Every year when I teaching atonement in systematic theology class, I start by re-introducing students to the hymns of their youth: songs like “Nothing but the Blood”:
Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus!
We pause and take in the imagery of a spurting fountain of blood. And we begin a conversation about images of violence and what we are to do with those images. One thing is clear: we can’t continue to sing them without some thoughtful reflection on what they mean.
The same is true for the Bible itself. The text has many images of violence on which Christians rarely pause to reflect. We’ve learned to read many of these passages selectively. (See, for example, my article “On reading the Bible’s texts of terror“.) Others we don’t read at all. When I read Ezekiel 16 to students they are aghast as they see God depicted as a horrifying, abusive husband who plans the vicious murder of his own (adulterous) wife.
Christians need to talk about these texts. And that starts with churches willing to host conversations on them. I’m happy to note that Mountainside Community Church in Fernie, BC has invited me to come speak on the problem of violence in the Bible. We need more churches like this, comfortable enough with the Bible and their own faith to host honest discussions on the Bible and violence.