Challenge Response: Your God Isn’t Moral

Here's my response to this week's challenge:


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Is a God who endorses slavery truly worth following? Is this Being moral? The skeptic looks at the Old Testament and says, “God endorses slavery. This cannot be a good God.”

The first thing we have to do is define our terms. What do we mean by slavery? We need to look at what is meant by slavery in the Old Testament because we come up with modern assumptions. We hear “slavery” and we think Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, African American slavery, beating slaves – these are the kind of thoughts and images that come to our minds. Then, we simply import that into our reading of the Old Testament. Is the slavery we think of today the “slavery” we see in the Old Testament?

When we look at this carefully, we do not have the same thing. In fact, a better word to use for the Old Testament concept of slavery is servanthood. Now, you say we're just playing word games here. Think about it. In the Old Testament, slavery, or what you might call debt servanthood, was entered into voluntarily. 

The modern-day example would be a live-in employee. I may have someone who is a nanny or a housekeeper who lives with me, and we might have a voluntary arrangement, a kind of contract.

When you look at the Old Testament, this is what slavery was: it was servanthood. It was kind of a contractual voluntary arrangement for someone to maybe pay off a debt. If someone's crops were wiped out by natural disaster and they lose everything, there was an option. Rather than being destitute, in poverty, and not be able to take care of you or your family, there was an option for you to sell yourself into servanthood to pay off those debts, but it was a voluntary contract that you would enter into.

There were provisions within Israel's laws so that there wouldn't be abuses. It's not that Israel’s law promoted this, but there were provisions provided for this kind of arrangement. It was a way that would help alleviate poverty. It wasn't that slaves were beaten and forced into slavery for the rest of their lives. In fact, when you look at Old Testament law, there was provision that all slaves would be released after seven years. 

A slave, or a servant, could attach themselves to their master if they had a great master and they wanted to make a lifelong commitment. But again, it was voluntary. The concept of slavery in the Old Testament was very different than the concept of slavery that we have today. They did not have the kind of abuses that we think of in the Civil War era.

It's not that this was the ideal. Got was taking humanity where they were at and offering improvement. When you compare Israel's views and laws on this to other nations at that same time, you see that Israel’s laws were a major improvement. God didn't say it was the ideal to sell yourself into servanthood. He made the provision taking humanity where it was.

In fact, if the slave owners had followed the Old Testament laws and the provisions laid out for Israel, we wouldn’t have had the kind of slavery we had during the Civil War era. No, God doesn't endorse the kind of slavery that we think about, and so therefore, it doesn't call into question His moral character.

Brett Kunkle (@brettkunkle) is the founder and president of MAVEN, a movement to equip the next generation to know truth, pursue goodness, and create beauty. He has more than 25 years of experience working with youth and parents. Brett has a master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology and co-authored the book A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.

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Brett Kunkle