Clearing up conundrums
In a recent letter to the editor (March 1), Oren Piper asked for a rational explanation for several conundrums in the Bible. In what follows, I will explain these.
The first conundrum was the severity of the curses in Deuteronomy 28:52-53 and 58-60. The reason they are so extreme is because the severity of a penalty often reflects the importance of the person offended. A local murderer may be found by the police and imprisoned for several years; a presidential assassin may go on the FBI's most wanted list and receive a life sentence. Since God is the one offended (and he had earlier made clear to Israel the importance of His majesty), the penalty is extremely severe. In addition, the punishment is revolting so that the people do not commit the crime.
The second conundrum is about why and if God created bacteria, parasites, viruses, etc. Biblically, as Piper noted, God did create these. Notably, some of these organisms are not harmful -- bacteria aid in human digestion and some herpes viruses are used to suppress HIV. Why, then, do they become harmful? The Christian answers this question with the idea of human sin. God punished humanity for violating his commands by making creation difficult for humanity to work in and making death a reality (Genesis 3:17-21). As a result, all causes of death came into the world, including changes in created things to make them lethal. God did not initially create them to destroy humanity.
The final conundrum is the question of how to reconcile Ezekiel 18:4 and 2 Samuel 24:15. If "the soul that sins shall die," why was David not individually punished for his sin? Strangely, David was asked to choose between three punishments with collective effects. Individual punishment wasn't an option. Second, in David's choice he makes clear that he believes God will be more merciful than any human (2 Samuel 24:14), choosing either disease or famine, and God sends the briefer punishment. In Ezekiel 18, the issue is that Judah was attempting to avoid individual responsibility for the sins they had committed; that is the point of the proverb in verse two. The statement that "the soul that sins shall die" is a reassertion of individual responsibility in a different context. Because the context is different, the two passages have nothing to do with each other.
I hope I brought some clarity. Thanks for asking!