I studied the Bible the other day with a guy who posed some pretty interesting questions. For one, he asked: "If God is so 'unconditionally loving' and compassionate, then why did he wipe out entire civilizations in the Old Testament, even women and children (i.e. as in Joshua), and put conditions on when he'll show us his love (yeah, he'll show us love if we do what he commands)?" The second question stems from the first: "Since we're made in God's image, why do we have a sinful nature? And why does God punish us for something he allows to exist in us?" Just to let you know, this guy says he believes in a God, but that he doesn't see the God of the Bible as a being worthy of his worship for the above reasons. -- Ross Woods (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

The phrase "unconditional love" does not actually appear in the Bible. God does love, and we believe that he loves even those in a state of stubborn rebellion against him (Matthew 5 etc), but we do not believe, and the Bible does not teach, that man's behavior is irrelevant! Love is wanting the best for another, but it may also be covenant love: a relationship based on a covenant between the Lord and his people.

The Bible does not teach that we are born sinners, or born with a sinful nature. It does speak of "the flesh" (which is unfortunately rendered "sinful nature" in the NIV). The flesh is our tendency to go in our own strength, to rely on self instead of on God. We are born in the image of God, part of which includes freedom to choose. God does allow us to make mistakes, and he even permits us to stubbornly resist him.

I would ask him to explain more how he knows what God is like--the God he believes in. What is the basis for his confidence, if not the Bible?

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