent or peaceful, legalistic or gracious, rigid or flexible, and distant or near.  The volume also includes discussion questions, notes, a bibliography, and a scripture index.

The book is well suited to general readers and students.  Lamb’s look at the death of Uzzah is particularly interesting as is his glance at the question whether God is legalistic or gracious and in connection with it, the first and second commands of the Bible which Lamb rightly points out are ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and ‘eat of every tree except…’  Of these Lamb provocatively suggests that the Bible encourages God’s people to ‘have lots of sex and eat a lot of food’ (pp. 116ff).  He’s right to note that ‘sex and food were two great gifts God gave the humans’ (p. 117).  Naturally these gifts have an appropriate context and Lamb doesn’t at all suggest some sort of carte blanche of hedonism.  ‘The Old Testament begins by revealing a highly generous God’ (p. 118).  So very true.

Lamb’s book is what may well be called a ‘theodicy’, in the most literal sense of the word.  Here, Lamb ‘justifies God’.  God is shown to be no monster but something quite else.  A loving Father who corrects and disciplines those whom he loves and punishes those who would snatch defeat from the mouth of victory.  Lamb’s God is the biblically revealed God.

When it comes to the rigidity of God, Lamb insists that God is ‘unwaveringly committed to doing God’ (p. 138).  God is firm in his love for humanity and unwavering in his commitment to do good.  Yet Lamb is aware of the fact that the Bible does say that God ‘changes’ or ‘repents’.  So our author offers a little list of things God will and will not change (pp. 149-150).

Overall the book is excellent.  It doesn’t cover everything that could be covered (for instance, Psalm 137’s ‘dash their babies against a stone’ is left aside) but what single volume could?  It isn’t a thorough ‘theodicy’ but that isn’t its goal  Given the volume’s purpose, and its author’s aim- all is achieved admirably.

I recommend it both to Professors teaching Old Testament introduction and to Pastors teaching ‘the difficult questions of the Bible’.  Class and congregation could learn much from Lamb, because it’s quite plain to see that Lamb has learned much from a careful reading of the Bible.

2 thoughts on “God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?

  1. carpejvgvlm 28 May 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Woah.. I would’ve skipped this bk just from the title. Sounds intriguing.. my hardest isn’t David/Bathsheeba or Uzzah at all. Def. Abraham (with his harem) being the ‘friend of God.’ Which is of course a good thing but overall hard to wrap one’s mind around.


    • Jim 28 May 2011 at 8:52 pm

      you cant judge a book by its title… or something like that


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