Question 28:

If Allah loves humanity, then why does he send so many prophets? Why has he allowed people from all religions to kill each other for thousands of years? And on top of that, in the Torah (OT) Allah even gives such commands as Kill all the people in this city! How can one then say that God loves humanity?


Answer: (This answer is largely based on an essay on the question of violence in the Old Testament by Prof. Dr. Norbert Lohfink from the Philosophical-Theological University Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt.)

1. The sending of prophets is viewed by both the Koran as well as the New Testament as an expression of Gods mercy. Even though the people keep forgetting God and repeatedly transgress or even distort Gods commandment, in his goodness God keeps sending them prophets. They have the mission to remind the people of God and his laws, and to remind the people that, as Gods creation, they owe their complete existence to God and are therefore obligated to obey Gods instructions and to answer to him at the Last Judgment. Above all, the prophets remind the people of the commandment that human life is sacrosanct, that they are duty bound to exercise justice and to particularly respect the rights of the poor and the defenseless.

The Bible too devotes a lot of space to the sending of the prophets. The New Testament presents Jesus’s mission as the conclusion and the absolute pinnacle of the series of prophets. See Hebrews 1:1-4: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs (See Hebrews 1:1-2). In this way God reveals in Jesus Christ his love of humanity in a way that surpasses all purely human understanding. Read the introduction to the Theme: The Heart of Christianity, part III, 2.

2. The second part of the question concerns what role violence takes in the Bible and how the Biblical message of non-violence is to be correctly interpreted. Firstly, a fundamental principle needs to be stated, namely, that the Bible supports a world of peace and not violence. This needs to be explicitly stated since there are always voices that accuse the monotheistic religions, especially Christianity, of intolerance, yes, even of introducing war into our world. It is important to make a distinction here. There is a responsibility that we humans pursue peace. But there is also a complementary divine covenant: God promises there will be peace in the story of humanity. However, something is immediately added. God does not promise this to all people at the same time. This covenant applies above all to a particular people. It is a messianic people. Only through these people can peace reach all humanity. In this way already a decisive motive for the entire Biblical theology of peace and violence is already given: The role of Gods people for solving a problem of violence. This is stated right at the beginning here.

The exposure of violence in Biblical prehistory, Genesis 1-11.

Biblical prehistory does not consist of hypotheses on Big Bang or on the evolution of humanity out of the animal kingdom or the discovery of fire, but consists of stories told in images. These images, put at the beginning of history, do not actually tell what happened only once at the beginning, but such initial stories present what is always the case everywhere. Thus, fundamental statements are made here. They apply to all people in all times.

Prehistorical stories in this form existed and exist everywhere. If you compare prehistorical stories of different peoples, then you discover substantial differences, however. Thus, for example, in the prehistorical stories of Mesopotamia there are two main themes, namely, that man is damned to toil and to work, and the question of overpopulation. However, in the Bible the main theme is humanity’s propensity for violence. That may come as a surprise to us. We do not appreciate enough that the story of paradise and the fall from grace by no means end with the banishment from paradise, but only with the story of Cain. And, furthermore, that the story of Cain does not end when Cain murders his brother Abel but only ends with the song by Lamech at the end of Genesis chapter 4. Human original sin is no initial sin but is a prototypic sin. And as such it has a double aspect: the God to Man aspect illustrates the sin in paradise, the detachable aspect from this, namely, Man to Man is illustrated in Chapter 4 in the story of Cain and Abel. Of course, a murder can only be presented in the second generation of humankind. Disobedience against God and fratricide are the two sides of the same coin. As soon as trust in God no longer has the upper hand, then trust as the basis of human relationships also disappears. Then rivalry is created and this tends to end in the destruction of rivals through violence.

Of course what is most important about the story of Cain is not the presentation of facts, but what happens next: For God protects Cain from the consequences of the first act of violence. In the long term the consequences would result in an ever-increasing circle of violence. God introduces the first restraint on violence: the vendetta. It is above all a preventative institution. The threat of revenge is the means to control violence. From this first human institution, within a few short sentences, the story of Cain creates the entire history of human culture and civilisation. We cannot illustrate here how the story of the Flood (Genesis 6:11-13), with its main character Noah, develops this topic in a second telling.

In any case, we can summarise that from Biblical prehistory the tendency to resolve problems through the use of force is one of the basic constant factors in the fate of humankind and that the control of violence through the threat of counter-violence, which is recognised also in today’s world as the only effective solution, is indispensable to achieving peace between people, yes, this is God’s will. In this Biblical prehistory the foundations are laid for how leaders, and the ethicists that advise them, think about how the ever recurring tendency to violence can be limited by the ever maintained threat of counter violence, and at the end of the day that they recognise that there is no other solution beyond the penalty of force. That is, if you like, the solution of the problem of violence shown in the story of Cain and story of Noah in the Book of Genesis.

Are we thus at the end of the Biblical statement on violence? On the contrary: the Bible is now only just beginning to give its real testimony. Does God really want to leave it at this second-best world which ultimately is unable to cope with violence and frequently becomes a hell of violence? In the story of the Flood a new divine principle of action already becomes clear: When creation has got out of hand, then God does not try to change everything. Rather, he grasps at a single point and starts something new from here. The entire earth was destroyed but there was Noah. Thus God pulled him out, saved him from the destruction and started again with him. He dealt with Abraham in the same way. Within the midst of entire humanity God sets a group in motion, starting with Abraham, that is to bring about peace on a higher level, no longer through the penalty of force. Their peace is actually the only peace that can be named as such in the full sense of the word. God creates a chosen people as a place of true peace.

The first problem that arises here is that of the unique way. Is not God concerned for all his people? Particularly in a world dominated by global thinking and acting, should we not always be thinking in terms of all humanity? Why does God choose a single family, then a single race and has a unique story with them? It is significant in this connection that the building of the Tower of Babel is told directly before the calling of Abraham. Building the tower was an attempt from below to act at once on behalf of all humanity. That became an action against heaven, against God and it ended in the confusion of the languages, that is, in unrest. Although the new beginning with Abraham is with an individual, his aim is for all of humanity, however. The texts in Isaiah 2 and Micah 2 that speak of the swords that will be beaten into ploughshares or the spears into pruning forks show the final hope of the journey that was initiated with Abrahams calling. Both prophets see a vision of the Jerusalem won for God in the distant future. Then Mount Zion will tower over all the mountains of the world. In plain language: then the people of Abraham will have become a society that all other peoples will be able to look up to in fascination. They set out towards Jerusalem in order to learn there what a just society looks like. The instruction that they receive there is this, to relinquish force of arms to enforce justice. This renunciation is not achievable unless through the fascination with a people already transformed by God, who demonstrate in their radiant existence that such a thing is at all possible.

However, the bringing together of these two texts that are far apart in the Bible also shows that it concerns a long and perhaps often injured story. In principle, this people that God wants to transform into his inner historical model society, must endure an almost interminable and painful conversion process that leads it to a new relationship with violence. For a start, it must learn to see to what degree the human world is shaped by violence. The Bible rips away the veil spanned by violence. In the Bible one does not look away from violence, one looks at it. And all that is not uncovered only in other races but in Israel itself. After all, Israel comes from a world of violence, it separated itself from violence only slowly, and it lapsed into it time and again. Now this is not glossed over in the Bible but is called by name. And thus it can seem to us that especially the Old Testament is a book seeped in violence and bloodshed. The reader who does not understand what is happening here can be downright shocked and can be tempted to turn to other religious books that sound milder. But that is precisely the point: that one lets oneself be led by the Bible and with its help be able to understand our own attachment to violence. What makes it more difficult is that in the books of the Old Testament we are not looking back from a summit that we have reached, but are walking together with Israel to some extent. And it is a fact that our own understanding of the world is linked to our picture of God. Whoever worships violence from the depths of his heart also projects a picture of God with violent characteristics. We experience that through Israel in the Old Testament and it is important that we go through this stage for we are not so very different.

In order for the existing human societies, that are held together by violence, to function it is necessary to draw a veil over violence as far as possible. Thus, the first step of the Old Testament towards a world free from violence was to expose the fact that excising violence determines our reality, and also the reality in Israel. For this reason, the Old Testament says more about violence than other national or religious literature. The violence towards, inside and by Israel is told without restraint in the Old Testament writings. That should be valued positively. Whoever sees this differently needs to ask themselves whether they want to contribute to stabilising certain violent structures by drawing a veil over violence. A further step towards exposing society’s propensity to violence occurs when violence is seen as the central human sin.

Whereas the first step towards teaching Israel to become a peaceful society was to make violence, as a reality in our lives, apparent in the first place, the second step was to denounce violence. Violence is denounced, it is condemned, and there are calls for us to relinquish violence. This takes place particularly in the books of the major prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel). These especially point out the inner relationship between violence, on the one hand, and injustice and a lack of solidarity, on the other. The disadvantaged and the defenceless are in every society. One way or another, it will always lead to unequal opportunities and prospects in life. According to Biblical perception, justice and therefore peace are only possible in a society when the strong help the defenceless. Only then does a society become a just society. The will for reconciliation must accompany justice and solidarity. We are often responsible for the tensions and mutual harsh treatment that arise, but this can also come about without any culpability on our part. The question is, how one deals with that and whether society is ruled by the will to always renew its commitment to meet halfway and to forgive.

The people of Israel had to learn these links slowly and painfully. It was Israel’s learning process towards achieving peace. It concerned experiences that came about only in the catastrophe of the Babylonian exile when all of Israel’s own power and national glory had collapsed. It is the realisation that it is better to be a victim than to be a violent conqueror. It grows in the further realisation that such peace that surpasses the peace in our world, that is ever threatened with the fall into violence, can only come from the victims and not the conquerors. This peace cannot be expected from us humans. It is only possible as Gods miracle.

All this becomes a collective experience in exile. Israel has fallen into this national decline through its own fault. Somewhere along the line all is overturned and the victorious people have become perpetrators of violence. The whole of Israel is now a victim and awaits rescue from its God. At that time the insight developed that in just such a situation God wanted to intervene in history through Israel in the peoples of the world once more. And it is precisely there that one of the most remarkable texts of the Old Testament, the so-called 4th Suffering Servant song, is found (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). It is the highpoint of the Old Testaments theology of peace, but at the same time it has somehow remained an erratic block. Its full profundity was first understood at the time of the New Testament in terms of Jesus’s fate. The servant of God that always resurfaces as an image in the second half of the Book of Isaiah, is described as an individual person, but in connection with the Book is just as clearly a symbolic figure for the people of Israel as Zion’s wife, who is always mentioned. The statements made regarding the figure of Gods servant and the role of the people of Israel amongst all peoples are then messianic in the sense that the people of Israel will find their highest embodiment in the future Messiah.

Thus, according to the Suffering Servant song, the peoples of the world have conspired against this servant of God. They beat him and tortured him, and finally they killed him. But, just as the lamenter in the song of lament, he finds refuge in his God. He does not hit back, he accepts the escalating violence against himself and does not avoid it. And God accepts him. Suddenly we hear in the 4th Suffering Servant song the avowal by other peoples and by the kings of the world. They acknowledge their own complicity in what happened. The one who was killed bore the sins of the world. But God saved him and let true peace come into the world through him and his fate. Through him Gods plan for history will succeed. From this servant of God who is from the people of Israel, it is now also possible for the other peoples of the world to pursue a new path of justice, free from violence, towards true peace.

The highpoint of this story is reached in the death and resurrection of the true servant of God, the son of man: Jesus, the Messiah. In him is fulfilled what was initiated in Israel’s history. Now, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, Gods will for peace in the world is accomplished, and what is more, through the one that did not conquer violence with violence but instead, through a lack of violence, makes possible a new society of true peace, even though it cost him his life.

In brief: With regard to freedom of will, God made it possible for the world, just as it is, to conquer violence with violence. However, he also offered the world a greater peace through his chosen people, his Messiah and his Church. It is a peace that the world cannot give. It comes about through the free believing-hoping-loving participation in the non-violent suffering and death and resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. One can grasp this and live it in the freedom of belief and mutual trust. The more people do this, the better for the peace in the world in general.

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J. Prof. Dr. T. Specker,
Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll,

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