Roy Summers provides interesting perspective on the bear mauling recorded in 2 Kings 2. His post, I Can't Believe Because God Allowed 42 Boys to be Mauled by Bears, includes his analysis of the event and a very helpful summary of how our attitudes toward any text affects our understanding. I'll repost that section here.
Friend or foe?
I remember reading Lance Armstrong's biography long before he 'fessed up. His arrogance (an opinon recently justified) quickly put me off and from that point onwards I was not friendly - or neutral - towards the book. How you read this story will depend in part whether you are hostile to the text (the Bible) before you begin. If you are hostile, you'll make no allowances and fail to make any real effort to understand.
A second factor which will shape our attitude to the text: do we think the standards of our day are the right ones? In other words, if we assume that our attitudes and mores are right, then we will judge the text from our standpoint. What if our attitudes are actually wrong? What if we allow the text to judge us and our mores? What if, in fact, that is exactly what we are meant to do: be corrected?
Are we judging from a safe (and rare) historical bubble?
It is extremely easy to judge other nations from the comfort of a country in which there are policemen, wealth, health and justice. We look at the unfolding violence of the 'Arab Spring' and think that put in the same situation we wouldn't do the same sorts of things. But that is to forget the wonderfully safe bubble we enjoy in the West and from which we observe the world. Most of the world, for most of history (both past and I would predict future) has experienced violence and brutality, without 'police' or 'justice' as the norm. From such a standpoint, violence is the norm. This does not justify violence, but it does help us to see how easily we tend to judge any form of physical violence or punishment harshly.