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Q & R: violent Bible passages

Here are two versions of the same Q:

Dear Brian,

Our congregation is using a narrative lectionary... The idea is to go from beginning (September with Genesis) to (December with Luke stories) to (spring with stories of the early church)

Anyway, the main text this week is Exodus 32:1-14 And paired with a short verse, Luke 23:34.
I just sent this note to Michael Hardin and another friend. Any thoughts on how to handle this "loaded gun"?

Help!
Insights from you not expected, but would be appreciated!



Here's the second Q;
Help me out with this one, the Golden Calf story.
Moses and God on mountain retreat.
Aaron and people below, panicking.
Israel makes a Golden Calf.
God is ticked, complains to Moses about "your people," plans to wipe them out.
Moses stands up to God, asks God to forgive, and reminds God that they are "your people."
So God forgives. Hooray!
But then Moses gets ticked off.
Moses divides the people into sides.
Then the "good guys" slaughter the "bad guys" Boo!

How do you handle this story? This story plays right into the theology of many/most in congregation: God is gonna getcha!

For me, the getcha means God's radical love and embrace. For others, getcha means God is going to violently punish. And they will use this text and say, "See!"
So what's my move?

Here's the R:
I deal with this question quite extensively in my new book. There I suggest that within the Biblical library we find later nonviolent stories (usually in the gospels) that correct or reverse early violent stories. So, Jesus' words in Luke 23:34 (a disputed text, by the way), "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," intentionally offers an alternative to the Golden Calf story. Instead of violent retribution and elimination for idolatry, Jesus models forgiveness and compassion (this is a matter of ignorance).

Correspondingly, we find that the human conception of God evolves over time in the Bible, first from a deity who quickly employs violence, then to a God who is longsuffering and "slow to anger," and finally to a God who is utterly nonviolent - depicted in Jesus, forgiving while rejected and killed. This understanding will, of course, be utterly unacceptable to people who hold to a dictation view of inspiration, or its close cousin, a doctrine of plenary verbal inerrancy. But one can still believe (as I do) that the Bible is "inspired and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in all right living" and see in its pages an unfolding revelation of God who, as John says, "is Light, in whom there is no darkness at all," or alternatively put, is love, in whom there is no malice at all.

I address the idea of Bible as library in A New Kind of Christianity, and I expand it into this idea of stories in tension in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road.