In a comment posted today, David Graham–for whom I have the greatest respect–writes:
Other questions to ponder are, “Would Joshua – in any of his battles – have done this?” Or “would Ezra – he of the forced divorces for any Israelite married to a foreigner – have done this?” Or “Is this how David treated Goliath’s body?” Or “Would the Apostle Paul – he of the ‘if anyone preaches a different gospel, let him be damned’ – have done this?” Deciding what is “biblical” behavior all depends on where the reader turns her gaze in the scriptures…
It’ s true what David notes: there are quite a number of horrifying things done and said in the pages of the Bible, and some of them are said to have God’s endorsement.
The way David frames it, though, seems to me to be a counsel of despair, as much as to say, “You can find any morality you want in the Bible.” Which I don’t think is quite true.
There is a strong, clear moral thrust in Scripture, which finds its heart in Jesus. And then there are acts and words that are hard to put together with Jesus, if not impossible. The right way to read the Bible is in Jesus, not in the spirit of suspicion, or in the mind of Enlightenment rationalism. That is the method that Jesus used with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, when he “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:29)
In fact, I think that is the way David reads when he raises horrifying examples. They stand out because they seem to stand against the story concerning Jesus.
We should read this way with humility. One would not want to imitate Thomas Jefferson, who snipped out of the Bible all the parts he did not like! We do not have permission to edit out the horrible parts any more than the miraculous. There may always be parts of the Bible that trouble us. Nevertheless, we read the Bible not so much to question God (though that is permitted) as to question ourselves. That generates increasing humility. That, too, is a reading we should do in Jesus.