Did God allow Elisha to send bears to kill children?

I’m feeling a twinge of remorse (but only a twinge), for making light of a subject here that is obviously a quite serious one for some. I fear that the following remarks may not make it much better (and in fact may make it quite a bit worse), but I’ll nonetheless offer them to hopefully encourage continued discussion where perceived mockery may have shut it down prematurely.

I think we see a stark division in play. On the one side, there are those whose fundamentalistic habits of reading and understanding oblige them to accept everything not explicitly labeled as parable or poem, as being literal historical truth. They are further obliged then to clean up the mess that this makes of the Bible. And if they wish for a God of justice, they must also layer on extra-biblical speculations to somehow ‘mitigate’ or ‘justify’ God’s wrathful actions to help it meet our modern [any of our God-given] sensibilities in this regard. They don’t seem to realize the hopelessness of this task - In this case a bit like a judge in a courtroom, upon learning that a defendant has unmercifully dismembered 42 victims, asking him - “well, young man, why did you do this?” And then when the young man says “they were making fun of me! - and mocking you too, by the way, Judge! You should have heard them!” And the judge responds …“Oh well that changes everything! So they were asking for it! You may go. Sorry we detained you here.” And the rest of us in the courtroom (entire world) stare incredulously at the judge - as we should!

This is the bible and the god that fundamentalists offer up to us. They have been willing to sacrifice justice and mercy on what they took to be an altar of Truth. But instead it turns out, the grizzly sacrifice happened on an altar of fundamentalism - which is the real part (not actual scriptures) that gets defended as infallible.

What do they win for these efforts? A god that is both false and unjust. They don’t even get a true and inerrant bible (the very prize for which they had been aiming). [or haven’t won it without considerable theological gymnastics that only a doting parent could see the beauty in]. What they get is a modern fundamentalism that the entire modern world (and as well as most literate ancients) can [or would] see right through. It is in that context that mockery can seem so appropriate. And yet I would repent of it, knowing that some brothers and sisters are agonizing over these very issues because they have been sold a bill of goods and cannot just easily cull away their fundamentalistic reading habits from the real germ of their faith. They say that the bible is inerrant, but it is easy (for everyone else but themselves) to see that what they really mean is that they are inerrant readers of the Bible. So by aiming to win both a just God and inerrant scriptures, they have won neither, and unintentionally (they must at least be granted that!) have made a mockery out of the most precious things they set out to defend.


This is such a tough situation. I have great sympathy, too, with the need to find stability in the world–sometimes I want to say something is right, even if it’s wrong, to stay the same (maybe I’m a conservative).

Randal Rauser wrote a rather (to me) controversial post here about the difference between fundamentalism and mere Christianity:


I can see arguments for both ways, but I think I understand what he’s driving at; it’s an attitude rather than outlined boundaries. Would be interested in your thoughts.



Rauser’s writing there is succinct and powerful! In a slight tweak (or addition to) his beginning, I would add that …

we attend to boundary markers more than we attend to Christ.

One wonders if, in the spiritual world, there should be a “Christians without borders” organization?


Actually, that really defines his whole post well. Great!

When I was a 29 year old in NW Africa, the locals always referred to me as a “young lad.” You didn’t graduate to “man” until you were in your 30s. The same classification scheme may well apply to this chapter in 2 Kings.

It may apply to the story of David and Goliath as well. The Bible story book illustrations depict David as Little League age, but he easily could have been in his 20s.

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I’ve always thought this to be one of the least complicated situations, myself. The prohibition against touching the ark, the warning that death would be the result, and the proper method for carrying the ark on poles (in order to prevent ever having to touch the ark) had all been previously detailed in Scripture.

Perhaps not a great analogy, but the situation seems to me at least similar to an electrician who goes to work on a high-voltage system while disregarding proper precautions. He knows very well that he is dealing with something dangerous that needs to be properly respected, yet disregards the standard safety procedures, failing to deenergize the system beforehand, ensuring he is properly grounded, or using proper safety gloves. And he may be fine for a bit. But then something unexpected happens, perhaps an expensive piece of energized equipment unexpectedly begins to fall, and instinctively, out of concern of saving this valuable equipment, he reaches out, grabs it, and is electrocuted. His intentions in that particular moment may have been noble, but his death, while tragic, is nevertheless his own fault, no?

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No; I wouldn’t think so. God is not electricity :slight_smile: And isn’t that, at foundation, one of the differences between God and the forces of nature? God is just; He is sentient; He knows and enforces right from wrong; He knows how we are made, and indeed made us exactly how we are–with instincts to save the good. I do jive with David–but you know, the Bible is full of areas where we struggle with God, or our perception of Him. That’s one of the attractive parts of it–it’s honest, not cut and dried.

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If I might toss my thoughts in, I generally agree, in principle, with where he’s going here. And there certainly is a danger in worrying too much about our precise definitions and boundaries, and our pet theories and doctrines.

But on the other hand, should we believe that in reality, there are truly no boundary markers between proper, true Christian faith and certain beliefs which make the Christianity essentially false?

Marcus Borg, for instance, took the title “Christian”, and others, such as NT Wright, if I’m not mistaken, have seemed to have no issue giving Marcus the title “Christian”.

Myself, on the other hand… If someone wants to be an atheist, fine, but I would not object to at least some boundary line wherein I could be justified in refusing to call that person a Christian.

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(At least I admitted it was a poor analogy…) :wink:

Just to clarify–you’re referring to Rauser, right? :slight_smile:
Hm, good question–Rauser talks a bit about Borg too. I’ll have to look on that. I think Borg had a hard time believing in the Resurrection.

Rauser had a series on Mere Christianity which acknowledged that what we call Christian may not necessarily define who goes to Heaven or not in God’s sight, either. https://randalrauser.com/2018/10/what-is-mere-christianity-part-1-dale-tuggy/

Completely agree with God’s invitation to wrestle with him. And there are places where I personally struggle, including some of the violence in those conquest narratives in particular.

But this one with Uzzah is straightforward to my reading. The ark practically has a sign on it that says, “do not touch. Death will result. Carry by poles only.”

They ignore protocols, and are shocked, shocked (no pun intended) when death results…!

But granted, this is only half the story, it does not take into account God’s character involved. But again, I don’t find this surprising, because God had always been so clear that his articles of warship were things he took very seriously. Aaron’s sons, Nadine and Anihu, (Edit: “Nadab” and “Abihu”. Stupid autocorrect…) figured that out also the hard way.

Yes, maybe it was Marcus borg on the resurrection. For some reason I had in my mind that he was a full-fledged atheist, but I may have gotten those confused. In either case, I would still consider the resurrection to be a non-negotiable of the faith, and don’t mind setting up a boundary line there either.

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Thanks. He was Episcopal, I think–was a friend of NT Wright and wrote a book with him. No, he wasn’t atheist. https://randalrauser.com/2018/03/i-believe-on-the-third-day-he-rose-again-but-what-about-those-who-dont/

here’s an interesting article by Rauser on the common doctrines of Christianity. Biologos has had a long thread on it.

smile about the autocorrect!
Hm but the automatic reflexes to save the ark–that seems different to me than willy nilly touching. Also, it’s a spur of the moment that’s not so easy. Seems pretty different to me than intentional disrespect. That’s why David struggled, too, maybe–

Then you would probably “rule” Borg out. He is [was - he’s passed on now] one of those scholars prominently associated with “The Jesus Seminar” which is contemporary critical scholarship that pretty much jettison any supernatural - including even the resurrection itself (at least as a literal event that most orthodox Christian would insist on).

Not that Borg didn’t have interesting and good things to say. [It’s been a while since I’ve read him so I don’t recall details right here.] He (as I think most Jesus Seminar scholars would have been) had a large emphasis on social justice and liberation theology - which means conservatives (to their own loss and shame) would have long ago have stopped listening to those like Borg long before the resurrection was ever brought up.

Speaking of autocorrect failures - I have to smile at your accidental turn of phrase: “because God had always been so clear that his articles of warship were things he took very seriously…” Either your fingers made a Freudian slip worthy of conservative evangelism, or else we should probably excuse a naval commander for typing it thus!" :grin:

The intentional disrespect was when they put the ark of God on a cart, rather than carrying it as God’s honor, and his word, required. The consequences of the disrespect simply were delayed, I think.

I can’t remember in detail if it specified David’s anger… it could be he was angry that they had so disrespected Fod’s throne that caused him to show his wrath. But I’d have to study that more to recall properly.

Fod?!!! Fod’s throne?!


[sorry … I’m getting lots of mileage out of your posts today - you’re in rare form and helping me feel better about my own typos. I think I’ll just follow you around with a pooper scooper.]


I’ll blame it on my rich Naval heritage!

Either way, I looked it up tomfsct check myself, not only was Borg part of a Jesus seminar and denied resurrection, but he also was an self-described atheist, given any common definition of “God.”

If refraining from having boundary lines mean we must allow atheist resurrection deniers to be called “Christian,” then I think we have entered into that phase that C S Lewis Described as “the death of words.”

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From biblegateway.comhttps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+13

7 They moved the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. 8 David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets.

9 When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. 10 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.

11 Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.[c]

12 David was afraid of God that day and asked, “How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?” 13 He did not take the ark to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 14 The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed his household and everything he had.

Right, I just mean I am not sure if it specifies, or if it is vague, of where David’s anger was directed.

If one of my junior enlisted members was acting up and doing something wrong, and the commanding officer hammered him with disciplinary action, I might phrase it that I was angry that my COs wrath was incited. But that need not mean that I was angry at my CO, But rather at my enlisted member who caused the CO’s anger to be kindled.

I’m hardly arguing this, I lean a bit toward your interpretation myself. But I just am not sure if it is absolutely clear of one way or the other.