Did God allow Elisha to send bears to kill children?


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Absolutely concur.

My only point was only that everyone has boundary lines for what is and isn’t orthodox belief (and, when larger organizations are involved, who ought or ought not be allowed to teach, based on their orthodoxy.) this is simply and absolutely inescapable… and when someone suggests that we ought not have such boundaries, or criticizes others because they have boundaries, I humbly suggest this is really at core a meaningless criticism.

I have often joked that I want to pursue ordination in the Unitarian Universalist Church, that claims to be open to all beliefs whatsoever… “wherever your truth takes you, ” and which criticize the idea of having firm boundaries on orthodoxy… It would not take them 5 minutes, after getting to know me and my beliefs, to confirm that they also have some very firm boundary lines on who they will or will not allow her to teach in their church or study groups…based on their judgement of my position as “a very false and dangerous doctrine”!

More seriously, I do you share your concern that far too many Christians, in arrogance of their “right doctrine”, are quick to stand in judgment of others, thankful to God that they are not like that tax collector who is so erroneous in their theology. In that sense, I completely agree with the danger of thinking there is an “us“ and “them“

The folks at the Westborough Baptist Church are the worst example, perhaps. But I have seen plenty of Christians make that same error, they look at their social or political or theological enemies as exactly that, as an “enemy.” Those bad people that God does not like as much as he likes me, since I have the right theology! To the point of our discussion… I have no hesitation referring to such attitudes and beliefs as categorically “incorrect,” and “outside” of true Christian orthodoxy!!

A “true”, “acceptable”, and “orthodox” Christian belief on these topics would include that the prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kindgdom before myself, that God has made foolish my wisdom, that I am the worst of sinners, and that any and all who are burdened and heavy laden are invited to his table.


I often entertain very similar thoughts.

Stomp on a relativist’s toes hard enough, and his sense of objective right and wrong will quickly and gloriously be revealed for the world to see.

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Richard Dawkins is my favorite example. “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

But then search through his writings and it doesn’t take long to find dozens upon dozens of times he refers to things as “evil.” And he sure sounds to mean by it, rally, objectively, truly evil.

From my hero Lewis again… “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later… Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?”

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From anthropology we know that the bear was a sacrificial victim among some populations and also a symbol of spiritual authority. The point seems to be that Elisha was a great prophet and those who malign prophets are under divine judgement. This narrative would have served the dual purpose of warning children about bears and instilling in them a respect for the prophets. But is there more to this account.The bear is an ancient symbol of authority and in II Kings the appearance of two bears with Elisah points to his spiritual authority. Similarly, the appearance of Elijah and Moses with Jesus at the Transfiguration speaks of His authority as Messiah.

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In my ministry, I was often asked why does God allow bad things to happen? The implication was that God was supposed to be like a candy machine. I put in my money(prayer) and I push the button for my desired choice and I expect that I get what I want. Many Christians say, I prayed and God gave me, which sometimes frustrates those who pray but receive a negative answer.

In the case of Elisha, he called out a curse. Jesus was cursed when he was on the cross. What are the similarities? God withdrew his favor and protection. God turned away from Jesus at that moment.

I think of all the crime shows I have watched where Mr. Witness for the prosecution against the criminal says, I don’t want witness protection. I’ll risk my life on my own. Then, surprise, surprise, the witness turns up dead.

When someone curses another, s/he is asking God to remove protections and to no longer run interference.

Elisha had just saved the livelihood of the town by healing the waters, so the land could produce and they would survive. These individuals were dishonoring the servant of God, who had just saved their lives. These individuals–children of whatever ages–were allowed by their parents to dishonor the man who had just saved their lives.

Elisha withdrew the protection of God from those who chose to disrespect the representative (we have a saying don’t kill the messenger because the messenger is always the mouthpiece of their boss).

It specifically says that 42 of the boys–indicating there were more than 42 boys out there. But only some had God’s protection removed.

When the bears came out, the ones who had not received the withdrawal of protection, were able to go home to their families. But those, whose families allowed the disrespect of the servant of God, were unable to defend themselves and they had basically turned down the witness protection program.

So do we blame God, when people choose evil and then find themselves in trouble and unwilling to call upon God for protection or forgiveness?

I watched many people die during my years in the chaplaincy. There were grumpy characters, who called out nasty-grams to God. They didn’t want me around. They rejected anything I offered, much to the despair of their spouses. I respected their refusal to receive any blessing from me.

Am I to blame for respecting the person’s choice to reject God?

Is God to blame for respecting the choice of some to reject what God offers?

I don’t believe God sicced the bears on the kids.

If the bears came out after the curse, there is a correlation, but it is the difference between the boys (and I suspect their families were complicit in their disrespect of God) who chose to be protected by God and those who rejected God.

Many of the stories in the Bible operate like a zip drive. The chronology is compressed. The Bible is not a minute by minute historical account. Yet we seem to read it as if it is responsible for all bad things when they are mentioned.

We seem to prefer to treat people as if they are robots/computers GIGO (God chooses the good and inflicts the bad on us and we have no choice) and not as people given freedom of choice.

There are consequences for our choices. If I drink and drive and I die in an accident, is it God’s fault I wasn’t protected? I say, ‘No.’

I am sorry for the boys–for anyone who has the bitterness in their hearts that refuses to receive the blessings of God.

Jesus’ greatest pain was when God turned away from him and he bore the consequences of all of our wrongdoing throughout the centuries–alone. A galaxy sized garbage dump was slimed on Jesus and God allowed Christ to bear the price for the rest of us. That is the curse of being on a cross–to be without God’s protection.

In all of our choices today, we must learn that when we choose to disrespect the teachings of God and bring curses (the withdrawal of God’s protection) into our environment, we should not be surprised when things go awry.

Sounds more like pantheism than atheism to me (and I don’t mean worship of the dancing goat-god, but identification that God is the Universe and the Universe is God) but I understand that pantheism may still be outside the bounds of Christianity as commonly defined.

You’re pretty safe with that assumption. Even Panentheism [which says that the universe is part of God rather than all of God, as pantheism has it] still falls short of what is meant by transcendence. To say that God is immanent with our physical universe here can almost sound like one of these flavors of pantheism to the less discriminating ear, but there is a difference. The whole notion of the incarnation is dependent on there being a transcendence. Because without that, God would already be space and time-bound with us here, no incarnation (condescension) necessary.

There is that. It should be fairly non-controversial among all of us here that our sin can and does lead to suffering -both for ourselves and for other victims too.

What goes a little deeper, though, is that there seems to be suffering beyond what is merely sourced in ours or somebody’s sin. Jesus make this clear with the healed blind man episode where he quashes the disciples’ presumption that there must have been sin involved at some point. And we could probably presume there are mixed situations of this too - where sin is involved, but the consequent suffering is even far beyond what is commensurate for that sin (such as being killed for taunting somebody). Or if you had been driving drunk and killed other innocent people on the road. You sinned, sure … but they suffered for it, and if that was to be written off as a punishing consequence for your sin, then not only did God carry out a misjustice by punishing the wrong people, but also did so far out of proportion to the crime. So there is some aspect of suffering that does not trace back to sin … not even “original sin” - for those who defend that. That, I suggest, is the suffering that attracts the most theological angst and sweat.

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