An extended review of the 2023 book by Matthew J. Lynch
Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.
IVP Academic, 2023. 256 pages. $34 (ebook $30)
Violence is everywhere prevalent in our world today, from school shootings to child abuse, to nation against nation. It’s regular fare in nearly every news broadcast. It’s insidious. So then, who writes a book on violence in the Bible, and why? This was my initial question when I began to read this book.
I soon became painfully aware of the answer to my question. Matthew Lynch is a well-respected theologian and gifted writer. His theological attention for many years has been the Old Testament, and his focus audience has primarily been students. However, this particular book seems to have been generated as a result of a difficult and brutally honest series of conversations with a new neighbour who had deep faith issues because of his encounters with violence in the Bible. Those conversations did not resolve his neighbour’s faith issues, and sadly he left the faith.
These frank, sincere, open conversations prompted Lynch to ask himself why so often churches and pastors do not teach and preach about the tough passages of the Old Testament that seem to present God as a violent God. Thus began a masterly investigation and detailed exegesis of those difficult passages of Scripture like the Genesis flood and the Joshua destruction of Jericho.
As Lynch indicates, this book is for churches who need help dealing with violence in Scripture; those who disciple individuals with the same concerns; and those who have friends on the fringe of the faith who cannot seem to get past the problem of violence and a God who either initiates or condones it.
In this timely volume, Lynch seeks to answer the nagging questions of violence and the Bible for any of us who dare to dive into them as he has.
The book, though not lengthy (mainly 225 pages), is both very readable and also scholarly. Lynch is no armchair theologian. I so appreciated his candour, honesty and unrelenting commitment to detail, as well as his exegeting of the Genesis and Joshua passages where it seems evil, violence and God’s actions and inactions dwell so heavily.
Lynch’s goal, he writes, is to “leave you saying things like, There’s far more good in these troublesome texts than I thought! Or, I’m not alone. Or, The Old Testament critiques our violence! I hope it helps you relate to a Bible, and ultimately a world, that is rife with violence, but also full of beauty and life. Most importantly, I hope the book helps you discover a God full of tender mercy and compassion at the heart of the hardest texts.”
Lynch arranges the book in four sections: A Real Problem; Shalom and its Shattering; Reading Joshua with Yeshua; and The Old Testament and the Character of God.
After diagnosing the problem of violence, he tackles the shalom of God in the creation events of early Genesis, describing how God’s good creation becomes violent with the fall and our world begins to sin out of control.
From here he explains how the flood and the purging of evil in the land of Canaan become necessary for Israel’s redemptive survival. Genesis and Joshua put violence at the heart of all that opposes creation (the good work of God), after the first act of rebellion. God’s desire throughout is to restore shalom. God both instigates and permits corrective events to this end.
Two significant Hebrew concepts need to be kept in balance in our attempted understanding of God and violence in the Bible: hesed (God’s burning compassion and steadfast love), and herem (comprehensive destruction). I appreciate how Lynch keeps these in balance in this book.
And finally, at the very end of the book, Lynch gets quite truthful with this statement: “The problem of violence in the Old Testament can’t be solved! My prayer is that the mystery of God’s ways in Scripture – expressed in the particular mystery of violence – will drive us toward the ongoing pursuit of the mysterious God who encounters us in Scripture. Though that encounter occurs shrouded in darkness, I hope that we continue to wrestle with irresolvable challenges with the hope of a blessing.”
I highly recommend this book to all who seek answers to these tough challenging questions
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