This past Sunday-Monday (Feb 12-13), I spoke at or near Bucknell University four times on topics related to God Behaving Badly. It was fantastic.
Sunday morning, at First Presbyterian Church of Lewisburg I addressed the question, “Is God angry or loving?” looking at the story of the smiting of Uzzah for touching the ark (2 Sam. 6). It’s a talk I’d given over ten times. The advantage of giving a talk over and over is that it has the potential to get pretty good eventually. The church seemed to enjoy it. We sold out of copies of GBB. Afterwards, I had a great time eating lunch with a bunch of Bucknellians.
Sunday night, I led a leaders’ meeting on the topic of Tackling Tough Texts. We discussed how the church does a disservice to its members by avoiding problematic passages. Let’s face it, we’re afraid of these texts. We’re leaving church-goers helpless, essentially throwing Christians to the lions, the atheists and agnostics who stump ignorant Christians with questions about Uzzah and Elisha the boys and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-25). So we then discussed God’s problematic command to a woman who has been raped to marry her rapist (Deut. 22:28-29) and then the troubling story of Elisha who calls down she-bears to maul boys for calling him “baldy.” (When my teenage sons rub my bald spot, I ask, “Where are the she-bears when you need them?”)
Monday morning, Jesse North, IV staff at Bucknell and I had a great interview with Larry Weidman from WGRC radio. In the evening, I re-did the “Is God angry or loving?” talk, modified slightly for the campus context. The room was full, about 150 people. Afterwards, it was Q & A. I was warned that the Bucknell Atheists and Agnostics club were coming.
I tried something new. Whenever someone asked a question, I responded with a question. The first question: “Do you think God is omni-benevolent?”
I replied, “Do you think God is omni-benevolent?”
She replied, “No, I don’t believe in God.” I think we found the atheists. (They took up a whole row.)
I said, “I believe God is good, very good, but I’m not sure what you are asking. What do you mean by “omni-benevolent?” We had an extremely lively discussion. I think Jesus was on to something with the respond-to-a-question-with-a-question thing. (I did also give a lot of “answers”.)
After we shut the Q & A down, the atheists kept wanting to talk (about 10 came up afterwards), which I think is a good sign. A few of them were pretty intense, so at the very end, one of the atheists, E, said to me, “I need to apologize for my ‘colleagues.’ They are pretty intense.” We laughed.
I continue to pray for them: two women (M and L) and two men (M and E). “God reveal yourself to these atheists.”
Do you respond to questions with questions?
When you are asked a question about a field that you claim to be an expert in, you do not answer with “Well, what do you think?” We didn’t ask you questions to hear our own viewpoints; we already know those. We wouldn’t have asked you if we didn’t genuinely want to hear your answer. Frankly, I was stunned that a scholar of your academic merit paled in comparison regarding eloquence and reasoning next to a bunch of kids half your age. I kept a tally; you answered 0 questions satisfactorily (or at all). Maybe that’s why those of us in the non-theist community were getting frustrated and “intense.” If you’re scared of the bull, stay out of the rodeo.
The talk was very productive, now a couple of religious group on campus approached the atheist group and now there will be more discussions! Thanks for bringing us together. I would have been interested in hearing about other stories in the bible that people interpret god as acting badly and how you justify god’s actions.
While you’re praying for us, I will think critically for the both of us.
It seems to me like any debate between a theist and an athiest that is to mean anything to both sides has to revolve around the existence of god. As an athiest, debating a theist about whether or not god is good is like debating someone who thinks Harry Potter is real about whether Snape is good or evil. I don’t think it matters because it’s fiction. The only relevant issue is that someone believes that fiction to be truth. Regardless, I understand that your talk wasn’t geared towards people like me, and I enjoyed the lively discussion afterwards.
To apathetic, intrigued, Sheldon and Miffed, I replied to all of you in my next blog post.