The following is a post in a series written in letter format to the skeptical non-Christian, although it is intended for the Christian (skeptic or not) to read as well, actual skeptical non-Christians might enjoy reading this also. This is not a real conversation/letters, but simply a way to engage several issues of faith as well as objections showing how Christians might be able to engage various objections also…
The following post is the last in a series of posts, if you haven’t read the first 2 posts in this series, it will help in understanding this last post. Click these links for the previous posts Letters to the Skeptic (pt.1) or Letters to the Skeptic (pt.2).
Well, there is the issue of slavery in the Bible which although doesn’t seem to promote slavery, doesn’t exactly come down on it either. In light of that, it’s been said that it does promote slavery. The concept of praying for leaders, even if they are corrupt, and trusting them to execute judgment seem like an awful lot of submissiveness going on in the Bible. Then, there’s wives submitting to husbands. There’s a runaway slave being asked to return to his master. There is a massive liberation and exodus from the Egyptians in the Old Testament, but there are still servants and slaves by those liberated. There are expectations for the Hebrew people in the Law, but also expectations for the servants or slaves of the people as well. It does seem like an indirect endorsement of slavery by God. The Bible seems like a muddied thing when looking at this issue in the Old and New Testaments, but let’s see if we can filter out what is being said about people and about God.
First, it should be said that although we might disagree on this issue, I’m going to clarify what the Christian believes. If we still disagree, that’s okay. We don’t need to be clones, but at least you will understand from a Christian where we stand on the issue. Yes, I know when I say “we” that is broad generalization as we are pretty fragmented, it’s true. What I mean by “we” is the majority of orthodox Christians believe this, not the entirety as there are extremes. There extreme stereotypes on your side as well. Christians couldn’t understand everything about an atheist by looking at the works and life of Richard Dawkins. It’s like Robin Williams in the movie Good Will Hunting when counseling Will says, “You’re brilliant, there’s no denying that, and if were to ask you about art you’d probably tell me about Michaelangelo and different periods of art and favorite works, but I bet you couldn’t tell me what it would be like to stand in the Sistine Chapel and look up at that or describe the smell there…”
Christians believe that slavery is sinful and a result of sin coming into the world in Genesis 3. A consequence of sin is slavery which is even described by the relationship of Adam and Eve after the fall into sin. Then, from there on you have more extreme examples in the Bible about slavery. You have the Egyptians with slaves, you have the Hebrew people from the beginning, Abram and Sarai, with slaves. When God intervenes and confronts people, it’s not about slavery, but about idolatry and worshipping Him. Why is that? Christians believe that this is because all sin comes from idolatry, that moral issues have a root in a theological heart problem that stems from replacing the Creator with the creature or something else. In the case of slavery, it’s worshipping power and the self, whereas, God should be worshipped and we should be humble as we are not God even if we want to pretend we are. The Bible seems to be in favor of acknowledging who God is with a healthy fear simultaneously acknowledging that you are not God, being humble. When sinful people do not do this, the humility falls by the wayside and pride and power manifest in their lives as they seek to boast in themselves as opposed to God. Then, people start treating themselves as little gods, and expect others to bow to their greatness, their glory. In the Old Testament, God calls people who are sinful to trust Him and follow Him, but even at that point they are not perfect. As they trust Him and follow Him, their faith grows in God, but they still struggle and their faith is still imperfect and being perfected as they live. This shows that God loves people despite their sinful imperfections, but God is also holy and righteous and cannot allow sin to go unpunished as that would reflect upon His character as being unjust. God seems to be gracious enough to love people despite their sin, but there is also a point where God steps in to judge people as they have gone too far.
What does all this have to do with slavery? It means that Christians believe God is against slavery as slavery has come into the world through sin, making people captive to sin, slaves to it. People promote slavery, but that is because people are sinful. God loves them despite their sin, but it seems that as people grow closer to God by faith the sin in their lives gradually decreases and is removed. Oppressive slavery such as the Egyptians promoted and that early part of American history (and even today in sweat shops around the world as was common in the US industrial revolution with child labor and minimal rights for women workers), this is sinful and against God, as it is sinning against others depriving them of their freedom as a human being. However, they would only be free in a limited way being sinful and living in a sinful world full of other sinful people. With the runaway slave in the New Testament, the concern was more that the runaway slave would return to his master in order to be a better witness to him for Christ, and that through his witness, his master might come to know Christ and free him on good terms. So, there are passages that have been twisted by others to paint God and the Bible in a dark, and cruel way, but I know, you’re right, there are some difficult passages in the Bible.
Americans used the Bible to support slavery as Americans used the Bible to abolish slavery, as did the English. The problem lies not in the Bible or with God, but with people. Sinful people who desire to twist the Bible for their own selfish benefit. The Bible is primarily about freedom and liberty in Jesus Christ from the bondage to sin, the rule of sin in a person’s life. The Exodus points to this massive liberation, and the gospels unfold this liberation as a ‘New Exodus’ in Jesus Christ. The Bible is more in favor of abolishing slavery and promoting freedom than it is slavery. This is what Christians believe, but as I said before, we may disagree and there might still be problems with things. I don’t have all the answers to everything, but God has given me a little wisdom and understanding in regards to Scripture, the Bible, and I am simply trying to explain from a Christian viewpoint about what could be a potential objection that you may have.
I respect and appreciate your objections and questions, they help me to better understand my own faith and to be more clear in articulating the finer points of my faith and the Bible. I don’t know if anything I have said will help you to believe what I believe, but I hope you get from this that we Christians do have answers to some of these objections. They might not be answers you want to hear or as intellectually satisfying, but it’s what I believe. If you are about being ‘tolerant’ of others’ beliefs, I ask that you please be tolerant of my beliefs as opposed to only being tolerant for beliefs you agree with. By the way, technically, that’s actually intolerance, not tolerance.
If by tolerance you mean accepting beliefs that I disagree with as true, then that would mean denying what I believe to be true in the first place. It would also mean that I would be intolerant of those who had a view different than my own as I would then have to promote the view that all is true and none are individually, exclusively true, which is quite an intolerant thing to do or say. Someone once came up to me and told me they believed in God, but they also believed in other religions as well and held that all are equally valid paths to God. The trouble with imposing inclusivity on an exclusive faith is that you’re being exclusive to inclusivity itself and excluding those that are not exclusive, which contradicts itself as well as that of many exclusive faiths that one supposedly affirms. You already know this though, I know, just wanted to be clear on that.
We may disagree about a number of things, but I hope you know that although we disagree there is no reason we cannot be civil with one another and still be friends. You believe I am wrong and I believe you are wrong, so what? Let’s not throw sticks and stones at one another, after all, Jesus said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” I have my flaws and struggles, no doubt. I don’t believe that you as a non-Christian are sinful or a sinner while I being a Christian am sinless and perfect. As a Christian, I believe only God is perfect and that’s part of the beauty of the Gospel. God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to rescue sinful people like us, not just to change our morality and behavior on the outside, but to transform the root of the problem which is in our hearts.
I thank you, Skeptic, for reading my long letter/s, and look forward to hearing your response in the future. Maybe we can grab coffee or do lunch. Until then, take care and thank you for your questions. They helped me and I hope my answers, as brief as they were I know, might have helped a little as well.