Now, before anyone gets too alarmed, I’m not a fan of violence. I have never watched “The Passion of the Christ” because of the graphic violence. Nor do I like sermons that dwell on the details of the torture Christ endured before and during the Crucifixion.

But I have known people who simply say, “I avoid all stories with violence.” It sounds good, but there are so many problems with it. A common retort is that the Bible is full of violence–and it surely is. From the ambush and murder of Abel in Genesis 4 through the plagues of Revelation, Bible stories involve a lot of violence.

And its not all presented in abstract, antiseptic language. I don’t like violence, so I won’t list in detail the many types of violence in the Bible. But read the story of David and Goliath. David doesn’t just kill Goliath long distance with his slingshot. In fact, the story doesn’t indicate that Goliath is killed by the stone. It does knock him down. But David rushed over and finished the giant off:

“David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword” (1 Sam. 17:51).

We pass over much of the violence in Scripture and sanitize it in our minds, but it’s there. And its often graphic. If you still doubt that, just read about Ehud’s assassination of the king of Moab.

And then there’s sex. Whew! The explicit sexual content of the Song of Songs makes many wonder why the book is included in the canon. And there’s the whole business with Tamar and Judah, Amnon and a different Tamar. When one understands the symbolism and figures of speech, even the story of Ruth and Boaz is risque.

Witchcraft and the occult also can be found, with the apparition of the deceased Samuel rising before the eyes of Saul.

What to make of all this? The first things to fall are more rigid rules. Obviously, we cannot advocate Bible study and insist that we avoid stories that include violence, sex, and witchcraft. If we believe the Bible is the word of God, then God had his hand over the selection and portrayal of the stories in it. We don’t know better than God–though it’s a basic temptation to think we do. So where does this leave us?

Rather than give my answers in this post, I’ll give my readers some time to think about it and respond with comments, dissent, or questions.

Next time I’ll offer part of my solution.