An image is burned into my memory: an incandescent lamp on my mother's night stand illuminating the open pages of her well-worn Bible. Though teetering toward the sentimentality of a Thomas Kinkade painting, this image reaches as far back as my childhood memories allow. My fundamentalist upbringing was Bible-saturated. Whatever the limitations of this "saw-dust trail" ecosystem were, the love of Scripture was not one of them.

It came as a surprise, then, when my pious mother confessed to me some years later her discomfort with the God of the Old Testament. God in the Old Testament seems a bit cranky, she confided, whereas in the New Testament his hard edges have worn off. My first thought after hearing her honest confession was: Et tu, Mater? My second, properly re-directed thought was: Curse you, Marcion!

In fairness to my mother, I teach enough in local churches and hear enough banter on the Bible to recognize that her feelings are common. Devoted, Bible-believing folks hem and haw regularly around this issue. Admittedly, there is enough fodder in the Old Testament for such sentiments. It's the severity of God that frightens us, and the Old Testament is rife with it. Sure, the Lord is Israel's shepherd, but when he steps off his throne and places his foot on the mountains, they melt under the heat of his anger (Mic. 1). How exactly does a "rod" comfort me?

John Updike's literary creation, the Reverend Clarence Wilmot, gave up his theism after reading Robert Ingersoll's Some Mistakes of Moses. The hurdles of belief became too high in light of Moses' God and the evils of our world. Reverend Wilmot is not the first or the last to crack under this strain.

One option for avoiding ...

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