That passed. One of the things encouraging me to follow my family's trend towards unobservant agnosticism was the Book of Job. Most of the commentaries that I had read before my lapse, and the ones that I have since read, on the Book of Job concentrated upon Job's suffering. Some of the more critical ones debated the question of why faithful Job was made to suffer at length. Even as a credulous teenager, this seemed to be missing the point entirely.
And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand." So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house; and there came a messenger to Job, and said, "The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them; and the Sabe'ans fell upon them and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, "The Chalde'ans formed three companies, and made a raid upon the camels and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house; and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness, and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you." (Job 1: 12-19)
To summarize: In order to win a debate with Satan, God killed Job's ten children and dozens of servants in order to test him. The legitimacy of the test, or the debatable pointlessness of God's bed, isn't what disturbed me. What made me uncomfortable was the fact that, in order to make a point, God killed a very large number of people only peripherally involved with the question at hand. The Book of Job says nothing about whether or not Job's children deserved to get crushed, or about the desirability of burning or hacking Job's servants to death. Unless we Christians and other Peoples of the Book are supposed to believe that human beings are so reprehensible that they deserve to be put to death at God's whim, in the Book of Job God killed an impressive number of innocent human beings just to make a point, to Job and to his society. As David Byrne sang of New York City's hot and dangerous summer of 1977, "Psycho killer, qu'est que c'est?"
I wonder if I shouldn't have been surprised by the popularity, among Christians and Muslims alike, of apocalyptic literature. After all, we all come from a tradition where God is described as having a serial killer's mentality. I hope that I'm wrong; I hope that I've missed out on some critical commentary. As aggressively and happily secular as I am, there's still a significant part of me that yearns for the certainty of religious faith. If I haven't, though ... Enough said.