What Makes You Think It’s Joy?

So, for those of you who don’t know, Peter Enns is a theologian and apologeticist. He appeals mostly to moderate-liberal Christians, especially in his ability to explain how people have been asking their questions for a long, long time and therefore they can continue to do what they’re doing until somebody finally figures it out. It’s sort of like what science does, only we didn’t launch people into space on the assurance that eventually we’d figure out how much thrust would be required to get all the way out of the atmosphere.

Anyway, Enns wrote something that I mostly agreed with. No, really, he did. There were a couple of points that I could say we just didn’t have the same a priori assumptions on, but were relatively innocuous. But I was actually enjoying the piece.

Basically, Enns was responding to John Piper (of “god’s ‘masculine feel’” fame) who is also a member of the Gospel Coalition, an organization who recently promoted marital rape in an article based around the quotes of an apologist for American slavery. Doug Wilson, the guy who was quoted in the article, then wrote a screed about how oppressed he is and god’s no longer protecting us and blah, blah, blah. I won’t link to him because he’s a douche, but I will link to Rachel Held Evans‘s response to GC’s retraction and update on Wilson’s screed because she’s one of the nicest people on the internet and very smart and far too forgiving for her own good.

But Enns is not responding to anything Piper (confused yet?) had to say about marital rape, or American slavery, or even how manly god is. No, in this case, Piper said that all death, all genocide, all killing of all sort, is just kinda god’s plan and we shouldn’t really be upset about it. Yea, that’s what he said. Emphasis mine.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs….

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.

God is not beholden to us at all. He doesn’t owe us anything.


This sort of thinking is pretty damn twisted. This might also be a good time to note that that should apply to abortion as well, you would think, but I somehow doubt that John Piper is going to suddenly become pro-choice in order to be intellectually consistent.

But you know what? Peter Enns and I agree on this. I was excited that for once I found a place of overlap with Enns. I was proud of myself and, I hope not too arrogantly, proud of him for siding against a sociopath.

Quote from Enns:

But still, Piper’s position raises some serious issues that won’t stay buried for long, and are worth drawing out–at the very least so people can to work through the issue themselves and not be swayed by a public figure taking such a strong stand, or conclude that Piper represents the only option before us.

And then I got to the end of the article…

The morality of God killing Canaanites has been joyfully thrown in the face of Christians in recent years by such prominent atheists as Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, which is what Piper is reacting to. But Canaanite genocide has been a topic of concern ever since the earliest theologians of the church began to wrestle with it in the 2nd century. It has always been and remains a tough issue for anyone who takes the Bible seriously.

I understand that it’s mildly related to the topic since that’s what Piper was responding to, but does Peter Enns really think that atheists derive joy out of pointing out the slaughters that supposedly happened directly on god’s command? Does he seriously think that we enjoy discussing senseless slaughter in the name of land theft and sex slavery, all ordered by a reputedly omnibenevolent creator?

Of course we don’t take joy in that! We’re horrified by the very notion that not only are there people who believe this actually happened, but they think a god that would do that is worthy of worship. It’s tragic and insane and absolutely inhuman to even consider doing such a thing, and we are confused by people who see their creator as all good, all the time, and yet capable of these sorts of things.

Now, as a side note, Enns mentioned that archeological evidence demonstrates that this sort of mass slaughter never actually happened, and he’s correct in that. But somewhere, someone along the line must have thought that depicting the slaughter of the Canaanites, and the Amalakites, the men of Bethshemesh, the Babylonians, and a number of others (not to mention the whole fucking world minus six people) was an accurate representation of god’s nature. Whether it happened or not, in trying to tell a story with a theme, this was the god you were presented, and saying that all of that death and destruction doesn’t represent the “character of god” because you say so is disingenuous at best.

Now, I’m not saying that a person is obligated to believe like Piper. Quite the opposite, I find Piper as horrifying as Enns does, no question. However, where apologetics falls apart and where Enns fails to make a case is when he points out that “Canaanite genocide has been a topic of concern ever since the earliest theologians of the church began to wrestle with it in the 2nd century.”

Exactly my point! Almost two milenia have seen people trying to understand how an all-loving god can literally, personally order the rape and murder of thousands of people, and they can’t figure it out. The thing is, this isn’t science. There is no more data forthcoming that will suddenly make this all make sense: you’re working from one collection of stories written thousands of years ago and trying to reconcile a major time jump in the middle of stories written thousands of years after the first set.

The reason why people haven’t figured out a way to deal with senseless and brutal slaughter in a supposedly all-loving god is that there is no solution. Whether you want to say that god is capable of great evil or, as I prefer, that these are stories made up by illiterate nomads trying to explain the world and bolster the spirits of their tribe, either is more reflective of what is written than the idea that a god who loves every one of its creations also ordered mindless destruction to provide his chosen people with land and punish people who worship other deities. There is no way to make a god who gives those orders anything other than genocidal and capricious, and no amount of pouring over the same texts time and time again will reveal a hidden line in the margin that you didn’t notice.

I’m glad to see that Enns agrees with me on how absolutely stomach turning the idea of mass killing on god’s say-so is. However, he fundamentally misunderstands the atheist position at the end, making it seem like we enjoy pointing out how much killing his peaceful sky patriarch ordered and engaged in. We take no pleasure in mindless violence, certainly not the way John Piper and Doug Wilson seem to (i.e. as a reminder that there’s an all-powerful father figure who loves them, strangely enough).

However, we do point out that there’s no reason to accept one thing as true and reject another when they both have no evidence. Accept one as a good idea and one as a bad idea, sure, but saying that one is an accurate reflection of reality while the other is a complex cipher where god has hidden his love so cleverly that people have spent centuries trying to find it makes absolutely no sense. Peter, just admit that you like to pick and choose from a remarkably inconsistent book because some things seem good and some seem terrible based on an independent moral judgement and stop trying to defend the indefensible.

But mostly, stop ruining your occasional good article with unsupported strawmen.

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