# When God kills the Innocent

A Christian reader named Paul wrotes to me from New Zealand with the following common question.  With permission, I am posting his question and my answer on my blog.

St. Paul writes:

A few months ago I discovered your blog via the Biologos website. It has been a real encouragement for me to read your articles and I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything that I've read.

Anyway, a Church friend and I have been meeting up every few weeks to have discussions about tricky issues in Christianity and something that has come up (and was always bound to...) is the depictions of God in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God is often depicted as acting violently and sometimes in ways that can seem barbaric. For example, God gives instructions for the Israelites to kill people. Likewise, an atheist friend of mine was shocked when I referred to God as "just" because he had just read about the exodus and the plagues.

The issue for me is not that God doesn't have a right to judge/ punish guilty people (for example the Canaanites), but the fact that innocent people are also involved in some of these situations. For example children and babies. In some verses they seem to be explicitly mentioned (i.e. 1 Samuel 15:3). I realise this is only a single example, but there are one or two other examples that are quite easy to find.

The most common response of Christians seems to be that God created all of us and therefore He can do whatever He wants. I agree that God is sovereign, but these actions seem inconsistent with the nature of God revealed clearly in Jesus.

I have some ideas about what to make of it all, but I thought that I would ask you what you make of these sorts of verses? I realise that you must be very busy (and you don't know me!) so please don't feel obligated to reply! However, if you have the time and the inclination I would really appreciate it.

This is a tricky problem in theology, isn't it!  But it isn't just an Old Testament vs. New Testament thing.  The following verses are all God speaking in the Old Testament:

1. "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Ex. 20:5-6)
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2. "My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out." [including the children, as other parts of Scripture make clear] (Ex. 23:23)
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3. "Fathers are not to be put to death for their children or children for their fathers; each person will be put to death for his own sin.  Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child, and do not take a widow's garment as security.  Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore I am commanding you to do this." (Deut. 24:16-18)
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4. "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them." (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

The tension lies within the pages of Hebrew Scripture itself.  We have to understand in what sense all of these Scriptures can be true.

The Righteousness of God

Let me start by demolishing the idea that "God created all of us and therefore He can do whatever He wants."  If this were true, there would be no meaning in saying that God is just and righteous in how he treats us.  It wouldn't allow us to predict anything whatsoever about what he would do.  Yet St. Abraham—our father in faith—pleads for Sodom and Gommorah by asking: "Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25).  God does not respond by saying "Whatever I do is just by definition".  Rather, he grants Abraham's requests, and goes beyond them to ensure that, in this case, the innocent are not punished alongside the guilty.  The fact that God is just, implies that there are some things which he won't do—because they are unfair.

Because of this, I reject any "divine command theory" in which morality is simply a matter of what God happens to arbitrarily command.  No, morality is rooted in God's own character, in his essential and immutable goodness and love!

As St. Geroge MacDonald wrote:

If you say, That may be right of God to do which it would not be right of man to do, I answer, Yes, because the relation of the maker to his creatures is very different from the relation of one of those creatures to another, and he has therefore duties toward his creatures requiring of him what no man would have the right to do to his fellow-man; but he can have no duty that is not both just and merciful.  More is required of the maker, by his own act of creation, than can be required of men. More and higher justice and righteousness is required of him by himself, the Truth;--greater nobleness, more penetrating sympathy; and nothing but what, if an honest man understood it, he would say was right.  If it be a thing man cannot understand, then man can say nothing as to whether it is right or wrong.  He cannot even know that God does it, when the it is unintelligible to him.  What he calls it may be but the smallest facet of a composite action.  His part is silence.  (Unspoken Sermons)

St. MacDonald himself was famously unwilling to accept any doctrine (however much theologians might claim it was supported by Scripture) that would paint God's character in a bad light.  I myself take a more conservative point of view regarding the reliability of Scripture, but this does not change the fact that, as I wrote in another post:

The doctrine that God is good is more fundamental even than the doctrine that the Scriptures are inspired.  So that if it were necessary to choose between them (which it is not!) one should certainly pick the former over the latter.  This is the faith of Abraham, who lived before any part of our current Bible was written.

Even Abraham, when he God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, started to obey God only because he believed that God intended it for good.  As the New Testament interprets the story:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.  (Hebrews 11:17-19)

And this interpetation can be shown to be reasonable in the original text based on Abraham's own words:

He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”  (Genesis 22:5, emphasis added)

In other words, Abraham believed that Isaac would somehow be returned to him, even after having been sacrificed.  He made the decision to interpret even God's most terrible command in a way that was consistent with his goodness, and faithfulness to his promises.  In this way he is a microcosm of our decision, whether to obey God even when it may (falsely) appear that he is acting malevolently towards us, or another person.

Furthermore, as Christians, we interpret the entire Bible (as well as all the evil that appears in the world) in light of the love which Jesus showed on the Cross.  Jesus is the highest revelation from God, the place where God's character becomes most clear.  Every other place in the Bible (especially the Old Testament, where God was revealing himself in a more imperfect way to people at a lower stage of spiritual development) must be interpreted in light of this.

So in light of all this, what do we make of passages in which, e.g. God orders the genocide of various ancient Caananite tribes?

Wrestling with the text in silence is one possible answer, as St. MacDonald suggests above.  But I think there are at least a few things that can be said, from our own limited human perspective.  (If nothing else, we can always remind ourselves just how limited our own perspective must be, in comparison with that of God, who sees everything!)  As the sovereign Lord who loves humankind, God's orders to kill simply cannot be regarded as being at all similar to that of a human murderer.  This is true for at least four reasons:

I. God has rightful authority over human life, humans do not

God IS the ruler of the universe.  This gives him the authority to make decisions which ordinary human beings are not allowed to make.  Just like an earthly Governor or Judge has authority to do some things which ordinary citizens don't have the right to do, God has the authority to do anything, i.e. any type of act.  For example, everything belongs to God, so when he takes things from us it is not stealing, but doing what he likes with his own property.  Similarly, if God kills people it is not murder, because our lives belong to him (Deut. 32:39).

(This does not, I think contradict the point of the previous section, in which I rejected the theory in which morality reduces to arbitrary divine commands.  The scope of authority is different from how one uses that authority.  God has the authority to do anything, precisely because, since he is perfectly good, he never abuses this authority, but only does what is just and right.)

Note that, as the ruler of the universe God actually kills everyone.  All people are mortal, some of them die young, and God is responsible for this state of affairs.  Sometimes he does it miraculously in order to make a special point, but more often it he causes it to happen naturally.  Before I ask whether I can trust a God who killed the Caananite children, I first need to ask whether I can trust a God who will kill ME.  As Christians, we trust that God is using death as a tool in order to turn us into the people he wants us to become.  Partly, we trust him because he came to Earth as Jesus, and died for us on the Cross, so he isn't asking us to suffer anything which he hasn't gone through himself.

II. God is always benevolent, human killers are not

God's motivations for killing people are not the same as that of a human murderer.  Most of the time, people kill other people out of hatred, because they want something bad to happen to them, or because they don't care about them.  But God solemnly swears to us that this is not why he does it. "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live" (Ezekiel 33:11)

To illustrate this: Suppose that a baby is very sick and a surgeon cuts his chest open in order to operate on his heart and save his life.  Now the surgeon's act of cutting open the baby cannot be regarded as being in the same moral world as if he were a Nazi, cutting open the baby's chest cavity out of callous indifference.  It is in fact totally the opposite because it is done with the intention of healing, rather than harming, the innocent.

Now Jesus is "the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25).  So when he chooses to take a child to himself (ending its earthly life), this is because he is able to give it a heavenly life which is far superior to anything it would have on Earth, in the bosom of the Father who cares for him.  If we have faith in God, then we must believe that whenever he takes the life of an innocent person, he is much more like the diligent surgeon, then he is anything like the Nazi.  In other words, we believe that he is acting for the good of the person concerned.

Since we on this side of the curtain of death and can only speculate about what is on the other side, we do not have any such authority over the lives of our felow human beings.  God expects us to obey the commandment "Do not murder", which means that, apart from exceptional situations (just war, punishment for crime, etc) we are not to kill other human beings.  However, this situation does not obtain in biblical situations where God himself orders people to kill, since there God is exercising his own authority over life and death, and is using the humans involved only as his instruments.

III. God is incorruptible, humans are not

God is unchangable.  If you or I killed somebody, we would become more violent and hateful people who would be more likely to kill someone else.  Whereas God's character, being eternal, cannot be corrupted.  Paradoxically, this means that a perfectly good being may be more likely than a good human to do bad things in order to produce good consequences.  Unlike us, he doesn't need to worry about his motivations being wrong, or it producing bad habits of character.

(This consideration does not apply completely to cases in which, rather than taking a human life himself, God orders another person to do it; since that human being could certainly be norally corrupted.  In this case, it would have been important to make sure that the humans are acting solely based on obedience to God's command, and not for the sake of the benefits they might receive.  This may be why God strictly commanded the Israelites not to take any plunder from the Canaanite cities they conquered—a rule that was enforced in Joshua 7—in order to make it clear that they were acting as agents of divine wrath on those cities, and not for personally selfish reasons.)

IV. God has complete knowledge, humans do not

God is omniscient, so he knows when a group of people have become so wicked that it would be bad for them, and for their children, and for the rest of the world, if they remain alive to keep sinning.  For example, the Canaanites sacrificed their children as part of their religion, and if God hadn't put an end to them, we might still be doing that today.  It may seem ironic that God also ordered that their innocent children be killed, but remember that they would not have remained innocent if they had been able to come to maturity.  Instead they went to Heaven, which might not have been possible if they had been corrupted by the religion of their parents.

We humans, on the other hand, have a very limited ability to guess the future.  Therefore no human being could ethically order a genocide on his own cognizance, because we are never really in a good position to be morally certain that the speculative goods arising from the elimination of a culture outweigh the immediate and obvious evils involved in killing a large cultural group.  Furthermore any such decision would almost certainly be tainted by prejudice and racism, rather than being an act of impartial justice.

Unlike humans, God is free from such favoritism (Acts 10:34), and only acts in ways that he knows are just and merciful (even if his reasons may sometimes be obscure to us).

Group vs. Individual Justice

This brings us back to the group justice vs. individual justice question.  Ultimately, I believe God is committed to bring justice and vindication to every innocent person, including those who were victims of bad circumstances.  On the other hand, God has also set up the world in such a way that our good or bad actions can have an effect on other people: if we sin against others, they are harmed, and can be tempted either to hate or to imitate us.  This is especially true in the case of our parents, who bring us into being and choose what enviornment we will come to maturity in.  Because of this strong moral influence, it is inevitable that to some extent our moral and cultural condition is inherited from others.  Alcoholic parents often have alcoholic children.  We may resist this influence and become different people than our parents, but there is a correlation which cannot be entirely removed.

As a result, in his role as Judge of the Earth, Guardian of Human Culture and Supervisor of the Gene Pool, God must necessarily engage in some amount of group justice as well as individual justice, because that is the nature of how humans propagate ourselves (and our ideas).  He does not, however, delegate this authority to us.  The ordinary Israelite judicial system was based strictly on individual actions (although even there, indirect punishment of others is inevitable: see the story in 2 Samuel 14:6-7 for an example).  Apart from this, the Israelites were also commanded to exterminate certain people groups, but had no authority to decide which ones—God provided them with a specific and limited list.

In the end, God will provide us all with individual justice.  But I think that once everything is revealed, our moral interdependence will prove to have been a means of grace.  If no innocent people ever suffered punishment for guilty people, then Christ could not have saved us, and we would be dead in our sins.  If we ourselves struggle, if sins have been transmitted to us by others, or if the punishment of others has ruined our lives as well, then what?

I think that by forgiving our forbears, and by seeking God's help for our problems, we become imitators of Jesus, as St. Peter says:

For you were called to this,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you should follow in His steps.
He did not commit sin,
and no deceit was found in His mouth;
when He was reviled,
He did not revile in return;
when He was suffering,
He did not threaten
but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.
He Himself bore our sins
in His body on the tree,
so that, having died to sins,
we might live for righteousness;
you have been healed by His wounds.
For you were like sheep going astray,
but you have now returned
to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

If Christ—the Innocent One—suffered for the sins of others and brought about the redemption of the world, then all of us who in lighter measure bear the sin of others, will also recieve through Christ this redemption.  From the the infants killed by St. Joshua for the sins of the guilty Canaanites, to the infants killed by wicked Herod in place of the innocent Christ-child, everyone who has a share in the sufferings of Christ will also rise with him in eternal glory.  This is both a justice and a mercy beyond our comprehension.

[Note: I expanded this blog post significantly on Aug 16, 2021.

Also, there are a lot of people who have read this post and comment on it solely for purposes of expressing their anger against the God of the Bible, or that anyone could believe in such a Deity.  Most of these comments don't engage in any substantive way with the things I've written.  If you wish to make an argument against this blog post, please make sure to re-read the four sections labelled I-IV and then make sure that what you are saying is actually responsive what I've written.  Thanks!—AW]

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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### 109 Responses to When God kills the Innocent

1. Jack Spell says:

Very nicely written piece.

2. Aron Wall says:

Thanks for the encouragement, Jack.

3. Jack Spell says:

No, thank you, Aron, for all of your work for the Kingdom. In addition to the high admiration I have for your blog writings, I've also thoroughly enjoyed your technical articles as well. I recently attended the Craig vs. Carroll debate at which Dr. Craig cited one of your papers; that's the way in which I came across your work. I have to say that it is very encouraging and inspiring to see someone with your level of intellect also be so ardent a Christian. I appreciate it.

4. howie says:

Hello Aaron, I just read this post and found it most interesting. But there are some points I feel I must take issue with.
Firstly you states “God IS the ruler of the universe. This gives him authority to make decisions which ordinary human beings are not allowed to make. Just like an earthly Governor or Judge has authority to do some things which ordinary citizens don't have the right to do, God has the authority to do anything,”

I don’t see how this follows. The fact that someone rules does not necessarily give them moral authority. I don’t think you would doubt that Kim Jong Un is the ruler of North Korea. But it doesn’t follow that he has legitimate authority to imprison his own population. You need to establish how authority is made legitimate and then show that god does this. Simply declaring him ruler does not achieve this.
It is certainly possible that an intelligent being created the universe but does not rule it or even communicate with it.
If Kim Jung On murders his own people, is it murder?

I also think your argument is circular; you are assuming that god is perfectly good and then stating his killing of the innocent can’t be an abuse of authority because he is perfectly good. Of course if you assume has perfectly good then that’s true. But perhaps god is not perfectly good. Surely killing innocents disqualifies him from being perfectly good. If that doesn’t, what would?

I don’t thin it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If i create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?
Killing is to deprive someone of life. If someone dies of old age, no one would say they have been killed.

The point is, by selecting, say, the first born Egyptian for premature death well before their normal mortality would have kicked in he acted unjustly. Think of the mothers crying over the death of their young children, is it just to make them go through that rather than letting the children grow up and run the normal course of their lives?

You say god is omniscient so he knows when a people have become so wicked that they and all their children should be killed. So why did the animals have to be killed as well? Were they so wicked too? I think this is a crucial point you have over looked.

You have not presented any evidence that the Canaanites really did carry out child sacrifice and even if they did why that does mean their children and animals have to be killed?
If the entire parent were killed and the children and animals adopted, cared for and loved would that mean they would still be doing child sacrifices? Do you think that there is a gene for this?

When a society does carry out child sacrifice I doubt they kill all their children, which is what god commanded the Hebrews to do, how is killing all the children better than killing some of them?

People need to be judged by their actions, judging them by which group they belong to is just another form for racism. By justifying winnowing the gene pool for dislikable groups it’s a particularly scary form of racism quite frankly.

5. Aron Wall says:

First let me address the issue of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is only an issue when you are trying to prove that an idea is true. But when somebody raises an objection to an idea you believe, and you are trying merely to prove that the idea is consistent, then in order to do that you only need to describe an account of how it could make sense. In constructing this account, it is perfectly valid and acceptable (indeed necessary) to assume for the sake of argument that the idea in question is true, to see what does and does not follow.

I do believe that there is good reason to believe that God is perfectly good, partly for philosophical reasons which I will eventually get to in my current series on “Fundamental Reality”, and partly for historical reasons having to do with the teaching, moral character, and miracles of Jesus. But the purpose of this post was not to prove that God is perfectly good. It was merely to address a purported inconsistency between God being good, and his orders to e.g. kill the Caananites. The original question was, assuming the biblical accounts of these events to be accurate, is it consistent with God being loving and good?

Now about authority. If somebody steals something from me, as a private citizen I have no political authority to imprison the thief in my basement as a punishment. Nor do I have the authority to kill somebody I believe is a murderer. Only the state has the political authority to do that (operating according to the established judicial, police or military rules suitable to the situation). Apart from exceptional circumstances such as self-defence, citizens have the moral duty not to undermine the political order by taking justice into their own hand.

Kim Jong Un is the ruler of North Korea, and as such he does have some legitimate authority which I lack, although this authority is not unlimited. For example, if one person in North Korea stole something from his neighbor, as the ruler Kim would have the authority to imprison that person as a punishment.

Now in fact Kim is a brutal and capricious tyrant. So his actions are often unjust, either because he abuses his authority (for example, by imprisoning and killing people for arbitrary or personal reasons) or because he exceeds his authority (for example, by requiring people to give him honors which belong only to God). That is tragic, but it doesn't change the fact that he is acting legitimately whenever he uses the powers of the state to punish actual wrongdoers.

Indeed, the North Korean dictatorship is so unjust that it would be morally right for him to be overthrown by a revolution and replaced by a different form of government. But even that does not change the fact that, while his power lasts, he has legitimate functions.

So in order for killing someone to be moral, it is (normally) necessary but not sufficient that the killer have the authority to do so. If I kill a murderer, you can criticize me for acting outside my authority, whereas if a lawfully convened judge and jury sentence a person to death, they cannot be criticized for acting without authority, although they might be criticized for another reason (e.g. acting on insufficient evidence). As I said, “The scope of authority is different from how one uses that authority”.

Now God has complete and perfect authority, not merely because he is the ruler and creator of the world, but also because he is completely and totally wise and good; in fact he is the source from which all other wisdom and goodness flows. Do I really need to explain why such a being would have the right to rule as well as the power to rule? (An intelligent but limited alien being, who created the universe but wasn't perfect and didn't care for it intimately, would not at all be the same situation.) God can be trusted not to abuse his authority in any way, although we in our limited knowledge may have questions and concerns about what he does. He always chooses to do what produces on balance the most good, and for this very reason may do some things which would be prohibited if you or I did them.

Now it is not extremely implausible that there have existed, in human history, some cultural groups which the world would have been better off without. But I claim that no human society has the moral authority to make this judgment, because (a) we don't have sufficient information to decide this reliably, (b) we would be morally corrupted by trying to do it, and (c) it would disrupt the international political order if people could decide to do this on their own initiative. Thus we human beings are best served by an absolute rule prohibiting genocide, with no exceptions.

But none of these three reasons (a-c) apply to God, who is omniscient, unchangable, and in charge of the human community rather than (by nature) a member of it. Thus if God were to reveal by clear and unmistakable signs (such as we read about in the Torah) that he wanted a cultural group to be wiped out, I claim that the usual reasons for prohibiting genocide would not apply. Of course, if somebody falsely claimed to have divine authority to kill people, then religious and secular people alike can agree that this would be very wrong.

But perhaps god is not perfectly good. Surely killing innocents disqualifies him from being perfectly good. If that doesn’t, what would?

If God were not perfectly good, that would be a different situation. In the context of the question, I only need to ask what a perfectly good being might do.

Killing innocents without sufficiently good reason would indicate that a being is not perfectly good. It is not necessary that the reason be one we can fully understand, although in this case God did choose to disclose some, but not necessarily all, of his reasons.

I don’t thin it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If i create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?

When you create a computer, you build it out of pre-existing materials and then it has an existence independent from you. But that is not the relationship between God and the computer. God is the power which actively sustains the computer at every moment. Not a single electron moves within its circuitry without his permission and cooperation. When it breaks down, it breaks down in accordance with his purposes and his plans in order to accomplish his purposes. Not the same.

So why did the animals have to be killed as well? Were they so wicked too? I think this is a crucial point you have over looked.

To me this seems a much lesser concern than the infants. Animals don't have the same moral status that human beings do. Even human beings have the moral authority to kill groups of animals for good cause. Presumably God ordered the destruction of the animals for the same reason as the gold and other property: to prevent the Israelities from thinking that the purpose of the genocide was to enrich themselves, and to emphasize the severity of the judgement.

You have not presented any evidence that the Canaanites really did carry out child sacrifice

No, but there is evidence. Carthage seems to have had the same culture and religion as the Canaanites, and we have independent claims from Roman sources (independent from the Bible) that the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice. Some scholars used to think this was a lie used to justify the wars, but then they dug up the graves. I have seen the Tophet in Carthage (a burial place of sacrifices) with my own eyes. (Most of the graves are animal sacrifices, but some are human infants.)

Within the biblical record, we have multiple sources telling us that the Israelites did not in fact kill all the Canaanites, and (just as Moses warned) they were led astray by the worship of Baal and Asherah, and constructed their own Tophet in Jerusalem.

If the entire parent were killed and the children and animals adopted, cared for and loved would that mean they would still be doing child sacrifices? Do you think that there is a gene for this?

No, I don't think there is a gene for sacrificing children. I imagine that God's primary objection to the Caananites was their culture rather than their genes. (I do think that God has a millions of year long genetic experiment involving the human race, so that he might well for all I know have genetic motivations for some of his decisions. But it's hard to believe that there would be any measurable selection effect on the gene pool after merely hundreds of years of wickedness.)

You could ask why God didn't ask the Israelites to just adopt all of the Canaanite children under a certain age. I don't know, but it's not hard to imagine that there would be practical difficulties given that the Israelities had children of their own, and probably were not prepared to love the Canaanite children equally. Probably they would have been more likely to end up as a permanent slave class. In any case they were not the only children in the world to die at a tender age. Since I maintain that God kills everybody, this is not a difference that matters at the level of divine action.

This would only be a “particularly scary form of racism” if I thought that any human being was equipped to make such decisions. As it is, I only have to sign off on a couple genocides long ago with no implications for any currently existing race of human beings. And even if the Canaanites did still exist today, the New Covenant message of reconciliation and forgiveness through Christ, for all cultures, would take precedence.

6. Dennis Jensen says:

I just refreshed my screen to notice that Aron has just responded to your comments, howie. But this is such an interesting and, in some critics' eyes, devastating criticism of the God of the Bible that I hope you (and Aron) don’t mind that I weigh in some comments as well. Hopefully I won’t duplicate other previous comments too much.

God is not depicted in the OT as acting “violently” and barbarically and should not be seen as such any more than our executing a criminal might be thought of as violent and barbaric. God was merely carrying out justice. Remember that God didn’t have the genocide carried out sooner because they didn’t deserve it sooner; the “wickedness of the Amorites” was not yet full (Gen 15.16). Likewise the “plagues” in Egypt were fully deserved when we recall that the Israelites were enslaved and oppressed there for hundreds of years.

But the big issue is the death of the innocent. The problem is that the innocent were certainly killed when God required, in justice, that an entire people group be destroyed.

Earthly governors and judges do not have authority to do evil; they only have the authority to carry out justice. But our creator has the right to do some things we have no right to do to each other (whether we be rulers or not). If God created us, God has the right to take our lives whenever he chooses. God did not create us with a promise that we should live forever, nor was God obligated to do so. Suffering is not in the same category as death, even if death is seen as cessation of existence. It would be evil of God to cause undeserved suffering unless God has morally justifying reason for doing so and provides equivalent compensation to the recipients of this suffering. It is not evil for God to extinguish a life.

But the Christian teaching is that, in fact, death is not our final end. Even if God has the right to cause us to cease to exist, he does not. So the innocent children who were killed when their guilty parents were also killed in the Canaanite genocide were compensated for any undeserved suffering they endured and (from my view of the teaching of scripture) are given another opportunity of life to fulfill their destiny. (It is conceivable that they could be returned to another world much like our own—maybe they will even return to this world. Some theologians think they will be admitted immediately to paradise. Whatever it is, there is no loss to the child who dies prematurely.)

The Canaanite civilization needed to be wiped out. The institutionalized evil of child sacrifice they practiced was so horrendous and culturally ingrained that it is very conceivable that God determined that the entire civilization needed to be destroyed. Thus a creator, under the above stipulations, cannot be accused of evil for commanding the Canaanite genocide or, say, the deaths of the firstborn of Egypt.

God could have destroyed the Canaanites without commanding the Israelites to do it. God could have sent a plague or, like he did millennia earlier, a flood. But in fact the Canaanite conquest was more merciful than the Flood. God gave them plenty of time, in fact 40 years, to flee before facing the doom they feared (cf. Josh 2.8-11).

Today God would not be able to command his followers to carry out a Canaanite genocide—not after we had received Jesus’ teachings. His teachings about not offending these little ones, or that of such is the kingdom of heaven, or that we have to become like children, or that what we have done to the least of these we have done to him all make it impossible that his followers should kill a child. So if God wanted a genocide like this carried out again, he would have to do it himself or use a nation which does not follow Jesus’ teachings.

You say, “I don’t think it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If I create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?”

It's not a weird definition of killing at all. God could create us so that we would never die so in fact God does take our lives by creating us to be such that we will eventually die.

Again you comment, “So why did the animals have to be killed as well? Were they so wicked too? I think this is a crucial point you have over looked.”

This statement ignores the fact that all animals also die sooner or later. God even allowed mass extinctions and the scripture speaks of these cycles of extinction and replenishing as part of the God’s wondrous creation, something which brings glory to God (see Ps 104). So animals either don’t feel pain in any significant manner as we do or God has some other plan for them which hasn’t been revealed to us because it isn’t really any of our business to know. In any case the problem of animal pain, in just about any context you place it, has some pretty easy answers.

You say, “You have not presented any evidence that the Canaanites really did carry out child sacrifice. . . .”

Christian and Jewish defenders of the God of the Hebrew scripture do not need to give evidence for this. The entire issue is posed hypothetically since many skeptics do not even believe the Exodus or most of the claimed historical events of the Hebrew scripture occurred anyway. So the question is, If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were. So at this level of the argument, what really did happen does not matter. What matters are the hypothetical answers to the hypothetical questions. But in fact, as Aron points out, there is some evidence that the Canaanites were this bad.

You ask, “When a society does carry out child sacrifice I doubt they kill all their children, which is what god commanded the Hebrews to do, how is killing all the children better than killing some of them?”

An institutionalized evil like this will continue generation after generation without end until the culture is fully destroyed. The conquest of Canaan occurred once and only once. Also, a sword to the neck is much more merciful than being placed upon the glowing red-hot arms of an idol. Having mentioned a “merciful” “sword to the neck,” I need to reemphasize my earlier statement that the biblical view is that God does compensate any undeserved suffering and that this is not something a Christian could ever do. I also need to emphasize that if the Israelites were morally incapable of killing these children (if they were not in some way, might we say, semi-barbaric) God would have done this himself. God chose this people to do this because their moral development in this particular regard was not as high as it would be after the time of Jesus’ teachings. In other ways, however, the Israelite morality was much higher than that of their neighbors.

You say, “People need to be judged by their actions, judging them by which group they belong to is just another form for racism.”

The Canaanites were not killed because of any racial or ethnic identity. But if the parents were killed because of their wickedness, the children could have been killed because this too was part of the punishment of the adults. This was a time in which loss of progeny and the continuation of ones’ linage was considered probably the greatest of all punishments. Anticipation of this punishment by the Canaanites was a punishment in itself. And again, remember that in God’s economy the children are not punished at all since all undeserved punishment is compensated (cf. Rm 8.18, Gen 18.25, etc.).

7. howie says:

HI Aaron, thanks you for taking the time to reply, didn’t expect that so close to Christmas.

Of course if you assume god is perfectly good then by definition anything he does is good.

However I feel you have failed to address my question. If killing innocent children and animals does not disqualify him from being perfectly good, what would?
As a scientist I would have thought you would be keen to challenge assumptions in the light of observations. It seems that that is not the case. Your entire assessment of the evidence seems to rely on your central assumption, and at no point do you question it.

So I repeat my question, is there any action by god which would convince you that god is not perfectly good? Or perhaps I should re phrase it this way, even if you believe there exists a perfect god , is there any action of the god in the bible that would convince you that this character is not that perfect god ? If there is none, then that would seem extremely narrow minded. If there is some, how is genocide not it?

I also feel you did not address my question about what legitimises authority. How does one come to be in a position of legitimate authority? A government is deemed to be legitimate if it is elected by the people and does not abuse its power. As Kim Jong Un was not elected I see no reason to say he has legitimate authority. Even if was elected he has clearly abused his authority. So again the question should be asked if genocide doesn’t count as an abuse of authority then what would? Again your argument seems to rely on your inability to question your assumptions in the light of observations.

To say there is a reason but we don’t understand it, again seems to show an unwillingness to question your underlying assumption. How do you know there is a good reason? It seems only your starting assumption can give that. But looking at the stories in the bible it seems the opposite is the case. My reading of the Exodus story is that god wanted to show off his power and harden Pharo's heart.
Exodus 7 :
“And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt....
5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

Now of course I might be reading the story wrong, but if we don’t know gods reasons then we don’t know they are good. Unless of course your refuse to challenge your starting assumption.

To say that animals have less moral status than humans is not to say they have no moral status. Yet the passages in the bible and your own stance seem to imply that. Consider that it isn’t just the Canaanite massacres but also many others instances. For example the great flood, the 10 plagues etc.
Consider Joshua 11:6,
6 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.”
To hough a horse is too severe it’s Achilles tendon, would you not expect a perfectly good god to disable the enemies horses in a less painful way? He could have put them to sleep, but instead he ordered this barbarism.

You seem utterly indifferent to the suffering of the animals and your explanation treats them as if they are simply property. On that basis someone who batters their dog to death with baseball bat has committed no moral crime as the dog is the possession of the person.
In Leviticus if a man has sex with animals, not only is the man to be killed but the animal as well. How is that the command of a perfect loving god?

God could have made those animals impossible for the Israelites to steal by some miraculous means but instead he decided to have them put to death by the sword or the stone. He could have just killed the Egyptian task masters but instead he not only had their children killed but their animals too. He could have wiped out humans in the flood but he chose to kill animals too. Sending a 40 day flood down to drown would not qualify as a humane way to kill in my humble opinion. Perhaps you differ?

Again if that doesn’t convince that the god of the bible is not perfectly good then what will?

Even if Carthage did practice child sacrifice (which your own source said is disputed) it does not in any way show that the Canaanites did. Even within a particular religion the practice of that religion can vary significantly from place to place. In Christianity there are estimated to be thousands of different denominations. Many Christians campaigned against slavery and racism, other Christians kept slaves and used the bible to justify it, and some are racists. Orthodox Jews wont drive on the Sabbath, reform Jews will. I’m sorry but you can’t prove guilt by association.
In the Old Testament the Hebrews are commanded to kill their own children for religious reasons too and of course god kills all the first born Egyptians. I don’t see why child sacrifice is worse than genocide or stoning your child to death if they don’t follow your religion? What I find particularly cruel and inconsistent with al loving god is the following command: Deut 13
If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.”

Why does god command the parent to kill the child? even if it is right for the child to be killed, to make the parent do it seems especially cruel. Imagine an authority commanding you to kill your own child , is this an act fo a loving authority, that is all perfect?

If gods concern was a culture why did ne not employ more peaceful means to change it? For example American culture kept slaves, did that mean it would have been ok to wipe out all Americans? Culture can change and grow more peaceful and empathetic over time. Read Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angles of Our Nature” for some good work on this. If god can harden hearts ( as he claimed for Pharaoh) why can’t he soften them?
God can command to kill but not to love and or adopt? God could have commanded them to be merciful, but he chose violence instead.
To say you only have to sign off on a couple of genocides long ago is very worrying. My empathy is not limited to those around me now but to any one in history that has to go through such a terrible fate. I would hope yours does too.

8. Aron Wall says:

Dear howie,

First of all, it is insulting to me that you leap to the conclusion that I don't have ordinary human feelings for animals, when I maintain that God had a good reason to kill them. I don't believe that animals are merely property, and I do believe that they have some moral status, but that doesn't mean there can't be good reasons to kill them. (Are you by any chance a vegetarian? Because if not, your criticism is especially odd.) Can we please assume that I am a normal human being, that babies being killed is also disturbing to me, but that nevertheless as a rational being I understand that in principle it can sometimes occur that certain bad things are necessary in order to prevent worse things from happening? Thanks.

And perhaps you can also accept that, as a religious person, who believes in a being who transcends human limitations, whom I believe is perfectly good and wise, and who swears he has non-cruel motivations, that this is not the same as me personally liking the idea of killing women and children, and having no empathy for their sufferings?

However I feel you have failed to address my question. If killing innocent children and animals does not disqualify him from being perfectly good, what would?

Actually I did answer your question, when I said: "Killing innocents without sufficiently good reason would indicate that a being is not perfectly good. It is not necessary that the reason be one we can fully understand, although in this case God did choose to disclose some, but not necessarily all, of his reasons." You did not provide any response to this.

But perhaps we should distinguish between two questions. Are you asking "What would constitute perfect goodness in God?" or are you asking "By what evidence would we come to know that God is in fact good?" The questions differ in that the first one is a conceptual question about possible states of affairs, while the second one is a question about our own knowledge. It is not particularly surprising that a good but omniscient being should sometimes act in a way that does not appear to be good to us.

As a scientist I would have thought you would be keen to challenge assumptions in the light of observations. It seems that that is not the case. Your entire assessment of the evidence seems to rely on your central assumption, and at no point do you question it.

You might be surprised at how often scientists refuse to question their fundamental theories on the basis of various challenges to them. The majority of time, theories which are originally well-supported (like general relativity) end up triumphing over experimental challenges which at first sight seem to contradict them.

This, of course, raises the question of whether the original belief that God is perfectly good has any positive evidential support. But I said quite explicitly that my belief that God is good comes from other sources, which are not currently under discussion. I agree with you that the Canaanite genocide is prima facie evidence against God's justice and mercy, but I don't think it's irrational for me to decide my beliefs on the basis of all the evidence, which includes positive evidence of God's character elsewhere. The question is whether the positive evidence for his perfect goodness exceeds the negative.

Nevertheless, I don't think it's very useful to broaden this conversation by you citing more and more examples of Old Testament passages (e.g. parents stoning rebellious children) whose morality is problematic to modern readers, and then I can cite all of the passages which portray God as good and loving. If we are to make any progress in this conversation, we need to keep things focused. Perhaps on the concept of authority?

Your statement that the legitimacy of political authority comes from democratic elections is clearly false. Prior to the 18th century, very few government systems were democratically elected (though many had the support of the bulk of the people). Your view would imply that before that time, there was no such thing as a just trial. This is absurd. As for abuse of power, I agree that Kim Jung Un does it in spades, but I fail to see how that should make a difference on those rare occassions when his judicial system acts to punish actual wrongdoers. Does living under an oppressive government make it acceptable to loot your neighbors? If not, then it is legitimate for the oppressive government to punish you for being a thief. I agree with you that elections are a good system for reducing government abuse, but that does not imply that all monarchies are illegitimate by nature, just that they produce good outcomes less frequently.

The Christian answer to your question is that all political authority on earth is ultimately delegated from God, who possesses authority over us because he created us, loves us, and knows us perfectly. In other words he is not even remotely like Kim Jung Un. Supposing hypothetically that you knew such a being existed (if necessary, suppose that the Old Testament passages in question didn't really happen, and postulate whatever is the minimum amount of hypothetical evidence that would make you confident of his existence), would you agree that he would have legitimate authority over you? And do you also agree that there are at least some things which such a being could legitimately do, which would be presumptuous for a being with lesser power and wisdom to do?

Aron
(If you don't mind, my name has only one "A" in it.)

PS I agree with St. Dennis' remarks about why trying to prove that the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice is a red-herring:

Christian and Jewish defenders of the God of the Hebrew scripture do not need to give evidence for this. The entire issue is posed hypothetically since many skeptics do not even believe the Exodus or most of the claimed historical events of the Hebrew scripture occurred anyway. So the question is, If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were. So at this level of the argument, what really did happen does not matter. What matters are the hypothetical answers to the hypothetical questions. But in fact, as Aron points out, there is some evidence that the Canaanites were this bad.

PS2 Yes, God can soften people's hearts: that's the main point of the New Testament. But I suppose God doesn't generally want to do so when it would override the will of the person in question. Pharoah hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 8:32) twice before God hardened it for him (9:12). The word translated as "harden" also means to "strengthen". God was merely giving Pharoah the psychological strength to do what Pharoah himself wanted to do. (7:3) is earlier in the chronology, but this is merely a prediction of what is going to happen.

9. howie says:

Hi Aron
Sorry for misspelling your name and I hope you had a nice Christmas.

I'm also sorry if you feel insulted over the issues of animals.
I, of course do not know you and so can only respond to what you put in your posts.
What is in your post does seem to show a lack of concern for the animals that are killed and tortured at gods command and by god in the bible.

"To me this seems a much lesser concern than the infants. Animals don't have the same moral status that human beings do. Even human beings have the moral authority to kill groups of animals for good cause. Presumably God ordered the destruction of the animals for the same reason as the gold and other property: to prevent the Israelites from thinking that the purpose of the genocide was to enrich themselves, and to emphasize the severity of the judgement."
This response does seem to treat animals as property and I fail to see any empathy for the hurt animals in your post. Perhaps I have overlooked something, could you can point it out to me?

To answer your question, yes I am vegetarian. I see no reason to eat animals when we don’t have to. But the killing of the animals in the bible seems to go far beyond killing animals for food. They are killed and not eaten and they are not just killed but also tortured. At no point in your post do I see any empathy for this. I'm not saying you personally don’t have any, I'm saying I don’t see any in your post and in your argument. I hope you understand my issue is with what you post, I know nothing of you as person. If you are the nicest person in the world and spend all your time working for wounded animals, I will still have the same issue with your post. I hope you will also see that the validity of my arguments do not depend on whether or not I'm a vegetarian.

The justification you imagined for killing all the animals of the Canaanites was so the Israelites didn’t enrich themselves, which implies its okay to kill animals to prevent personal enrichment. Moreover, god could have made the animals temporarily immobile, he could have given the Israelites a burning pain if they tried to touch the animals, he could have made them invisble, all of this would have given them the same lesson but with less violence. Yet god chose the way of violence and suffering. Again if that doesn’t show god is not morally perfect, what will?
You respond:
"Killing innocents without sufficiently good reason would indicate that a being is not perfectly good. It is not necessary that the reason be one we can fully understand, although in this case God did choose to disclose some, but not necessarily all, of his reasons."
And no sufficient reason has been given so I fail to see why we should not conclude that in the absence of a sufficient reason that the god of the bible is not perfectly good. Of course its possible that god has some good reason for his apparent evil acts. But its also possible he has an evil reasons for his apparently good acts. Surely we have to assess those agents based on the evidence we see not on a hypothetical reasons that no one has been shown.
If I want someone to love and I appear to do evil acts, shouldn't I should explain myself to that person? If I do not then it seems perfectly reasonable for that person to withdraw their affections.
So far I have seen no good explanation in your posts about why god can not only allow so much suffering for animals but actually command it. Why does he use so much violence when peaceful methods could be used?

I have no problem with your belief in god coming from other sources, what I find hard to understand is why someone trained in scientific method, would still not want to test your otherwise derived beliefs against the available observational evidence. Surely no matter how reasonable a theory may seem we must always test it against the evidence wherever we can? I would not [be] surprised to find one observation not over turning an a compelling piece of theory. But observation after observation, most certainly should. If it doesn’t that's a problem with science not a defence of god. And that is what we see in the bible, time and time agin, if the stories are true, we see gods being needlessly violent. When you don’t up date your beliefs in the light of observations then you are lost in a delusion.
I don’t doubt god does some good things as well in the bile, but if he does good things ands bad things, then how is that consistent with being perfectly good?

With regard to authority, I asked what legitimises authority? Your response was god delegating power but this argument would imply that any government that has not been delegated by god has no authority. So a just trial done by a government not delegated by god is not just? How do you know if they are delegated by god or not? I don’t see why creating someone means you have absolute authority over them, should my parents have absolute auhtority over me? What if they could build a mind reading machine? They would then know me perfectly, does that mean they can enslave me? Your argument form authority doesn’t follow.

As we have seen the evidence that the Canaanites committed child sacrifice is not as compelling as many Christian apologists imply. Your response is to quote someone saying you don’t need any evidence. This seems to be a consistent theme. Yet they also say "If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were." Note the conditional "if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were." But how do we know if they were that bad? We need evidence and the evidence presented is not compelling. Moreover I haven't seen the claim that the Canaanites sacrificed their children nor the Egyptians, nor the pre flood population in the bible. But even if it is there why is child sacrifice worse than killing disobedient chidlren in the case of the Hebrews or keeping slaves as in the Americans? I have not seen any reason for this.
Perhaps even more importantly do you think if we found a society today that killed their children should they be wiped out? Personally I would not condone genocide even for such a soceity. The Germans of WII killed millions of their own citizens, does that mean a genocide aganst the Germans in 1945 would have been justified?

Why should god give Pharaoh the psychological strength to lead to the death of so many innocents? The first born of every Egyptian, and their animals, not to mentioned that suffering of the other plagues? Why would god give pharaoh the strength for this outcome? How is this consistent with a perfectly loving god?

[Several typos fixed on request--AW]

10. Aron Wall says:

howie,

Thanks; I had a nice Christmas. But unfortunately I have the flu right now and thus I don't have the energy to make a detailed response to all of your arguments. But let me clarify what I meant by government having divine authority. I was referring to the Christian doctrine that government is in general authorized by God to do certain things, as St. Paul says in Romans 13:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

St. Paul did not mean, of course, that the Roman government was authorized from God in the sense that God specifically spoke from heaven and said "I command that there be a Roman Senate and Emperor", and that there are other governments which were not authorized. (The only nation which has ever been directly founded by God was ancient Israel, and therefore that was the only legitimate theocracy to ever exist. All other goverments are presumptuous if they seek to enforce a religious code of law.)

He meant that God has providentially arranged so that human beings are capable of forming governments for the purpose of justice, using our own wisdom, and that those governments therefore possess real delegated authority from God. Similar to the way God has delegated authority to you to feed your own body and look after it. He didn't need to tell you in a voice from heaven to do that, it's built into his creation.

So when you ask "So a just trial done by a government not delegated by god is not just? How do you know if they are delegated by god or not?"; the answer is that ALL governments are delegated by God in this way, whenever they seek to do justice. Of course this doesn't justify them when they do injustice (for example when, somewhat ironically in light of the passage I just quoted, the same Roman government executed St. Paul).

Regarding parental authority:

I don’t see why creating someone means you have absolute authority over them, should my parents have absolute authority over me?

You are taking isolated things out of context. I never said that creating somebody gives you absolute authority over them.

But it does give some authority. As you know, your parents had quite a lot of authority over you while you were younger. For example a parent is allowed to punish their own child, but not a random adult or a stranger's child. This authority was grounded partly in the fact that they begat and bore you (it would be an exaggeration to call this creation given that they have almost no control over the process), but also in additional facts about them and facts about you. Assuming your parents were ordinary decent people, they would have loved you more than anyone else, devoted time and effort to raising you, knew you better than almost anyone (sometimes better than you knew yourself). You on the other hand were weaker, less rational, had a great need to be taken care of and so on. It is therefore quite natural that parents should have (nonabsolute) authority over their children. When the children grow up they rightly assume control over their own lives, although they always owe their parents respect and honor, not just for bringing them into existence but also for services rendered which cannot ever be fully repayed.

The authority of parents is rightly limited because parents never love or know their children perfectly, and in the end they are the same kind of being. The child does not exist solely for the sake of their parent: their DNA (which the parent only transmitted, not controlled) has made them into a being who properly has their own independent interests and ambitions.

Now God's authority over you is rooted in a similar natural situation of parent to child, only his authority is absolute because the ratio of his greatness to yours is infinitely greater, even after we grow up. There is no chance of you being right and him being wrong. Also, he created you for a specific purpose, and knows that you will be unhappy if you don't fulfil it. And he knows better than you do how to acquire true happiness. And yet it is true that he's delegated quite a lot of freedom to you, so apparently he isn't a bossy micromanager either.

What if they could build a mind reading machine? They would then know me perfectly, does that mean they can enslave me?

Didn't I also mention something about love?

If I want someone to love and I appear to do evil acts, shouldn't I should explain myself to that person? If I do not then it seems perfectly reasonable for that person to withdraw their affections.

That seems to presuppose you and the other person are roughly equal in wisdom, so that they can fully understand your reasons for behaving the way that you do (and that you have no good reason to withhold the information from them). But in the case of a parent and a small child, parents may know perfectly well that their explanations won't always satisfy the child, and yet they still reasonably ask them to trust and obey them. Or if a proven good friend whose character you trust says "I can't tell you why I'm doing this without breaking a confidence. You'll just have to trust me," then that might be reasonable in certain circumstances. Of course I am presupposing in both cases that the person trusting has other, positive experiences of the parent/friend, on which to base the judgement of trust.

Perhaps even more importantly do you think if we found a society today that killed their children should they be wiped out? Personally I would not condone genocide even for such a soceity. The Germans of WII killed millions of their own citizens, does that mean a genocide aganst the Germans in 1945 would have been justified?

If you go back and read my previous comments you will find that I stated twice that no human beings have the right to commit genocide in the absence of specific divine authorization. So the answer to your question is NO.

I have responded to only a small portion of your questions, and yet my reply has still gotten rather long. With these internet exchanges it's best to keep things very tightly focused or they quickly spin out of control. As I said, I don't have the energy to follow up this conversation much longer (but don't let that keep other people from responding if they wish).

11. Hello again Aron & howie,

howie, please look back at the post I did on the 22nd. In my thinking I’ve answered most of the arguments you’ve presented. Of course I think Aron has as well but for some reason you have simply ignored or misunderstood most of what he has said. (To be charitable, I’ll assume the latter.) He had to say more than once that he has answered certain of your accusations against the biblical God and then he repeated his answers, yet you keep repeating the same accusations.

So would you go over my comments (from the 22nd) and point out what you think I have failed to answer? (I know you have added some new arguments since the 22nd, e.g. the problem of Deut 13, but they are extraneous to the basic issue covered in this particular blog topic.) In the meantime I will try to go over Aron's and your posts and try to find some arguments to which no one has responded and I will make some comments. Hopefully I won’t be too long in getting a post out to you.

And as Aron mentioned, some other readers may have comments as well. Hope you're feeling better, Aron. Maybe you just need a good break from your blogging.

12. Hi howie,

You quote me: “If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were.” You then go on to say, “Note the conditional ‘if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were.’ But how do we know if they were that bad? We need evidence and the evidence presented is not compelling.” I went on to point out that this is merely a hypothetical argument needing nothing more than a hypothetical answer. It seems to me that you do not understand that the burden of proof is not on me to provide additional evidence, it’s on you to show an inconsistency given the information we have.

At the risk of repeating much of Aron’s statement, let me try to explain my argument differently. You are making the claim that there is an inconsistency in the Hebrew scriptures such that one cannot claim that the God described there is completely just and good as it claims (e.g. Gen 18.25). God’s actions, according to the text, show that this God cannot be good, you claim. But if we are going entirely and only by what the Hebrew scripture says, one cannot pick and choose which portions one wants to accept and which one wants to reject. It’s the fact that this book says that the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice and that this was a major reason these people should be destroyed (Lev 18.21, 27-28) that makes the account consistent. It is consistent for it to say that God is absolutely good and just as well as to say that God judged that by the Canaanites’ wickedness they deserved destruction.

Nevertheless, though it is not needed for the above argument to work, there is good external evidence that the Canaanites did practice child sacrifice. The cultural connections between Phoenecian Carthage and Canaan, the archeological evidence that they worshiped the same deities, and the references throughout the Bible and other Near Eastern writings provide good evidence that this did happen in Canaan. A. R. W. Green’s book The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East (1975) would be the best place to look for the most complete evidence.

13. howie says:

Hi Aron, Sorry to hear about your flu, hope you are recovered now.
I have been very very busy over the last few months but have finally found some time to reply. I recognize you earlier said you are bowing out of the conversation, so no worries if you don’t reply to this. I thank you for the time you have spent on it.
Dennis Jensen, if I get some more time I will post a reply to your post.

Aron:

When you say that all governments are delegated by god whenever they seek to do justice. I don't see any real argument here, because the phrase "doing justice" is not clearly defined.
For example some Christians feel they are doing justice when they prevent homosexual marriages, others think this is itself unjust. Some Jews feel that it is wrong to drive on the Sabbath, others feel its fine. Some Muslims think blasphemy should be punished by death, others think this is wrong. In short simply saying a government is legitimate when it’s just is not a clear answer, as even believers in the same religious text do not agree upon what is just.

With respect top parental authority no one is claiming parents have the rights to kill their children or read their inner thoughts. So I think the analogy is weak. You accept of course that parents have limited authority over their children but only because their knowledge of them is imperfect. But again, what if In the future it is possible to read someone’s thoughts? You answer is simply:
"Didn't I mention something about love".
I’m sorry I don't understand how this is an answer at all. The questions remains.

A parent that doesn't even try to explain their apparently cruel actions is quite possibly an irresponsible parent. You say that parent and the child have to be roughly equal in wisdom, where is the justification for this? A child that is punished for being naughty may well know they were being naughty, that doesn’t mena they are even close to equal in wisdom to their parent. They need to have a minimum amount of knowledge, I see no reason to suggest they have to have an equal amount of knowledge.

It’s possible that a parent that appears to be cruel is really loving, but of course it’s also possible that they really are cruel. Surely we have to go on the basis of evidence that we have and not just reconfirm our preconceived notions, which is what it seems you are doing.
You make statements such as “There is no chance of you being right and him being wrong” but this just confirms that you are not open to evidence, instead you simply seek to rationalize your already held beliefs. You say “Also, he created you for a specific purpose, and knows that you will be unhappy if you don't fulfil it.”
Would you tell that to the mothers of the slaughtered Egyptian children, that god knew what would make them happy and fulfilled and so killed their first born children?

How can you seriously claim that the god that supposedly created the entire universe yet is interested in my sex life is not a bossy micro manager?

I understand that you think no human being has the right to commit genocide in the absence of divine authorization. But I think you are missing the point. The point is you are trying to give some justificaiton for god’s actions. For example, when you appeal to the child sacrifice of the Canaanites, you are effectively arguing that there are some circumstances when it’s okay to commit genocide when it’s right for god to command it. So my question is, if it was right for god to command the Israelites to kill the Cannonites why would it not be right for the Israelites to kill all the Germans after WWII? To simply hide behind the fact that god didn't command it, doesn't explain why gods commands are just.

I also don't see any justification for the torture of the animal found in the bible in your reply. Quite frankly I have never seen a good justification of this. Let us remind ourselves that god commands the Hebrew armies to severe the Achilles tendons of their opponents horses. God could have just put these horses to sleep but instead he commanded them to tortured instead. If that sort of evidence doesn’t convince you this is not a loving god, what would ? One can only assume that you are simply not open to evidence. I find that an incredible state of affairs for someone of the very high level of scientific training you have.

14. howie says:

Hi Dennis
Sorry it’s taken such a long time to respond, I was extremely busy over the last two months.
I hope you had a nice Christmas and New Years.

You say that god is acting with justice but you a re ignoring the fact the god commands animals to be killed and tortured, so even if you are correct about the humans I don’t see how you can apply it to the animals. So the accusation stands, god is barbaric.
Similarly you justify the killing of the Egyptian children (and their animals) by appealing to the fact that the Israelites were enslaved. That maybe true but the Egyptian children did not enslave them? God kills the innocents, why didn’t he just kill the Pharaoh?
Would it be just to kill American children for the crimes of slavery ?

You claim that the Canaanite children were compensated, but it does not say this in the bible, so you are simply assuming that, furthermore do the animals get compensated? Also I don’t see how compensation implies justification.
Lets suppose a child molester compensates the said child by buying them lots of things they like; toys, candy etc. Does the compensation mean we ignore the crimes of the molester? Is the molester no longer guilty?

I think your answer is extremely callous, imagine watching your mother killed before your eyes. Whatever compensation you receive, how could you possibly claim that the said child experiences “no loss”?
This is where your religion is taking you, to really believe that the most horrible of crimes is really “no loss”. That is extremely worrying.

I do not see why the Canaanite civilization needed to be wiped out. Lets assume they did have child sacrifice, why is that worse that the slavery institutionalized in America for hundreds of years? Would you say that the American civilization should be wiped out?
Where is your evidence that a barbaric practice that a culture is performing at some time T will always be practiced into the indefinite future?

Lots of societies were barbaric in the past, including our own. God could use his powers to protect the children from such practice, instead he decided on genocide and we are really to believe he is all loving?
Even if we agree they should be killed,
God could have killed the Canaanites peacefully in their sleep; instead he chose the violence of the sword.

Coming back to the issues of animals, you claim that animals may not feel pain in any significant manner; do you have any evidence for this?
If that is so why do animals chose to take painkillers when in pain? Your alternative is that god has another plan for them, but unless you tell me what this plain is and provide some evidence for it, I have no reason to take such an argument seriously.

15. Aron Wall says:

Howie,

The argument from parents and government officials is a fortiori. That is, if parents and judges have some authority despite being human beings with limited wisdom, love, and connection to those they rule over, then how much more authority would reside in a being with infinite love and wisdom who created everything? This is the same type of argument that Jesus uses in Matthew 7:11:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

That there is disagreement about the exact scope of government authority is irrelevant. All that matters for my argument is that they have some legitimate authority. (But my own personal belief is that, apart from the specific divine authorization to ancient Israel, no government has any buisness imposing a particular religion or religious ritual on anybody else.)

But again, what if In the future it is possible to read someone’s thoughts? You answer is simply:
"Didn't I mention something about love".
I’m sorry I don't understand how this is an answer at all. The questions remains.

Do I really need to spell this out for you? The ability to read people's minds would increase our knowledge, but it would not necessarily make us more loving or even more wise. Furthermore it would be a much lesser degree of knowledge than omniscience. So the parallel to God is lacking. (Also I doubt many human beings have the wisdom to handle mind reading; I strongly suspect it would make most people worse parents rather than better.)

How can you seriously claim that the god that supposedly created the entire universe yet is interested in my sex life is not a bossy micro manager?

How can you possibly suggest that a God who cares about human beings, could be uninterested in one of the most important parts of human behavior? Which incidentally is also the mechanism for creating new human beings. How could he not be interested in sex? Your concept of God is much too anthropomorphic, you are thinking of him as a sourpuss and a killjoy rather than as the cosmic artist who created sex in the first place. I assume that God is great enough to be interested in every electron in the universe (or it would not exist), so why should he not be interested in the things that people care about? You may as well say that Leonardo de Vinci was a bossy micromanager when he made sure every little fleck of paint on the Mona Lisa was exactly how he wanted it to be.

And yet, when was the last time he spoke from heaven and told you to refrain from a particular sex act you were about to perform? Or made himself so obstrusively present that you felt that your privacy was violated? Seems to me he's given you quite a bit of space and freedom to make your own choices. Quite the opposite of a micromanager, really. When you consider what God could easily do with his power, it seems to me he shows far more humility and restraint than any human being would, if given absolute power.

You make statements such as “There is no chance of you being right and him being wrong” but this just confirms that you are not open to evidence, instead you simply seek to rationalize your already held beliefs. You say “Also, he created you for a specific purpose, and knows that you will be unhappy if you don't fulfil it.”
Would you tell that to the mothers of the slaughtered Egyptian children, that god knew what would make them happy and fulfilled and so killed their first born children?

I don't know whether I would have the right to say it to a grieving mother, but it would be true. The only thing capable of fulfilling the eternal longings of the human heart is a relationship with God, not with a human child. See Chapter 11 of the Great Divorce by St. C.S. Lewis.

As for hamstringing the horses, I don't know what God's exact motives were, but I can speculate. I know you will find this difficult to believe, but although God loves animals he thinks human beings are even more important. So what he wanted to teach Israel (about not relying on cavalry) was more important than the sufferings of the horses. Possibly their lives were still better than if they'd just been killed; I'm not in a position to know that. Of course God could have intervened miraculously to teleport them all to a Happy Horse Paradise, but the same could be said about every other evil in the world (that God could remove it if he chose to). There's already lots of suffering in Nature due to disease and carnivores. Presumably God's plan includings limiting the amount of direct intervention he uses, and accomplishing some of his goals through human beings and natural processes instead of doing it all miraculously. Necessarily, some amount of evil must be tolerated as a result, but good also comes from it.

The fact that the Germans repented of their anti-Semitism after WWII shows that they weren't irredeemably evil. Only God is in a position to know this sort of thing in advance. If we humans acted alone without divine guidance, we would be in danger of pulling up the wheat with the tares (Matt. 13:29).

...One can only assume that you are simply not open to evidence. I find that an incredible state of affairs for someone of the very high level of scientific training you have.

I'm plenty open to the evidence, it's just I'm working from a broader base of evidence than you are. (There was an experiment a while back where it looked like neutrinos were going faster than light. Yet most physicists refused to accept the obvious conclusion because they were working from a broader base of evidence than just that one experiment, which indeed turned out to be wrong.)

My additional evidence includes: 1) Metaphysical arguments about the fundamental nature of reality of the sort described in my most recent post and the preceeding posts, 2) God's own explicit statements in the Bible that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and has motives other than cruelty to act the way he does, 3) The New Testament revelation of God's universal love revealed particularly in the life, teaching, and sacrificial death of Jesus, 4) My own personal religious experiences of God, which without exception has revealed God as holy and ethical and loving (yet not always nice), 5) the religious experiences of other Christians I respect, which are similar in character.

Since we have not discussed most of these additional sources of evidence (something which would take quite some time), you are being much too hasty in accusing me of closed-mindedness. Can't we discuss the particular topic in front of us in a civilized and rational manner, without all of this grandstanding about how irrational and heartless anyone must be to disagree with you?

16. howie says:

Hi Aron
Thank you again for taking the time to respond, it is very gracious of you.

It appears though that you didn’t really address the central problem of government authority. Recall you said governments had the authority of god when they seek to do justice. I raised the problem of how do we know when they are acting justly or not. I don’t feel that was replied. Even people of the same religious faith don’t agree on fundamental issues of justice. If you read the debates that took place over slavery in the 18th and 19th century you will find both sides of that debate used the bible to justify their position.
I don’t see how claiming that god has infinite love or wisdom helps us here. More importantly the issue is, does the god of the bible really have infinite love and wisdom? Of course if you assume from the outset he does you will get the answer back that you want. Whenever you look at a behavior that looks barbaric you can always assume he has some good reason for it.
It reminds me of stories of wives who are continually beaten up by their husbands and still assume he is the right and its for her own good as he really loves her!

As regards god’s interest in sexual behavior, you tell me that god is not a micromanager and he respects free will. Yet he says about homosexual sex:
“ If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Lev 20:13
You state god should be concerned because its one of the most important part of human behavior and the mechanism of creating new humans. But in the case of homosexual sex it is not going to lead to the creation of new humans. Even in the case of hetro sexual sex, this is not necessarily the case. Killing homosexuals certainly does qualify god as more than a killjoy. I don’t see how the command to kill homo sexuals is consistent with your statement:
“And yet, when was the last time he spoke from heaven and told you to refrain from a particular sex act you were about to perform? Or made himself so obstrusively present that you felt that your privacy was violated? Seems to me he's given you quite a bit of space and freedom to make your own choices.”

Perhaps you would like to read accounts of religious homo sexuals who have killed themselves or been killed by others because they thought homo sexuality conflicted with the bible to see if you want to continue to make such claims.
I think it’s quite wrong to not consider that having god speak from heaven (in the form of the bible) and condemn a sexual practice like homosexuality is exactly what happens in this case. Perhaps you don’t feel this, but if you look at the wider world you will see many people do.

It seems you are moving the goal posts with regarding people ability to read minds. Recall you stated :
“The Christian answer to your question is that all political authority on earth is ultimately delegated from God, who possesses authority over us because he created us, loves us, and knows us perfectly.”
If in the future technology enabled a parent to read the mind of their children they would fulfill all of your required criteria. Yet of course no one would think they then have the right to torture or kill their children.
I note you assume that humans being couldn’t handle mind reading, maybe you are right. This reminds of the phrase power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But why not consider that the same is true for god? Would you not consider that his absolute power could possibly corrupt him?

Again if you assume that god has all the omnis, then sure he can do no wrong and he can’t be corrupted. The problem the non-believer has is that our observations of the world and our observations of the stories in the bible do not look like they are consistent with the god of the bible having all the omnis. This is the central problem I feel you do not address.
A god that is all powerful and all loving does not need to command the torture of animals to ensure the Israelites armies are successful in battle. He could have put the horses to sleep magically; that he chose to have them tortured instead must surely count as evidence against the god of the bible possessing those Omnis.
Yet your replies always start with the assumption that he does possess those Omnis therefore he can do no wrong.

You say you are open to evidence but working from a broader base and give an example of FTL neutrinos. I’m afraid I don’t think this example works. The problem with the neutrinos was not just they contradicted what we expect from relativity but that the experiment just did not stand up to replication and scrutiny. No one experiment should ever over turn a broad body of evidence for the opposite when it has not been replicated. But let us suppose though that it was replicated and scrutinized and after thousands of years and many other examples and may other teams all found the same result, would you still disregard them?
I think in this hypothetical example you would be abandoning the scientific method.
However if you failed to believe the FTL neutrinos in the real world scenario that actually played out you would not because there was plenty of legitimate scope to doubt the results.

In the case of the bible though you are not in such a place to doubt the data of god’s cruelty. If you are going to believe in the bible as a reliable document then you must accept the stories as true, you cannot disregard the data that is before your eyes and assume they must have some explanation that is consistent with your sacred assumption. At some point you must ask whether your sacred assumption is false.
The amount of data we had about FTL was insufficient to throw out relativity - or even modify it or find some verification for a loophole in it. But if the data became sufficiently robust, eventually that is what any honest scientist would have done.

If you believe that god did order those horses to be tortured and the Egyptian children (and their animals) to be killed and for the all the beings in the world (save Noah and his family) to be slowly killed over multiple days and nights then you are not in a position to disregard the data as the skeptics of FTL neutrinos were.

So again the question remains at what point does the data of gods actions make you question your metaphysical arguments?
It seems to me there is no point at which you do this. If god can act with cruelty why is it impossible for him to lie? Perhaps god has some reason to lie that you are not privy to? If god has good reasons to kill, then perhaps he has good reason to lie? Or is lying a worse crime than torture and murder? Hence you should have reason to doubt god’s word.

I don’t see how even if the NT is true this undermines the evidence of god’s cruelty. Human beings can sometimes act lovingly and at other times act with cruelty. So even if the NT is full of love and kindness and we can ignore or re intpret passages such as Jesus saying
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15: 6
That does not undermine the cruelty of the OT. Again only if you refuse to question your sacred assumption will this be the case.
Although one must consider that Jesus knew that people would use their faith to send people to be burnt to death n the future, yet he still chose those words.

You experience I’m sure is very real to you. But experience can be misinterpreted. Many people feel they have had a real experience of being kidnapped by aliens, but I would think it’s more likely they are misinterpreting sleep paralysis and false memories.
I have no doubt your experiences seem real to you, others think god has told them to kill infidels and their experience may seem real to them. I suspect you disregard their experiences as being inconsistent with your assumptions but should it not cast doubt on the validity of such personal experiences in the first place?

17. Aron Wall says:

Dear howie,

I don't think you are using the word "micromanager" correctly. Look it up in a dictionary. I think your real objection is to God "managing" people's sex lives, and you just added that prefix "micro" as an emotional reaction, to make it seem more oppresive than it is. "Micromanaging" would be if God told us exactly which sex positions to use, and how often per week, and checked up on us every evening to ask us questions about whether we complied.

Telling people one bit of information about who to have sex with (opposite gender) a few millennia ago, and then (in the modern era, since we are no longer living in ancient Israel) not preventing people from doing it if they want to defy his notions of sin, is about as "macro" a management of sex as one can imagine. Was it also "micromanaging" when he said not to have sex with animals, or does that word only apply when you disagree with the prohibition?

I don't want to deny the suffering likely present in a teenage boy who finds himself attracted to other males, but is living in a religious culture that views it as a sin. However killing oneself is pretty obviously an irrational response to that situation. Either it is true that God exists and that the Bible is a reliable source about him, or it is not true. If it is true, then presumably he has also read the parts that say that God loves everyone, that everyone is a sinner, that Jesus died to save people, including homosexuals, and that he desires for everyone to be saved. Giving up hope and killing yourself makes no sense (and is a far worse sin) on the relgious view. Or, if you think it is not true, then surely going off to college and screwing whoever you want to is more rational than committing suicide on the supposed orders of a god you don't believe in. The people who kill themselves are obviously deeply confused about what they themselves believe. Both Christians and secular people can agree that such people ought to experience more compassion, not hatred.

Of course, if somebody else kills you, you're out of luck (so far as this life is concerned). But no major Christian denomination teaches that homosexuality should receive the death penalty today. Christianity is about offering forgiveness to sinners, not condemning them. Most Christians know this, even if the implementation is often flawed.

I raised the problem of how do we know when [governments] are acting justly or not. I don’t feel that was replied.

Once again, I didn't address this issue because it is absolutely irrelevant to my claim, that governments have authority whenever they do act justly. If people disagree about whether an act is just, then they also will disagree about whether the government has moral authority to do it. So what? My only claim what that sometimes governments do have the authority to e.g. punish in situations where private citizens do not.

It might be relevant if you thought it was impossible for human beings to ever know whether an act is just. But since you seem to have strong opinions about justice yourself, I take it you do not believe that.

The point about the FTL neutrinos is that if a theory is supported by a bunch of positive evidence, and there's also some counter-evidence, then we ought to look for a way to reconcile all of the data. In the case of FTL neutrinos, that was by supposing an equipment error. No rational person believes the experiment never happened. In the case of the Torah, it is by recognizing that an omniscient God is very likely to know more than we do about what needs to be done (the Christian view) or by denying that the events in the Torah really happened (if you are an atheist or perhaps a theologically liberal Christian).

Now, to see whether this is reasonable we need to use Bayes' Theorem. We need to calculate the odds that, if a moral God exists and is omniscient, his correct moral pronouncements would agree in every respect with the opinions of a certain individual howie living in the 21st century (bearing in mind that if they agree with him in every respect, they will therefore disagree with a great many other people through history.) The odds are nearly zero, so the theory that a moral God exists is barely disconfirmed at all, by the mere fact that you do not agree with all of it.

Of course, this is simplistic, since we would also have to take into account the nature and magnitude of the disagreements. But I am curious to isolate this from the other issues. Suppose that, counterfactually, the Bible agreed with your modern day 21st century morality in every single respect, except one. There is exactly one bizarre seeming command: "You must not ever wear shoes with shoelaces, nor allow your children to do so". You're just going to have to trust me on this one, you can't understand why but it's important". Everything else---the command to celebrate sexual diversity, the continual injunctions to respect the environment, pacificism except in self-defence---it all seems to be of the greatest wisdom and value from your 21st century perspective (rather miraculously, since it was written millennia ago, and this is the first age in which this would be true). Would you be capable of trusting such a deity?

"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."

You have not understood this passage, if you think it is merely a threat to be cruel in an arbitrary way. Jesus claims to be the source of all life. If you cut yourself off from him, the withering is not an artificial punishment that will be imposed from without. It is a description of what will happen to you morally and spiritually, through your own choices, if you go your own way. The branches are "burned" only because there is nothing better to be done with them, if they refuse to be nourished with the life-given sap of the branch, and have passed the point of no return. God does not want the branches to end up being destroyed, he wants them to bear much fruit. It is a metaphor, not a literal description.

You think you can be good without God? Go ahead, try the experiment. Be as good a person as you can possibly be, and see how that works for you. If it works, no reason to take religion seriously. But if at some point you find you can't do it by yourself, when you find that there is a vital need to be saved from your sins, perhaps you can reconsider.

18. RealTruth says:

Absolutely, and blesses the very bad people. Go figure.

19. Aron Wall says:

Thank God he does bless the bad people! Don't know where I'd be without his grace.

If I've obtained God's forgiveness even when I didn't deserve it, then I'm not in a position to complain when he hands the same thing out to people who are more wicked.

20. Aron Wall says:

I've deleted some additional comments by "RealTruth" for violations of rule 6 (no gratuituous blasphemy) and rule 8 (I'm pretty sure he's using invalid email addresses) of the comment policy, as well as a total lack of substantive arguments.

Commenter RealTruth is permanently banned.

21. Scott Church says:

Aron, it saddens me that you had to do this. We've managed to last for so long here without a troll infestation. Sigh, I suppose it was inevitable. They crucified Jesus... what are they going to do to us? :-(

22. Daniel Smith says:

We must also remember Children are not innocent, but born in original sin and are implicated in the guilt of Adam's sin. Therefore if God wills their death it is just because the wages of original sin is death, guilt, punishment.

If it were not, then God would be unjust in consuming Sodom with Fire from above. But he justly destroyed not only the whole city, but every living thing found within, for every living thing was impure, including infants.

It may be hard to accept, but it's the most internally consistent conclusion- with God we all get what we deserve. They got it, so they must deserve it as an act of divine vengeance, therefore they have received what was due to them.

If you think this is wrong, we must countenance an unjust God.

23. Aron Wall says:

Daniel,

Funny, that's exactly the argument Job's friends made about him, that if he was suffering it had to be because he was being punished for sin. Of course, God explicitly said they were wrong.

24. vincent says:

@Daniel

I must disagree. Children not innocent? Infants impure? Spiritually impure, i assume? While god did state that "all have sinned" and "none is good" when it comes to kids, ESPECIALLY infants, i only see pure souls. I suppose some kids can reflect poor behaviour and not just in a "boys will be boys" kinda way(as being evil and knowing it), but babies cant be impure even if they were born within a sinful world. Even if they were considered impure by nature, i cant for the life of me imagine them being punished in the afterlife....afterall, god is "just", no? So all the infants who dies, how does god handle that?

The most appropiate answer you and possibly every other person(both theists and atheists alike) would supply is that "god would cleanse them and admit them into heaven" or something similar to this. Still, i have and still read the bible to understand and to broaden my perspective on christians and their god however, i fail to see god's love what with all the genocides and massacres(including animals. God loves him some bbq).

I have read through all the comments here trying my utmost to understand and accept both atheist and christian perspectives, but seeing as god has quite literally an arsenal of options to choose from when dealing with people, it would seem the option he mostly goes with is "killing everything". Heck, exodus 32 moses went and had 3000 people killed by the levites(which, according to him, was commanded by god) for worshipping the colden calf. The rest of the people were plagued upon by god.

Sure the israelites broke the first 2 commandmendts, but not even a day after recieving the tablets did moses break the 6th commandmendt by having people killed. And i didnt read anywhere where god told moses to instruct the levites to kill. Did he lie? Is my bible version misstranslated? Had i been god, i would use my awesome power to change people's hearts without having to consort to "death upon them".

As for free will(seems a fragile topic), i believe god could make it so everyone would know he exist and still have the people be given the option to reject or accept him. God himself had made it clear to the israelites concerning his existence back in exodus, yet at times they still rejected him in odd ways. Free will intact. One could hardly deny god with evidence like "parting the red sea". Hundreds of thousands of israelites saw that with their own eyes.

25. Aron Wall says:

vincent,
Thanks for your comment. What Daniel said is horrible, and I'm glad you disagree with it too. It might be better not to be a theist at all, than to think that God is like that. But better still to appreciate who God really is. In fact, Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to small children, and that we need to change to become innocent like them. Even St. Paul says, referring to the innocence of childhood, "I once was alive, apart from the law". Yes, we are all corrupted by sin, but we do not become personally responsible for this until we voluntarily contribute to the problem.

The 6th commandment is better translated "you shall not murder", rather than "you shall not kill". For example, legitimate homicide (such as capital punishment for deserving offenders, killing enemy soldiers when necessary in the course of a just war, and self-defense) is not usually considered murder even today. The same would apply (I argued in my post above) if God clearly commands you to kill somebody.

It is also not murder to kill animals, since human beings are more important than animals, and hence God allows us to kill them to satisfy genunine human needs (such as food and clothing, and before Christ, religious worship), so long as we avoid cruelty, and remember that their lives belong to God and that they do not exist solely for us (this is why God commanded not to eat their blood). However, that does not mean that God does not care about animals; he does (see e.g. Genesis 1, Psalm 145, and the very last words of Jonah). Animals in their present form are mortal; they were going to die one way or another anyway, and they mostly do not have the intelligence to understand the concept of annihilation and fear it. Furthermore, some animals need to prey on others to live, so death is inextricable from the animal kingdom in its current form. However, Isaiah 11 and 65 seem to teach that animals will also be participants in the new Heaven and Earth, and at that time they will no longer kill or be killed.

The actions of Moses were kind of a special case. God had just told Moses he was going to kill all of the Israelities, and Moses had successfully interceded to prevent him from doing so. For Moses to kill a fraction of a percent of them, was a way of telling the people they all deserved to die. But Moses clearly preferred for them to live, that was the whole point of the story. It is mysterious that God, who knows everything, cares so much about our opinions that he is willing to sometimes relent from punishment when we request him to. But I think he was pleased that Moses asked him to relent.

I agree with you that we would still have free will if God made his existence obvious to everyone. (As can be seen in the Exodus narratives.) But it changes the calculus. It is perhaps better to have a world where people who don't want to accept God usually become atheists, rather than dystheists (people who believe in God but dislike him). This prevents moral corruption by providing a plausible outlet for not going along with the program, for those who aren't interested. But Israel was being singled out for special treatment, and as a result God spent a lot more time disciplining them, than other nations (which he mostly let go their own way, until the Gospel was proclaimed).

Finally, you ask why God couldn't change people's hearts, as his main form of influence. Well, if you read the whole Bible, that is plan A! Also known as the Gospel message. But God wanted it to be done properly, so he had a long period of preparation (Israel) and a crucial key event (the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus) before he was in a position to send his Holy Spirit to change people's hearts on a large scale. But heart-change was still availble before Jesus, on a more limited basis, to those few people who really wanted it.

So, you have to look at biblical history in its proper perspective. When God is doing things one way, he may just be laying groundwork to do something better in the future.

26. Sajeev says:

WRT to the following [by howie--AW]:

You say, “I don’t think it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If I create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?”

It's not a weird definition of killing at all. God could create us so that we would never die so in fact God does take our lives by creating us to be such that we will eventually die.

I would like to point out that we were indeed immortal. We ate from the tree of life. After we sinned and were cast out from the garden of Eden, we could no longer eat from that tree..and thus became mortal. Its in Genesis.

27. Sajeev says:

[vincent wrote:]

As for free will(seems a fragile topic), i believe god could make it so everyone would know he exist and still have the people be given the option to reject or accept him.

I have to point out here a few things:

1. you have not read the Bible in its entirety. You are picking and choosing certain verses to support your arguments.
2. God did make it known to everyone that He exists. If you read , you will know that he walked with man once. Many people recognized Him. But they choose not to obey or follow Him. In fact, if you read you will understand God, messengers, angels were frequent visitors on earth. Only few acknowledged Him and choose to obey Him.

If your father had many children, do all of them obey him? They all know the father sets the household rules. They all know the consequences of disobeying the father. yet most of them disobey the father. Did they disobey the father because they never saw him or did they disobey the father because they never cared about obeying him?

Interestingly, it can be noted that children who do not have a good relationship with their earthly fathers, grow up hating and denying their Heavenly Father.

[I rescued this and the next comment from the spam filter, and put the quote from a previous commenter in quotes. PS Sajeev, thanks for your comments, but in the future it would be helpful if you could identify by name the person whose words you are responding to. Thanks!---AW]

28. Sajeev says:

Wow ! so many arguments and justifications how each person wants God to be.
- I want my god to be nice to murderers and no capital punishment
- i want my god to not kill animals
- my god must be nice to homosexuals only then i think he is god
- hmm....a god must only kill people in their sleep

its interesting to note how people's inner fears are showing up in their definition of how God must be. Basically you want a human-pleaser god. I just watched the movie Moana where they have demi-god who dos exactly that.

Well, the real God, cannot be defined by any of us here. Most of the definitions and arguments are valid and good and these discussions have been happening for more than 4000 years. The Greeks and Roman scholars had such talks. They were not able to conclude anything.

You all are trying to understand and define and categorize an a being ( according to you: IF He exists ) that exists outside of our time and space. A being that is omnipotent and omniscient, not defined by our laws. Do you all really think you can even begin to understand such a being?

29. quietfanatic says:

To carry Sajeev's argument to the computer metaphor: If you built a computer to the best of your ability, using durable parts, and it lasts for twenty years and then stops working, then nobody can say you broke it. But if you practice "planned obsolescence" where the computer is expected to break down in two years, so that your customer has to buy the latest model, then it could be argued that, in a way, you broke it before you built it.

30. Claire Rousseau says:

After reading the comments, I admit, I cannot understand why many of the guest commenters seem to have such contempt for God. It seems to be that all the accusations against God, are founded upon irrational expectations of His very nature.
One must remember that God is a God of Love, Mercy, Forgiveness, Forbearance & Grace. His capacity for these exceed beyond our comprehension & understanding, and are some reasons why I love & worship Him.
That said, we must also realize that God is also a God that is perfect, righteous, just, consistent, and above all----HOLY. These are some reasons why I respect, honor, and reverence Him.
When I reflect that God, who is omniscient, omnipresent & omnipotent...the very Creator who fashioned me in my mother's womb, and instilled in me a soul, a spirit , a remarkably functioning & resilient body, the freewill to accept or reject Him, and wrote His law upon my heart so that I would know to search for Him, I cannot help but to glorify Him.
It does not occur to me that, as a mere human, I am in any position to look down upon Him or His judgment, knowing that, He is immeasurably & exponentially superior to me in every way.
What DOES occur to me, however, is that I am a sinner, I have transgressed God's law. I am ashamed, because I have caused GOD, who CANNOT sin & is PURE HOLINESS, to look down at me & see the hideous, abominable sins I have committed. I know that if He reached down and cast me in Hell forever to punish my sins, that she would be completely JUST to do so.
Instead, in His forbearance & great mercy, He has sent Jesus Christ to faithfully & completely pay my (& everyone else's) debt of sin in FULL.
And we DO NOT EVEN DESERVE IT.
It is THE greatest act of love this world has EVER seen.
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” ....Romans 5:8 KJB

31. Craig Paardekooper says:

If it was necessary for god to kill the Canaanite children, then he should have done so without causing them suffering. Putting them to the sword (hacking them or stabbing them to death) caused them unnecessary suffering, and unjust suffering, since children are hardly responsible for the religion and practices of their parents. Let us take the case of Sodom. God rained down molten rocks upon adults and children alike. They were burned to death.

In failing to differentiate between the wicked parents and the innocent children, the Old Testament God has proven himself to be unjust.

The only way out of this is to prove that the children were not innocent. The burden lies with the prosecution to prove their charge.

32. Paul Slaughter says:

If the account of the Egyptian plagues and death of the first born was a story to make an instructional point rather than literally true (in the same way as the Bible uses allegory, parables etc) as many theologians claim, then God is not on trial for literal physical infanticide but there is still a problem for our modern culture today where many 21st century readers would lose the point of the story and be struck with horror at the seeming blanket destruction and death of masses of people (including children) at the hands (or command) of God.

The people of the time at the point of origin of this story being given this account orally or reading it would not at all be worried by the prevalence of death and gore as they were living through times when family members were dying or being killed all the time as a matter of course and people were used to actually seeing this directly not from the sanitised observation post of a TV (disease, complications at birth, brutal forms of capital punishment, often in a public arena, soldiers killed in battle or families wiped out in wars).

They wouldn't react with the indignation of our humanist friends (and perhaps many Christians if they were honest with themselves) and be 'distracted' from the point of the story which has to be centred on justice.

Once you use a filter for the culture of the time (which I believe one must do for so much of the Bible), and understand with the theologians that nobody is being physically killed here, one is likely to be much more open to what the story is really trying to say. People of the age would have been deeply puzzled by the prevalence of the reaction "But surely this shows God to be a capricious, unloving, and violent being and far from perfect". Its a period narrative and the loss of life (even of children) and violence would have been tangential to them. We feel aggrieved if we lose 10 professional soldiers in a war now and in the future we may not lose any when battles are fought with drones. But back in the days of the events under discussion loss of life, dismemberment, rotting disease etc were commonplace happening right before children's eyes and very much part of their experience and taken in their stride. Deliverance from oppression and slavery; the sovereignty of a nation, and the consequences (which don't have to be literal) of practising infanticide (which Egypt was doing) seem to have gotten passed over while the debate and the 'story' seems to have been hijacked and it's now (for some) all about 'the bad God'!

33. Aron Wall says:

Paul,
Good points, but as it happens I do believe that the Exodus really happened, so I have to deal with the picture of God it portrays.

34. Sandra Black says:

Please answer me. I need to know. Why does God use humans to murder humans instead of doing it himself? If you don't know why, just say so. But if you know, please help me with this. It is breaking my heart

35. Aron Wall says:

Welcome Sandra,
First of all, "murder" refers to the unlawful or unjust killing of human beings. For example, it is not murder for an individual to kill in self-defense to avoid being killed themselves, nor is it murder for a state to apply the death penalty for serious crimes. And since God has ultimate authority over life and death, killing that is ordered by God is also not murder.

God could do everything himself always, but then there would be no point in creating other beings beside himself! I think that when God asks other people to play a role in executing justice (e.g. when a judge sentences an offender to prison) it gives human beings an opportunity to understand his commands and to participate in justice ourselves. Just as he commands us to show mercy to the poor, in order to become more merciful.

That being said, God does not ask anyone today to commit genocide. This took place during a far bloodier age (before the teaching of Christ), when slavery and genocide were common, as was mentioned in St. Dennis' valuable comment. The normal rule is, with good reason, not to kill other people.

Since there is no practical danger of you being asked to kill anybody, I think your real question is probably something more like: Can I trust this God? What does it mean to try to pray today to same God described in the Bible? Here I have only one answer for you, and that is JESUS. As St. E. Stanley Jones said somewhere, "God is Light when, and only when, you see that Light in the face of Jesus." Jesus is the fullest revelation of who the Father is, and what his love for human beings is like. So first you should look at Jesus and ask if you can trust him. If you can trust Jesus, you will find that you can trust God too, and then prayer will come naturally.

36. Sandra Black says:

Thank you. It's true, I do feel better. I absolutely trust Jesus. His kindness towards and affection for humans is undeniable, and irresistible. I have been so sad, for fear God would find me weak and uncooperative (Which, of course, I am). Thank you again for your kindness. Blessings upon you.

37. Myke Britt (CHRISTIAN) says:
FEBRUARY 19, 2018 AT 7:11 PM
YAHWEH FITS THE DESCRIPTION OF ALLAH, NOT MY CREATOR AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST!
Read the verses in the old Jewish bible filled with fairy tales where YAHWEH orders the slime bag "JEWS' to rip open the bellies of innocent women and kill the babies (SOUNDS LIKE MODERN DAY ABORTION WHICH IS STILL CONTROLLED BY THE PHONY ASHKENAZI JEWS! This is just one of many passages where innocent people are slaughtered. ONE VERSE TELLS THE INVADING MURDERERS TO "SAVE THE YOUNG WOMEN FOR THEMSELVES" SOUNDS LIKE YAHWEH APPROVED OF RAPING WOMEN AND GIRLS. MY CREATOR IS LOVE AND JESUS SAID "LOVE YOUR ENEMY".
I served in the military during the COLD WAR, it is impossible to love someone while you are killing him!

38. Cindy says:

As to the killing of animals...is it possible that some reasons that the animals were killed was because they might have been considered unclean animals for the Israelites either by their type (cloven hooves), by inferior breeding which would then taint/weaken the Israelites stock, or their involvement as objects of pagan practice?
The Israelites were a Holy people, set apart, coming into a pagan land where evil was practiced in the worship of Baal and Astarte and among those practices was beastiality making the animals unclean for the Israelites. Another thought is, who would tend to these animals, if preserved, while they are in the process of trying to conquer these new lands? They would be an added burden in that process.

39. Sally Vernon says:

The actual issue/question was "For example, God gives instructions for the Israelites to kill people." The actual answer is that God had Israel kill nations/peoples who were practicing human sacrifice. Burning babies at the alter. (Spiritual things cannot be understood by the natural, unregenerate mind). Something that US 'physicians' have been practicing since the supreme court passed roe vs wade and more so now that NY will be murdering babies just before/as they're born. The judgement will come to US. BTY the US government promotes promiscuity and abortion for not other reason that financial profit. Making all of us cannibals, using human fetal tissue in our food products. Repent and believer in Christ Jesus and you will be saved.

[Do not use double \$ signs in your post unless you want to include an equation, that is why your comment was truncated, until I fixed it just now---AW]

40. Aron Wall says:

Snopes rates the claim that food products contain human fetal tissue FALSE:

But if you look in the details of why the claim is false, the truth is still kind of creepy. However there are no actual fetal tissues in your artificial sweeteners (which I always assumed were from the Devil anyway). Also in the Snopes article is the adjectival modifier "(healthy, aborted)" which is more than a little bit of an oxymoron...

41. Eddie says:

Sorry, I think you people are naive, insane or stupid....

I'm NOT religious, I'm also not an atheist. I believe in the possibility of a creator, call him/her/it God or not. What I do know for 100% certain is my inner moral compass/voice gets me through life, the little guy on my shoulder whispers into my ear and relays the messages..., And when I listen to him he's never let me down, when I shoo him away , tell him to stop bothering me and ignore his advice, I alway end up wishing I had listened to him and in one way or another regretting my actions. Deep down I know he's right, he's always right. If God were a human he'd be on death row a thousand times over for all the atrocities he committed. My inner KNOWS voice is wrong, what is right, what is good and what is bad, and no matter how you "believers" try to twist EVIL acts and turn them into loving companions acts...it never works, because you're all talking in circles trying to convince yourselves... I'm a human, not a god.. and even I know in my heart wrong from right... and none of this jealous murdering God stuff is right, not in any world.

42. Aron Wall says:

Eddie,
Thanks for sharing your honest opinion.

However, I think what you aren't taking into account is that the Creator is NOT like a mere human being (only bigger) trying to make his way in the world, with a little guy sitting on his shoulder telling him what to do. Rather he is goodness itself, and is so different from human beings in many important respects (he is immutable, authoratative, immune to moral corruption, omniscient, the judge of the whole world, and powerful enough to vindicate the rights of the innocent after death) that I think your analogy to virtuous human conduct breaks down on multiple points. I gave specific arguments why each of these adjectives changes the moral calculus involved, and nothing in your comment responded to these arguments.

But it's more than a little ironic, when you say that if God were a human he would be on death row. Because God becoming a human (Jesus) and being executed (on the cross) is exactly what did happen 2000 years ago. However, as a human being on Earth (acting under limitations similar to ours) the Son of God lived a perfectly blameless life (in the ordinary human sense of the word), and therefore I believe it was not God's sins, but rather my own, that he was paying for.

43. Paul says:

The God of the OT is clearly evil, and I say that as a (former?) Christian. It was something I found amongst God's many contradictive laws that finally did it for me. It was the one about God providing a way for a killer to hide if God had delivered the killer's victim into his hands. That is disgusting, morally repugnant and indefensible ( though I am sure some of you will try via the usual mental gymnastics). As well as being evil, God is ill in the head. Schizophrenic even. God tells people to kill those who sacrifice to other gods, and then later tells people not to revile the gods! He despises bastards in one passage, and then tells us not to misjudge them in another! So who might we say creates and causes such confusion? That's right! Satan! The author of confusion. The author of the Old Testament.

44. Aron Wall says:

Paul,
Have you considered the possibility that the confusion might be your own?

The Hebrew word in Exodus 22:28 is elohim, and "gods" is only one possible translation of this word. Almost all modern translations give "God" (i.e. the God of Israel) or "the judges" (referring to humans), either of which is more plausible for the reason you mentioned.

Similarly, Exodus 21:13 is referring to one person accidentally killing another person through negligence. See e.g. Deut 19:5 for a specific example. Most modern nations also distinguish between negligent homicide (i.e. manslaughter) and deliberate homicide (i.e. murder), and assign to the former a lighter penalty. In fact it would be unjust not to do so!

I am not going to say that there is nothing disturbing or morally difficult in the Bible. However, it is amazing to me that you can read a text that was written for a different culture over 3,000 years ago (probably in a translation written over 400 years ago), and if you get confused your first instinct is to blame the Devil, rather than trying to ask scholars what it actually means.

45. Ferraro says:

Why did you leave out that the Nephilim people, the giants were living in Canaan at the time Joshua & Caleb went there to remove them.

46. David says:

First, I want you to know that I am a Christian. I accepted the Lord Jesus into my life about 25 years ago, and I love to learn about God's Word the Bible. Second, I am a family man married to my wife for 14 years, and we have six kids. All adopted. Third, I am a certified consulting meteorologist so I certainly love physics, science and math in general. Enough about my background.

Thank you Aron for taking the time to blog on this important topic. This topic is near and dear to my daily thoughts and earthly experience. Here is my story.

My wife unexpectedly got pregnant 3 years ago after years of doctors saying that pregnancy is not likely for us. We were so so so excited to learn of the unexpected pregnancy. We praised God often. God gave us a miracle baby, right? Yes. Well, 18 weeks into the pregnancy my wife's water broke spelling trouble. The baby was predicted to be still born within 3 days to 3 weeks later the doctors said. That did not happen. Instead, my wife proactively went on bed rest, and our baby boy remained alive in her womb for another 11 weeks! At week 26, she was admitted into the hospital for her health and safety reasons as well as for the expected delivery of the baby at any point and time. Deacon Wade (meaning servant of the Lord by the water's edge) our baby boy was born 3 weeks later at week 29. He was alive! He was very small at 3 lb, but beautiful. All his outward physical features were there, toes, fingers, etc. We had so much hope that all would be well. But God intervened, I believe. 36 hours later we were grieving of his death. At birth, we later found out, his lungs were severely underdeveloped as the previous ultrasounds were unable to detect this severe internal physical problem. So this is my story. Sad, yes. But God, right? I hope your answer is Yes to Him no matter what.

I believe God gave and took Deacon at God's perfect timing despite our human desire not for Him to do so. Many Christians that I speak with and even my wife have a hard time believing that a "good" God would take away our son. My son was innocent given to us for a very short period of time. God took him. God brought us his life and the He ended his life.

This is the first Christian site to date that I have visited that makes the case that God kills the innocent for His good and perfect reasoning. I may not understand His ways all the time, but I trust His control.

Thank you Lord God for blessing me with Deacon Wade. I can't wait to spend eternity in Heaven with you Lord and all your faithful and I look so forward to worshiping you Lord in Heaven with Deacon and the rest. May you be glorified in all the things I think, say and do. Also, please continue to bless Aron and his work for you.

With best regards,

Dave

47. Eric Hampton says:

I can't believe that anyone would actually try to justify God's murderous behavior. First, this creates a euthyphro dilemma for God. Did God give us the 10 commandments because the 10 commandments are universally good? Or, did God give us the 10 commandments because he thinks the 10 commandments are good? If He gave us the 10 commandments because those 10 things are by nature good, then even He would have to abide by them, because after all, those things are good. But if He decided those 10 things are good, then He would be the source of such morality. In the one instance, God would be a murderer because he isn't living up to the 10 commandments which are universally good. But if He decided the 10 commandments are good, then at worse He would be a moral hypocrite, i.e., do as I say, not as I do. In one instance God is killing off humans because of their evil nature, then Jesus comes along telling us to turn the other cheek and not to cast the first stone. We are taught about the prodigal son and that we should forgive, but if we apply the God/Jesus equation to the prodigal son story, then the father of the prodigal son would have to kill his good son in order to forgive the wayward son. Doesn't make sense. Why couldn't God just forgive, he expects me and you to do it, so wouldn't a more moral entity be even more willing to forgive? The fact is that God loves murder, he loves it so much that he even had to kill off Jesus. I've read so many places how folks say that God loves them, but if you read the Old Testament, there's absolutely no loving God there.

48. Scott Church says:

@Eric,

I believe some of your concerns were addressed in Aron's post. But beyond that, I would recommend to you Brian Davies' book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. It's one of the best and most complete studies of the relationship between God and morality from the perspective of classical theism in print. It won't wrap the whole problem up in a nice tidy package with a bow. But it does provide a thorough overview of why there's far more to it than simplistic Euthyphro dilemmas or assertions that God is an asshole because innocent people suffer.

Best.

49. SAUVE Jean-Luc says:

Thanks Very much for the very answer you've provided.
I was really in a great confusion!
God Bless You?

50. Raul Sanchez says:

Why did God kill the the animals and innocent who had not sinned.

I guess God can kill even if the innocent.

But if he kills the innocent why is he not a murder?

The children and animals were all innocent.

So it seems that he can kill even the innocents.
No wonder with such a God who kills it is no wonder why humans kill each other.

No wonder why humans kill each other. God says thou shalt not kill but kills adults children and animals. Why did the innocent animals and the children along with those that still kept the will of God. The children and those who had mental problems did not violate the will of God. God murdered the innocent as will as killing the animals.

And he showed us that we could kill these that do not see things as we do

So is it any wonder that we kill .. God should us the way to mass murdering each other.

51. Aron Wall says:

Raul,
If an infinitely wise and powerful being can kill people in a way that contributes to the good, it does not follow that a fallen and fallible human being will be able to do so. So if God says, in this respect, "do as I say, not as I do", it seems like it would be pretty stupid to disregard this warning.

And he showed us that we could kill these that do not see things as we do.

Not at all. Actually, the Bible forbids us to kill or hurt people who see things differently than we do, or even to take revenge on people who directly harm us. For example, St. Paul says (quoting Deuteronomy and Proverbs):

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” [i.e. make him blush--AW]

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

So the correct deduction from the fact that God is able and willing to punish people, is that we humans can let things go and forgive other people! Since God has that side of things in hand.

52. Austin says:

Hello, I've been reading through this and saw you were still responding to comments!

I've been a Christain for years, until just recently. Not gonna lie, i was still in school and had a rough childhood, and was desperately looking for hope, so i put aside my logic brain and just accepted everything, even the stuff that never sat well (ironically, 2-3 months after you posted this artical.) as I've gotten older, though, I've begun questioning how loving God is. I have the belief that any belief you hold should be tested, if it stands its worth keeping, if its full of holes should be amended or discarded. So if you have the time, i would like you to respond to each individual point, as their all crucial to me.

1: is there any theoretical action God could have taken in the old testament to convince you that he is not a perfectly good God? You may say this is a pointless question, but i feel like its one Howie tried to ask years ago that always got evaded. At the very least, an outsider never saw it answered. Even theoretically, could God be anything less than good in your eyes, if he always said "there's a reason" after every action, no matter how horrendous?

2: Jesus, i would gladly follow for my entire life. He actually was the being that taught me how to truly love, and i hold all actions to discover whether they be loving or unloving to Jesus's own. Jesus states "if you have seen me, you have seen the father" (john 14:9) Now, Jesus seems to teach and do things that old testament God wouldn't. "Love your enemies" (matt 5:44) for example. When peter attacked the guards who came to arrest him, He said "those that live by the sword die by the sword", even healing one's ear. That, in my eyes, is proof that when Jesus says "Love your enemies", He means it. The old testament God, however, is suppose to be shown through Jesus, and the old testament God i feel would never do this based on his previous actions, which would lead me to the conclusion Jesus is a liar or a madman. How can i see the old testament God in you, when what i see is you doing good to those who hate you, and the old testament god ordering your death if you set a toe outta line, or were related to someone setting a toe outta line?

3: i do believe in a god, but i believe him a being. Not inherently holy or unholy. I also believe him a being that uses people to get what he wants, and who shows off and wants to rule. Your sources for God being Holy, loving, good, righteous, all come from god himself. Every ruler that has ever existed tries to set themselves up to look better than they actually are. Taking my premise, just for a moment, that God is not inherently good, do you see why its so hard to believe he's loving? And why people who do not start at that premise have a hard time understanding people that do? I honestly have never really had the spiritual gift of faith, so its hard for me to understand your viewpoints, especially if my premise about God is true.

4: God has refrained from genocide as a punishment. He was going to punish, then a human convinced him not to. (EX 32:11-14) This shows me A: He acknowledges theres more ways than just genocide to deal with a rebellious people and B: for someone you claim is inherently right in all he does, it seems odd that if he's right, y not just do it? If we are to just accept His treatment, why not punish those who speak against? But no, he does in fact reward people who question and challenge him. Which makes me wonder if the nations that you say deserved to die would have been saved had someone challenged him. It also makes my earlier premise seem more likely, for a god as you describe would do whatever despite what we say, for his ways are higher and he is wiser, while a being not smarter than us or only slightly so might good "hmm, good point."

5: and a personal one for me. I feel as if God has set it up in such i way that i cannot be with him. when asked the greatest commandment is Jesus responds "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind". (matt 22:37) Now, for someone that doesn't begin with the premise that God is loving, i look at his actions to determine whether he is loving or cruel. I have no gift of faith when it comes to the character of God. I cannot honestly say i love God with my /entire/ heart when i see all the cruelty to my fellow humans, especially when given excuses like "Well, there was some reason they had to die". I also cannot love God with my mind, since i see such a difference in teaching between Jesus and old testament god. One preaches fire and brimstone, the other compassion and love, so theres a giant unexplained disconnect filled with "his ways are higher than ours". Maybe that's true, but i can't love him with all my mind if he withholds information that would otherwise fill gaping inconsistencies. Now, if you believe in predestination, this entire point could be considered moot and i was just one of the unlucky, which if he is who he says he is, that's my leading theory. But, if he is who he says he is and predestination is false, He has made it so that i cannot fulfill the greatest commandment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this

53. Mom the linguist says:

I was hoping Aron would respond to this, but he's pretty overwhelmed right now. But your post filled me with a lot of compassion, so I'm hoping to respond to it with what I've been thinking the last few days.

1) I totally get your problem that you are trying to describe as "would there be anything God could do that would make you think him to be not good?" I was raised in a Nazarene church, which is Wesleyan, which means that we believe in free will, and that whether things turn out well for us in the eternal sense is at least partly based on our choices. But I went to Baptist schools, and was exposed to a lot of Calvinist thinking, which varies, but usually involves the position that nothing we do can save us, and therefore God must ultimately choose who gets eternity with Him in bliss and who doesn't, more or less arbitrarily. I went through a very bad time in my young teen years where I was thinking something along the lines of, but if I really mean it when I say I serve God, then I have to accept whatever he chooses, even if it seems bad to me, right? I had some (very good and loving) teachers at that school who tried to explain things to me in a way that I could accept, but eventually I had to decide that I was serving God because He was good, and not because He was powerful, so I guess maybe if there was writing across the sky saying the Calvinists are right and God just sends people to hell for nothing they can help, I think I would spit in his face and refuse him...capitalization differences purposeful. So yes, I guess maybe there's something. Not sure if Aron feels exactly the same though he is my son...

2) But that's not the same as people or children or animals dying--we all die sometime. There's some sense in which God kills us all, innocent and guilty. You can argue that God should have made a universe with no suffering in it, which I don't think is logically possible (assuming there are any conscious being who can suffer) but that's a long philosophical argument that people have been having for centuries.

3) And there's a big distinction in how you believe in facts and how you believe in people. You have to go through a certain amount of "fact believing" or at least "provisional proposition accepting" to get towards God at all, because we can't see Him like we see most people, but some of us at least feel that we have come to know Him in some of the ways one knows a person, and when you have experience with a person that convinces you that that person is good and trustworthy, long and intimate experience, then it's not ridiculous to respond to counter-evidence by assuming that there must be some explanation and looking for it.

4) And most of all, this Jesus that you (and many others) perceive as being wise and loving--where does this wisdom and love come from? Jesus continually shows his deep understanding and trust of the God he calls Father and always identifies Him with the God of the OT. See in particular John 5:19: "Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."

Not only Jesus, but many wise and loving people whom I have met, and others through the centuries whose writings I have read, find the loving and wise Father in the OT, though there are passages that we all struggle with too.

5) But, because I am convinced that God is in fact loving and wise, I am certain that if you devote yourself to following the very best good you can see, the Father will find you and lead you into more good. I don't want you just to bow to a tyrant that you can't love, and I'm convinced He doesn't either. Here's an OT quote for you:

A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice (Isaiah 42:3)

So please don't give up, my dear smoldering candle, but tend the fire you have the best you can and may God reveal Himself to you in a way you can accept.

54. Dan says:

Interesting discussion, I believe Howie raised many questions that turn people (nonbelievers) away from the biblical God, and I myself have wrestled with the same questions as a struggling Christian.

If all righteousness resides in God, then His judgements must be perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4). But we also know; “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7). Evil is the result of sin, Eve's disobedience introduced evil to mankind, it ended life for all living things.

Unfortunately for animals, they are part of the fallen world even though they are innocent. Consider that neither dogs or cats sin, they don't even know what sin is, in fact, they fulfill the purpose for which they were created, and yet they suffer, feel pain, and die.

How could a righteous God permit perfect creatures to suffer and die? What's fair about that judgement? God is good? There seems to be no righteousness in the torture and death of animals, and that's a big turn-off to an animal lover like myself. I just had to have my cat put to sleep because he was suffering from saddle thrombus, there's no rhyme or reason for his pain, he did nothing wrong, yet his fate was worse than any human, with no life-after-death for his perfect little soul. Nothing fair about it, nothing righteous about it, and no justice about it.

Revelation 21:4 says that "God shall wipe away all tears", but who created the conditions that caused those tears in the first place? That's the circular logic that's difficult for me to grasp. Its like punching someone in the eye and then giving them a cold compress to reduce the swelling.

But I try to trust that God is good, I don't know the bigger picture, nor do I grasp the reason for evil befalling on the innocent & sinless, but nature is cruel (evil), and it doesn't discriminate against anything living.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

55. Deep thinker says:

God is working on the spiritual level, we are in the natural. It is nearly impossible without spiritual awareness from his point of view to fully understand why some things are done, such as ordering entire people groups to be murdered including children and animals. We can only speculate where the answers from the Bible still leave us with questions. My thoughts on it is that the people group are spiritually corrupt in a way akin to contamination so they must be wiped out. Who's to say the children and animals were not already abused, which has it's own host of problems, or had demon possession (even animals can be possessed and demons can be transferred if we believe what Jesus did in the new testament casting out demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs). The other consideration is that the killing is a mercy, for children and animals without people to take care of them are going to die but slowly. The Hebrews might not have had the capacity to take on orphans at the time. Moreover, the children with grow up to learn their history and may perpetuate a war. We don't have all the answers, but it is premature to bring judgement against God when we by nature do not have understanding or knowledge (see Job). It's like giving up, getting angry and declaring a math problem unsolvable, when you are the one who hasn't got the knowledge to solve it.

56. Mark says:

Hitler: “I never killed a single person.”
Nazi Soldiers: “We were just following orders”
There you have it. No one is guilty.

Facetiousness aside, the OT has a serious crisis of legitimacy. This pages long and complicated debate is actually evidence that the Old Testament is in serious trouble with modern civilization. It should not be this hard to explain to reasonable people. I mean even if there was a some theory of justice contained in the bible that says “Here’s the reason killing the kids and animals is the only way.” we could discuss that. But nothing is presented. Without that it appears that men are justifying acts of typical ancient human atrocities and saying “We were just following Gods orders!” And we are supposed to ignore the fact that this particular claim is like THE most popular excuse in human history for doing absolutely devilish things to other people. This is why Kings, Chieftains and WarLords always kept a magi, witch doctor or prophet or priest very close by. Because when your agenda becomes inexplicably cruel, all you need is a divine edict and all questions are answered by mystery and authority.
Fewer and fewer people in an ethically, legally and scientifically advanced world are going to buy it.

57. Aron Wall says:

Dan,
My condolences on the death of your beloved cat. I also have had to say goodbye to some sick feline friends and it is very hard.

I believe that the fossil record makes it clear that animals died long before human beings arrived on the scene. So when St. Paul says that sin brought death into the world, he must have been talking about human death, or perhaps the conscious understanding and awareness of death.

But I don't know why you think that there is no life after death for animals. The prophet Isaiah seems to be pretty clear that there will be animals in the New Heavens and Earth:

“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
...
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-19, 25)

While I don't pretend that this resolves all of the hard questions, I don't think you there is any need to add to yourself the extra grief of thinking that God will permanently separate you from your pet. I think that part of God wiping away every tear from your eye will be restoring him to you again at the Resurrection of the righteous, plain and simple. Not that your blessedness there will consist primarily in getting back things you lost on Earth. But once you experience the beatific vision of God, and thus no longer need a cat to ease your loneliness, you will be freed to love your cat even more than you can now, and that will be all the more reason to have him around as a glorified creature, to share your joy with. Every creature that has, even in a very small way, participated in the sufferings of Christ, will also be raised in him. That's what I think, anyway.

Having said these comforting words, I hope you will forgive me if I violate the proverb De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and remind you that while cats are sinless in the sense of not having rational awareness of doing wrong, that is very different from saying they are morally pure in the same sense that a rational person can be morally pure. Don't let your sentimentality blind you to the fact that, by instinct, cats inflict on other animals a notable portion of Nature's cruelty, as well as receiving it.

As a cat lover I think God was still justified in creating cats, but I won't deny that there is a mystery involved in his choice to do so (just as there is a mystery in why he chose to create each of us). In the New Creation, it seems that carnivorousness will be abolished, and yet the lion will still be fully leonine. (There are some interesting reflections about animal sufferng in the next-to-last chapter of St. C.S. Lewis' book The Problem of Pain, that you may find helpful.)

Nor is it at all true that your cat suffered worse than any human being. A cat can suffer pain from disease, but it does not experience the horror of anticipating death after a terminal diagnosis. Nor the depression of feeling like life has no meaning or significance. Nor can it experience what a person experiences when a close friend betrays him. We are higher beings than cats, made in the image of God, and as a result our capacity for both pain and joy are greater. Indeed, it is quite probable that you yourself have already suffered far worse emotional pain over the illness and death of your cat, than he ever experienced.

Anyway, I pray that you find comfort in your grief during this hard time. If the cat cannot understand why the vet prods and pokes him, why should we be able to understand why God does things to us? But when he hurts us I believe that, like the vet, it is motivated by kindness. I think we can know this when we look at Jesus Christ. Blessings and peace.

58. Dan says:

Thanks for responding Aron.... I understand that there will be animals in heaven, but I wouldn't want just another cat, I'd want the one I lost, but there's nothing to say that his little soul was resurrected. And I imagine that verse, "The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind", doesn't give pet owners much comfort, because most would want to remember what they cherished. Otherwise its simply wiping away ones tears by removing their memory. Anyhow, it still doesn't seem fair to create an innocent little life just to permanently destroy it, in fact, it seems very mean to me, even sadistic. The bible says that Jesus was moved by compassion to heal people (Matthew 14:14), I just think if God were good, that compassion would extent to animals.

59. Joseph Ancer says:

My question is this:
Abraham negotiates with G-d to spare Sodom & Gemorrah. G-d has the power to wipe out an entire city /or nation in one instance, in fact if G-d stops breathing for just one second, our entire world may not exist. However, in the bible, G-d commands man to eliminate his fellow man for wrongdoing. Why did he ask us to do this when he could do this himself. By asking us, he taught man how to kill, even though it was his commandment. If he took on that responsibility himself and taught us only to love, we would be in a very different world.

60. Aron Wall says:

Dan,
Apparently my comment was not clear enough. When I said that God would give you "your cat" back, I meant the very same animal you had on Earth (but resurrected). Not a different one of the same species! (If I knew his name, I could say this to you more easily...) Just as, when Abraham offered Isaac up on the mountain, God gave him back---not a different son---but the same son that he already loved.

In the Isaiah passage, "The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind" is a biblical idiom meaning that God is going to bring about very different conditions from before (compare Jeremiah 16:14-15, Jeremiah 3:16, or Isaiah 43:18 for similar examples). It can't be taken literally to mean that the Blessed will have literally no memory of their former lives (because that would not be a good thing). And it obviously does NOT imply that there can be no animals there to remember events from the previous world, since if you interpret the verse that way, it would require there to be no resurrected humans either. In your case, it means that there will be no need to dwell any longer on the past pain of your pet's death because he will be right there with you, in a better and closer way than he was on Earth.

Sometimes people get into a mental state where the divine promises in the Bible get twisted and distorted, because the context isn't completely clear and they are in pain, and something in their mind resolves the ambiguities in whatever way makes them feel most depressed and wronged. But God isn't actually like how you are imagining him, as I think you know deep in your heart. Let me quote some other passages for you:

"Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
"For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless." (Psalm 84:11)
"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11)

It might be that there are some hobbies we enjoy on Earth that are not going to be in Heaven, because when we have grown sufficiently in holiness and perfection we will no longer need to do those things. But I cannot imagine anyone being too holy to care for animals, any more than somebody could be "too holy" to care for people. Holiness includes the innocence of a child, as well as St. Francis's peace with Nature. If the children and saints love animals, than surely God does as well. After all, he created them. Can the New Heaven and Earth be less rich and fulfilling than the old one? The question answers itself.

61. Aron Wall says:

Joseph,
I don't think the Bible supports the point you are trying to make about capital punishment.

For purposes of answering your question, let's read through the book of Genesis literally, without worrying too much about which parts may be historical and which parts may be mythological. (Either way, I believe it is inspired by God and teaches us important truths about God and human nature.)

The original plan was for human beings to coexist peacefully in harmony with God, with Nature, and with each other. But after human beings acquired the "knowledge of good and evil" on their own terms (Gen 3), it was not God who first told them to kill each other. Cain kills Abel even though God advised him to try to master his implulses (4:7). At this stage, God does not introduce captial punishment to eliminate the offender, but rather imposes a lesser penalty himself, and then commands that nobody harm Cain (4:15). Yet six generations later, this very protection of Cain has been misinterpeted to justify a cycle of violence, when Cain's descendent Lamech boasts that he has killed a man for insulting him (4:23-24). In a couple chapters, we read that "the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence" (6:11).

In other words, God didn't "teach man how to kill". Man figured out how to do that all by himself, long before there was any commandment to the righteous to have a death penalty. After the Flood, God gives humanity a fresh start, and it is only then that he commands for humans to create governments and to impose the death penalty (9:6). But that wasn't his ideal plan A or even plan B; it was more like contingency plan C or D...

The Law of Moses, which was given to Israel---the only example in history of a theocracy that was actually legitimately instituted by God---commanded the death penalty for murder, adultery, and several other offenses. Although, not for every sort of wrongdoing, or there would be no one left! (It also commanded wiping out the Caananites, as discussed in the post above, but that is a completely separate matter; God did not give the human race any discretion to commit genocide, that can only be justified by a direct and clear command of God, and was limited to that specific historical context only.)

Much later, when the Messiah came to Earth (as Christians believe), he stopped a proposed execution by saying "Let him who has no sin cast the first stone" (John 8:7), and when they walked away one by one, he said "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11). This new plan, the forgiveness of the offender and reconciliation with the community, is always the best when it can be done successfully. But if it is done incorrectly, it leads people to think there are no consequences and will lead to the Earth once more being filled with violence. So I don't think we should advocate for the abolition of all criminal penalties quite yet. (Although unlike the ancient world, it is now technologically and socially possible to imprison people for long periods of time, in relatively humane conditions, making recourse to capital punishment less necessary.)

Anyone who thinks that if there were no religion, there would also be no wars, hasn't studied history very well. Religion can be an excuse for violence, but the excuse only has power because it comes after people already want to kill each other. Without religion, you'd better believe we'd find plenty of other excuses. The history of Communism in the 20th century shows that. Meanwhile, people of good will who want to stop criminal violence can have reasonable debates about whether the death penalty is helpful or not, but none of the choices we make about that issue, will bring us back to a pre-Fall paradise where no violence occurs. That's not realistic, given human nature as it currently is.

You ask why God commands us to take responsibility for justice when he could do it himself. But you could have asked this question about lots of other things too. Why does God allow us to make our own economic system, why does he ask us to grow our own crops and construct our own buildings and figure out how to take care of each other? Why does he let us brush our own teeth? He could just treat us like small children and do everything for us, but instead he has chosen to treat us like adults and have us figure things out for ourselves, which means that we learn a lot of things the hard way. I think it probably has to do with the fact that he created us in the Image of God.

[I have removed a comment by Joshua Milks because it did not conform to the comment policy:

6) This is a Christian website, which exists for the purpose of glorifying God. Commenters with other beliefs are welcome to comment on the site for purposes of friendly discussion, but I ask that you refrain from gratuitious blasphemy (i.e. derogatory insults and jokes directed at God which aren't necessary in order to respectfully state your position).

It should be possible to express your position without directing swear-words at our Father in heaven; or if it isn't, you can start your own blog.---AW]

62. Joseph Ancer says:

Thank you very much for a very well laid out answer. It is greatly appreciated.

63. Jerald McClain says:

Practicing christianity in this day in age is like trying to use kung fu in the UFC; it's going to get you killed. I'll stick to the new testament in this feed because it's been stated that the story of jesus christ was fabricated to pacify the poor. Personally, I reject christianity because it's non-consensual and non-empowering. Not only did god impregnate another man's wife with a baby they did not want but then had the nerve to sacrifice said child 33 years later to save the world from a sin that HE created when he put that stupid tree in the Garden Of Eden in the first place. And then we have the infamous incident of Dylan Roof walking ino that South Carolina Church and killing all those innocent people. Pretty sure somebody lost their religion that day if they were even lucky enough to survive. I don't like christianity. It's a slave religion.

64. Scott says:

Ok.. This is why religion cannot be discussed by the religious. Everything spoken of is hinged on direct quotes from a 3000 year old book that has not only been translated from an archaic time, but rewritten by a King. Science will eventually end religion as our species will know MORE than the bible can teach..

Here it is in a nutshell... WE were created in THEIR image. The fact that human DNA showed suddenly in the last "cosmic seconds" of this universe, hints that "a creator" is plausible. HOWEVER, if you apply 21st century intelligence and technology to all the tales of the bible, you find much easier ways to see God as an advanced version of us.

I had to reinvent GOD as organised religion is frought with corruption, power, and the use of fear for submission. The bible is only a foundation for the commandments, set forth by our parent race. It is inconceivable that a benevolent and "just" God would send their translator (Moses) down to the Israelites and cast the very laws they've worked so hard to teach us, upon us, and kill 3000 of their children. You do NOT earn the trust of a sentient species by killing them with the very law you just wrote, forbidding it.

God, or at least the GOD I trust, has long since learned how to genetically wipe out the ability in their culture to commit murder. GOD has only whispered to us to guard their offspring from killing eachother. Like any parent, they give us direction and knowledge.

The evolution of any form of life is a lengthy process. As a parent, I often planted seeds in my daughters minds to help them make the right decisions. They didn't always listen... but learned the hard way. Jesus was of God genetically... A must that he possess his parents advanced DNA if he were to carry out a plan to appear as the Messiah and carry out his own death. He executed a highly advanced campaign to build himself up as Gods son. Using the ancient prophecy, he rode into the temple and ruffled their feathers. Martyrdom is the ONLY way you will EVER galvanize humanity to embrace the golden rules of a species success.

Jesus WAS an amazing person... He'd have to be to live up to the reputation set in motion from the "WISE MEN" visiting him as a baby, to his apostles spinning up his image before his return to teach. Jesus did NOT die for our sins.. He died so that the commandments would have substance and reverence... And man did it work.. But.. Jesus wasnt a Christian...

3000 years later, marred by divisions among our nations, caused by religions that God stakes no claim to, nor Jesus named in his teachings... arises a country of migrants... In God we trust is their motto. Allowing all races, creeds, religions and beliefs... Built on the foundation of those golden laws.

Jesus had to die... Moses HAD to fight Pharoah for the oppressed... Noah built a boat to save all he could... The free masons HAD to start this country... And we peer now to almost the beginning of time as our scientist dive into the true fabric of our existence.. tbe quantum realm.

We HAVE to follow the golden rules as God found this, the only way THEY survived.

Again and again we see the oppressors defeated by the people. Hitler taken out by God? No.. by his peers. WE are GOD, God is Us. We thirst for knowledge and we explore at risk to our own safety. We have time and time again defeated the tyrannical and took the power to the people.

We ARE of their image... I can argue for hours about every story in the bible. Not to defeat its lessons.. but to show we dont need a book or fear or fire and brimstone to learn from our parents.

We dont need churches to respect our parents. We don't need powerful, rich religions to dictate our path nor receive money for their "mission". Moses stood with Aaron... Jesus stood with his apostles, Noah stood with his family.. At no time did they stand as a named church.

So please don't read scripture as an argument to what these amazing humans achieved. My god is not short of cash... My god would NEVER kill ANYONE as tbey believe in the very laws they teach. My God allows free will... and respects unity, love, and kindness. My God needs not put fear into their children, for tbeir children fear not.

65. Izzy says:

I believe god and the devil are the same. We are living in a game for his amusement and sadistic pleasure.there is sadly no other explanation.

66. Aron Wall says:

Scott [the most recent one to post on this thread],
If you think you know God better than the Bible and 3,000 years of religious tradition, I doubt you will listen to anything I have to say. But I think it's quite odd that you seem to take for granted that all the people described in the Bible (like Moses and Aaron) really existed and did important things, but aren't willing to accept the accuracy of what they taught and believed about God.

Jerald & Izzy,
This thread seems to be a magnet for people who just want to shout out their two cent blasphemy and then depart. I don't have time to respond to all such comments myself, but my friend St. Jack Lewis has kindly provided me with suitable replies to each of you:

from "Miracles":
"There is a vulgar anti-God paper which some anonymous donor sends me every week. In it recently I saw the taunt that we Christians believe in a God who committed adultery with the wife of a Jewish carpenter. The answer to that is that if you describe the action of God in fertilizing Mary as “adultery” then, in that sense, God would have committed adultery with every woman who ever had a baby. For what He did once without a human father, He does always even when He uses a human father as His instrument. For the human father in ordinary generation is only a carrier, sometimes an unwilling carrier, always the last in a long line of carriers, of life that comes from the supreme life. Thus the filth that our poor, muddled, sincere, resentful enemies fling at the Holy One, either does not stick, or, sticking, turns into glory. "

[If I may add, the fact that Jerald calls Mary "another man's wife", thus indirectly calling the Creator of the Universe a "man" (i.e. adult male human being) seems like a rather revealing slip---he really thinks of God as being a being just like us, only more powerful, and naturally resents his outrageous pretention in claiming authority to rule over human beings. But God is not a man, but rather the source of all goodness, and far beyond our comprehension. One could similarly respond to the rest of his accusations, but there is no point because Jerald is making a deliberate choice to interpret God's actions in the way that will maximize his own sense of unfairness. Only Jerald can choose to stop doing that, no other person can make him do so.---AW]

from A Grief Observed:
"Sooner or later I must face the question in plain language. What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, 'good'? Doesn't all the prima facie evidence suggest exactly the opposite? What have we to set against it?

We set Christ against it. But how if He were mistaken? Almost His last words may have a perfectly clear meaning. He had found that the Being He called Father was horribly and infinitely different from what He had supposed. The trap, so long and carefully prepared and so subtly baited, was at last sprung, on the cross. The vile practical joke had succeeded.

What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memory of all the prayers H. and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking, hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were 'led up the garden path.' Time after time, when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture.
---
I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather than a thought. Let me try it over again. Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The Cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?

I think it is, if nothing else, too anthropomorphic. When you come to think of it, it is far more anthropomorphic than picturing Him as a grave old king with a long beard. That image is a Jungian archetype. It links God with all the wise old kings in the fairy-tales, with prophets, sages, magicians. Though it is (formally) the picture of a man, it suggests something more than humanity. At the very least it gets in the idea of something older than yourself, something that knows more, something you can't fathom. It preserves mystery. Therefore room for hope. Therefore room for a dread or awe that needn't be mere fear of mischief from a spiteful potentate. But the picture I was building up last night is simply the picture of a man like S.C. — who used to sit next to me at dinner and tell me what he'd been doing to the cats that afternoon. Now a being like S.C., however magnified, couldn't invent or create or govern anything. He would set up traps and try to bait them. But he'd never have thoughts of baits like love, or laughter, or daffodils, or a frosty sunset. He make a universe? He couldn't make a joke, or a bow, or an apology, or a friend."

67. Craig Paardekooper says:

After 2 years of painful searching, I finally found out why God killed the innocent children. In the Bible it says that God waited patiently until the sin of the Canaanites had reached its full measure. Then he moved in judgement upon them. According to the Bible God waited 400 years for their sin to reach its full measure before inflicting judgement.

But how can it be fair to inflict that final judgement for sins of people over a 400 year period? ONLY IF THE SAME SOULS WERE RETURNING TO THE SAME TRIBAL GROUPS OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

It only makes sense if we allow that souls tend to reincarnate, and they reincarnate into their previous culture and tribal groups. In this way, the Bible suggests that there is a great cycling of souls, punctuated by periodic judgements.

68. Laguapauno says:

This was broken down really well. I really enjoyed the read.

69. Akaki innocent says:

Thanks for all the contribution. ; when you read the story of Job in the old testament, you will realize that what brought to him more pain was not the tangible affliction, but the fact that God concealed from him the reason for his suffering. Our small kilograms of brian cells may not accomodate everything God has to say, i am sorry, you might not have all the answers. And u are not ready to ask GOD where HE originated from, are you? Certain things are left for your conscience to help you (read Romans 1:20-32). You will not have answers for everything, the reason we use faith. Thanks

70. Alyssia says:

Thank you for taking the time to write this out, I came looking for an answer to atheists when they ask why, why does God allow innocent babies and people to die? I needed something an answer I could back up with scripture. With this being said I don’t think I could possibly come up with anything so thorough and be able to find the scriptures to back up my own thoughts on the matter. Although some of your point were always in my mind, if God allowed a drug addict who was bringing other people down despite many many rock bottoms and chances to change his way but kept on doing harm to others and their innocence turns to corruption, God then will find a perfect time to take him away while still being able to save the others from the damage he’s done. This is a true story of someone I knew and because of his death that is where I learned the truth to why God kills for myself. He produced in me the answer because I asked him. Of course my own faith isn’t enough which is why it’s so crucial to have scripture to back my responses. Again thank you and I look forward to adding your pieces to my reading list.

71. Heather Rushing says:

Thank you Aron, you were very helpful and I enjoyed the quoted passages by C.S. Lewis. I hope seeds were planted through all of this. Many more could be still. God is Sovereign. Amen

72. Luder says:

Hello commentators!

Thanks for all the great thoughts and ideas you have shared in this thread.

Quickly, let me share mine.

When it comes to bible, there are only two ways to read it. You can think of it as God's revelation and read it by applying faith and belief that it's without any errors. The alternative way of reading is to put it through strict scrutiny and have an unbiased analytical approach.

The first method is best done by evangelicals. The second method is best done by skeptics. Now it gets interesting I guarantee. Almost all evangelicals claim that they also employ analytical and critical approach when studying the Bible on top of their faith commitments. Imagine, the Bible on a table, a cloud of faith is spread just above it and our dear evangelist is looking from above the cloud with a pair of skeptical eyes! The faith cloud is going to distort the actual view of the Bible?!

On the other hand, skeptics clear away that faith cloud in order to get the best and near accurate picture of what was happening in the days when some sincere men and women are convinced to write and rewrite history by having a deity in the mix of their writings.

There is an interesting aspect in critical scholarship of biblical studies. It is called documentary hypothesis. Scholars, with the help of archeological findings and extra biblical sources of antiquity and with extensive cross examination of the Hebrew Bible have convincingly established the historical background of the books of Hebrew Bible. More so on the first 5 books of the Bible.

As you probably wondered (if you've ever read the Bible!), the creation narrative seems to have two stories. In the first God is portrayed as a cosmic figure. He creates non living objects first, then living things from plants and then ends with humans. No clay man story there. Next chapter gives the order of creation in a strikingly different way. God starts with Adam, then tries to find a mate suitable for him, creates animals to see it'll be good for Adam to play with. Then it strikes his mind. Oh, it should be someone comparable to Adam's size and shape. Look, here God is a trial and error guy! Just like us, humans. Are you getting an idea of who wrote this book? And who has or had and never will have a part in it?!

To know more, please read the book 'Who Wrote The Bible' by Richard Friedman.

Please remove your cloud at least temporarily and read the Bible to see what it says actually. It's lot more interesting and useful to read the Bible as it is.

Oh, no! God cannot order humans (Israelites) to kill horses of a foreign nation by causing excruciating pain like cutting through their tendons!

God, if there's one, is definitely a better person than a vengeful figure who shows extreme favoritism to Israelites alone on the earth and is willing to painfully exterminate any nation, including disobeying Israelites just to show he's angry.

The God who chose not to instinctively reveal himself within our brains has no reason to question what we choose to have as supernatural figures including sun, moon, air, thunder and for that matter, Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, Krishna etc.

Cheers!

Luder

73. Aron Wall says:

Luder,

However, I strongly disagree with your metaphor that faith is like a "cloud" that obscures, whereas skepticism can see clearly. In my experience, the exact opposite is the case.

Most skeptics are able to read the Bible only in a very limited and superficial way, that is far from being "unbiased". As I wrote about a year ago:

At this point I should also mention another "skeptical" approach to evaluating religions which I think has very little merit, just to get it out of the way. And that is to read the scriptures of a religion solely for the purpose of compiling a long list of "contradictions" that supposely disprove the books in question. The main problem with this approach is that, generally speaking, the "worse" of a reader you are (i.e. superficial, hostile, and literal-minded) the more seeming contradictions you will find. In other words, this is an approach which rewards poor reading. And as St. Lewis remarked in one of his Narnia books, "the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed." (Of course, this approach is even sillier when done by followers of another religion, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their own holy book might be subjected to the same treatment.)

You have to give a text an chance, "suspending your disbelief" and savoring its taste on your tongue, even in order to find out what it is really saying. Only then can you judge whether the ideas in it are sound or not.

On the other hand believers, precisely because they are sympathetic to the perspective of those who wrote it, are able to read the text as a unity, and can clearly perceive many things about the Bible that skeptics are completely oblivious to. I can see the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 just as clearly as you can, but I can also extract from their common themes a message about what I myself am, that is capable of revolutionizing how I live my life. I can also read the text in a community of other people who are trying to apply the text to their lives (the Church). On the other hand, very few people who read the Bible with a skeptical mindset, or within the mental frame of a secular academic community, ever change how they live their lives as a result. (Excluding of course those who come to faith as a result of reading the text, as has happened to some people I know.)

Who knows a person better? His friends, or a sociologist who studies him from the outside by looking at his demographic information? Obviously, the friend knows him better (even if the sociologist might know some specific "facts" that the friend does not know). In the same way, the person of faith knows many things about God, that are completely invisible to skeptics.

Here are some additional reflections by another Christian blogger about how faith changes one's approach to reading the text.

On the other hand, skeptics clear away that faith cloud in order to get the best and near accurate picture of what was happening in the days when some sincere men and women are convinced to write and rewrite history by having a deity in the mix of their writings.

Here you are begging the question, by assuming that said Deity does not exist. If this assumption of yours is wrong, then of course you will not come to a more accurate reading of texts describing the men and women who spoke with God. Yes, the Bible often describes God's actions in a limited and anthropmorphic way, but that is exactly what you would expect if he was revealing himself to limited anthropods. (If God only used 100% literally accurate language to describe himself, none of it would be understandable to humans, since our minds are finite, whereas God is infinite and unlimited.) If on the other hand, God is real, and wants to use the Bible to show us truths which exceed our natural powers of understanding, then excluding God from the conversation will obviously make it impossible for us to come to see those truths.

(Yes, some believers are also stupid and interpret the text badly, in a way which can be extremely embarrasing to more sophisticated people. And yet the stupidest Christian who has an actual relationship with Jesus, is in a better position to learn something helpful from the Bible, than the most intelligent critical scholar who is only interested in dividing adjacent verses of the bible among distinct "source communities".

There is an interesting aspect in critical scholarship of biblical studies. It is called documentary hypothesis. Scholars, with the help of archeological findings and extra biblical sources of antiquity and with extensive cross examination of the Hebrew Bible have convincingly established the historical background of the books of Hebrew Bible. More so on the first 5 books of the Bible.

Interesting, yes. Convincing, no. I am familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis, and I think it's probably bogus. You can probably figure out why I think that from reading my post on Some comments on Biblical History and clicking on some links in the last bullet point here. (But, even if the Documentary Hypothesis were true, somebody (who for all you know was really named Moses) deliberately decided to place Genesis 1 next to Genesis 2. And if you want to understand what that person was thinking, then you've got to read the two chapters in a way which mkaes them harmonize with each other.)

74. Luder says:

Hello Aron,

Thanks for taking your time to respond to my post.

As much as I want to respond to your ideas individually, I'm right now busy with my work. I'm a forex day trader. 2018 was a great year, I made enough but last year sucked. I'm working on tweaking my strategy. So, I'm caught up most of the time.

Well, for you, I assume it might be the same. If I'm not mistaken, you're a professor, right? I know for teaching at university, 24 hours a day won't be enough as I took a part time teaching job last year! I couldn't manage time, and I quit.

Okay, without wasting time, let me cut to the chase.

I wish you answer me on this. If you want to and when you're free. In the meantime, I'll prepare some interesting responses to your ideas.

Well, the question is this. Actually two questions rolled into one!

Is the God of the Bible limited by time? To expand, is it possible for him to time travel as he sees fit? Say, go to Moses's period and come back to our period in seconds and do it again if necessary and vice versa?

And the next related question, is the God of the Bible bound to go our standards of legal code? Meaning, today he cannot directly order one nation to kill another nation? Or can he? Even today?

For the second question, please try answering without bringing Jesus into the picture. I know the traditional evangelical answer is Yehweh no longer operates the way he used to because Jesus has a much more toned down approach and he's at work in everybody's lives.

So, please try try answering more or less like yes or no. If you think I'm asking too much, you don't have to respond.

Hoping to see your response. And then we can try connecting the previous post.

Cheers!

Luder

75. Gyasi says:

Hi everyone, it's good to be here.
Since the day I stopped being a Christian or a Bible believer, people tends to say that I'm an atheist, but I am not, no offence to the atheists. And also to the Christians, please don't hate me.
Concerning this matter of God killing babies, infants, innocent people and torturing animals to their death, and nevertheless concluding that all these actions makes God a violent babaric being is a huge blow to every incurable Christian religioneer. But if there is another new thing I have learned from Thomas Paine's book "THE AGE OF REASON" concerning this topic is that " it is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself". If Christians don't wanna stop believing in the Bible, it is neither a sin nor an act that will bring a destruction or a deadly disease to Earth, and an atheist can reason to that, but to the Christians being mentally faithful to themselves they are not. Christians need to accept that there are some things that God did that makes him violent and babarian, I can reason to that, and there could also be a possibility that accepting these atheist accusations can even transform to be Christians. If Christians doesn't accept, then I can guarantee that this Christian-Atheist immature argument can go on and on over and over again.
Thanks, everyone and note no offence and don't hate me.
I'm neither a Christian, atheist nor a religious person but I believe someone or something is behind every great beginning. Have a great day.

76. Joshua says:

@ howie.. u dnt need the truth..ur so biased by ur self righteous thoughts.. and also ur coming to conclusions abt the opposite debater abt their character etc without u knowing anything abt dat..shows ur " push self agenda onto others " attitude.

77. Pablo says:

Dr. Aron Wall : I would like to know your opinion about what is happening on Earth these days . Best regards.

78. Pablo says:

I had a doubt about this notion “ Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” . This notion is as simple as ( Modern Physics : General Relativity , Hiroshima ) or the meaning of this Tree is far more subtle, abstract , complex and profound .

79. Matthew says:

Good day Aron,

Just wanted to know that I am deeply blessed by how God has used you. The way you respond with not just pure wisdom and knowledge but also understanding and love is truly remarkable. May God continually use you for His glory. And stay safe amidst the circumstance we are in right now. Here's me hoping you might be able to produce an opinion or two regarding the historical pandemic we're facing today. God bless!

80. Such a piece can only stem from an undivided heart. Great work, sir.

81. Aron Wall says:

Luder,
You've guessed correctly about my extreme lack of time.  Actually I happen not to be teaching this term, but I have just moved to a new house in Cambridge (for the 3rd time in 10 months) which is almost as bad...

Is the God of the Bible limited by time? To expand, is it possible for him to time travel as he sees fit? Say, go to Moses's period and come back to our period in seconds and do it again if necessary and vice versa?

I interpret the Bible as saying that God is timeless.  That is, as an eternal being, he is outside of time altogether.  (This is related to the fact that he has no material body, is not composed of parts, and is not changeable.)  So this means:

1. Yes, he is not limited by time.

2. But "time travel" is not really the right way to think about it.  Time travel would describe the life of a being who normally progrsses through time much as we do, but has the ability to skip back to the past or forward future.  But God doesn't progress through time at all.  Instead he exists equally at all times, similar to how he is onmipresent (rather than having a particular spatial location).  Thus, he transcends time even more than the time traveller.  It does not even take him "seconds" to go back to the time of Moses and back, rather he is always present at Moses' time just as much as he is present at our own time.

And the next related question, is the God of the Bible bound to go our standards of legal code? Meaning, today he cannot directly order one nation to kill another nation? Or can he? Even today?

That question is easy. God is certainly not bound by our legal codes, since legal codes are created by human beings to regulate the conduct of other humans, and human beings have no authority to legislate for God.  (While as a general rule Christians are supposed to obey lawful government authorities, when the government orders us to do something which conflicts with God's commands (e.g. something which is unethical) then in such cases it is necessary to prioritize God's commands.)

The more interesting question (and more relevant to the issue of genocide) of how God is related to our human notions of ethics. Jews and Christians believe that God is perfectly good, so this has to affect how we understand Biblical passages like the ones being discussed.

For the second question, please try answering without bringing Jesus into the picture. I know the traditional evangelical answer is Yehweh no longer operates the way he used to because Jesus has a much more toned down approach and he's at work in everybody's lives.

This is like prefacing a question to a physicist with: "I'm curious about the structure of atoms, but please try answering without bringing Quantum Mechanics into the picture. Just answer the way you would if all you knew about was Classical Mechanics." I mean, I could try to indulge such a request, but it would result in me saying things about the subject that I believe to be wrong or at least extremely incomplete. And there would be puzzles and paradoxes which couldn't be resolved in that framework because their resolution involves quantum effects. (E.g. classically, you'd expect electrons to radiate EM waves and fall all the way into the nucleus, rather than staying in their orbits, and you also wouldn't expect them to jump between discrete energy levels.)

As Christians we believe that Jesus reveals what were God's purposes all along. To ignore him in my answer to you, means ignoring highly relevant data. If you really want to know how somebody who doesn't believe in Jesus would interpret God's actions, then maybe you should ask an Orthodox Jew instead of me.

82. Kyrie says:

@Luder , faith is not a cloud distorting the Bible ... rather the secret element to truly understanding it .. those who have eyes to see let them see , those who have ears to hear let them hear :)

83. Craig Paardekooper says:

Much of what God does is hidden until we see the bigger picture.
The Bible relates the destruction of the Canaanites and depicts the slaughter of women, children and animals by the sword. In order to understand this even we should see it in the context of the cycle of Covenant and Judgement that occurs throughout the Old Testament.
From the time of the Floods (Ussher 2348 B.C.) and the time of Jeremiah (640 B.C.) God entered into a series of covenants with his people -
Noachic Covenant (2348 B.C.)
Abrahamic Covenant (1921 B.C)
Mosaic Covenant (1491 B.C.)
Davidic Covenant (1011 B.C.)
New Covenant (640 B.C)
What is apparent is that each covenant is separated by approximately 430 years from the preceding one. Also, each covenant is associated with a judgement falling upon the people who broke the previous covenant.
In Noahs time, the judgement was the Flood. In Abrahams time, the judgement was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Moses time, the judgement was the Exodus and Conquest of Canaan. In Davids time the judgement was the destruction of the Palestinians. In Jeremiahs time the destruction as that of the Jews and Jerusalem which were taken into capitivity by the Babylonians.

So there is a cycle of Covenant and Judgement lasting approximately 430 years. And during this 430 years God is patient and allows sins to accumulate. "Their sins have not yet reached their full measure" . Then God carries out judgement against a particular generation for the sins of the prior generations during the 430 year period.

But how can one generation be held responsible for the sins of a prior generation? Only if the same souls were being reborn into the same geographical and tribal groups over and over again.

So the cycle of judgement and covenant is only understandable if there is a cycle of souls. And this would explain why God allowed and indeed commanded the children to perish during the Canaanite conquest.

What appears unfair and unjust from the usual vantage point of a singular lifetime, may appear just and fair from the vantage point of the bigger picture.

84. Aron Wall says:

Craig,
The Bible teaches resurrection from the dead, not reincarnation. See e.g. Hebrews 9:27. You're reading into the Bible an idea that just isn't found there.

85. Ken Hachi says:

It's funny how you tried to go around the question but not really answering the question. Just face it

86. Aron Wall says:

Ken,
It's also funny how so many people think that writing a one line dismissal, which fails to grapple with anything I wrote, will somehow change my mind about this issue. In what way did I go around the question? Please be specific.

87. Alex Kiarie says:

I think that before any of us place God under the microscope we should acknowledge that he is probably much smarter than any of us and thus concluding that he makes stupid or bad decisions is illogical and it seems so because of your lack of a better understanding. So question with caution. I live in a country so deeply rooted in religion that people are exploited through it almost on a daily basis. I had been a hundred percent devoted Christian and few months back could never imagine that I could be in a position of doubt as I am now. My prayers weren't being answered and I started seeing that it didn't make a difference if I didn't pray so I gave up. After stepping back and trying to scrutinize Christianity from an outside perspective most of it makes sense and is factual including the existence of the God of the Bible (this is my very unbiased opinion).But what bothers me and I guess most people is the lack of God's direct intervention in our lives
I meant why doesn't that supernatural biblical stuff happen in my life?and why doesn't God answer prayers? Trust me I asked seeked and knocked very persistently but I had to always convince myself that in future God would do it. But in truth there was that feeling of constant inner peace, joy and assurance and few supernatural experiences that kept me going. So now I'm afraid of getting disappointed again. I am still on a personal journey to try to reconcile with the fact that God isn't always going to be available to my expectations. But what I have learnt is that Christianity and any other religion require the followers to have a lot of faith and trust in their God. These are the basic pillars because many things are not according to our expectations and you have to trust and believe that God is powerful wise and good. So for me and anyone else I believe that the answer we seek is not so much of a change on God's part but on ours.

88. Christiana says:

thank you so much for giving me clarity. I've struggled with this issue for many years and it has really hurt my relationship with God. I wanted to love God but couldn't understand how to love a GOd and have a relationship with a God who seemed so harsh. This article gave me a new perspective on God's justice and judgement that brought peace to areas of my mind that had been unsettled ever since i was a child, even after becoming a believer.

89. Michelle says:

I’d just like to say thank you Aron for this post and for responding to some of the comments/questions. I am a fairly new Christian and had been struggling with some of these questions myself.

Ps I love the way you write, I just feel like your prose is very elegant. Wish I could write as well as you!

90. Andre Roring says:

Thanks Aron for posting this.
Whatever God's reasons for killing people, there was no question. the problem now is that God is inconsistent! It is written in the 10 Commandments of Allah 'DO NOT KILL', then why does God himself order people to kill other people? whether God has lost the ability to kill, as He did to Sodom & Gomorrah or in other ways, as long as it does not order people to commit offenses that God has appointed Himself.
GBU.

91. sammyceng says:

@Andre Roring
the commandment says "do not murder" its not "do not kill" its big different , https://youtu.be/0RENPaY043o

92. Christine Anderson says:

I have to ask and I hope someone will reply to me on this.... what about when god commands innocent animals to be hurt? Not even killed?

Like in Joshua when god commands that they hamstring the opposing people’s horses. Like I would understand if he said kill them... because their being alive would allow the opposing people’s to fight better. In that sense it would be understandable that God bring those horses into heaven sooner. However... he simply tells Joshua to torture the horses. Slice their hamstrings and let them fall and suffer for who knows how long. I don’t believe anyone can truly explain that as something the god we know from the New Testament would do. And it doesn’t allow the above explanation to stand. I am a newly baptized Christ follower someone please help :-(

93. JamesH says:

I think that your supposition rests on a literal reading of OT. In fact, the battles described in Joshua are not known to have actually occurred, i.e. there is little archeological or other evidence that they did. So it seems that we could interpret this (as well as some other books in OT) other than literally. The theologian Paul Copan has argued that passages such as that which you describe may be read as “hagiographic hyperbole” intended for rhetorical effect not proposals of God for actual warfare. This way of reading OT is, of course, very old. Thus Origen (180-250 AD) wrote of Genesis “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”
(Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4, p. 365).

94. Aron Wall says:

Christine,
First of all, congratulations on your baptism into the body of Christ!  May the love of God bless you as you seek to follow Christ more closely through his Holy Spirit.

I hope that the following considerations may be helpful to you.

1. After doing a bit of research online, it seems to be not completely clear whether the Hebrew word עָקַר (aqar) actually means to hamstring, or something else.  I found some authors arguing that this word might in this case mean castrate' or exterminate'.  (I take it from your comment that you would not find those meanings as objectionable.)

I'm not enough of an expert in ancient Hebrew to adjudicate this dispute, but when dealing with a text written 3,000 years ago in another language (without any vowels, or spaces between the words), one can never entirely rule out the possibility that the English translation of an individual verse may not be entirely correct.  In many cases the translators have to reply on centuries-later traditions about what a verse means.  Of course this sort of thing doesn't affect the main message of the Scriptures, but humility means we sometimes have to hold lightly to our understanding of particular details.

2. In Christian theology, while God does indeed care about animals, human beings are regarded as more important than other animals, due to being created in the image of God.  Jesus affirms both of these truths when he says:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God... So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:6-7)

As a child of God, it does you credit that you have compassion for innocent horses, and I would never want you to stop feeling that sympathy.  However, I am unable to share a perspective on Joshua 11 in which animals being injured is a more important issue than an entire city of humans being killed.

3. It's important to realize that in that era, horses weren't just pets, they were also military technology.  By commanding the Israelites to eliminate the horses (or castrate, or whatever it actually was), God was preventing the next few generations of Israelites from attempting to become a military superpower in the Middle East.  Because that wasn't really the type of nation he was trying to build...

4. Yes, unlike a tank, a horse is sentient and can suffer.  That's an important distinction.  But animals are often killed or maimed in the wild, and if you can believe in a God who would create Nature as we see it, I think it is not impossible to believe in a God who would command horses to be injured or killed for a sufficiently good purpose.  We aren't always able to understand God's reasons, but that doesn't mean they aren't there.

5. Whether or not any of the above considerations make sense to you, every Christian who reads the Bible is going to ecounter some things that they don't like or understand.  If we are nevertheless able to trust that God is good, it is because we have had an encounter with the love of Jesus that reassures us of the goodness of God.  When one has become certain of the character of God through his own love for us, seen through the lens of the Cross, we are then able to trust him with the earlier moments in history.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't wrestle with these issues, but we do so from a position where we already have reason to view him as good and loving.

JamesH,
I think you are conflating two very different scenarios here. It sounds like you believe that the Canaanite conquest never happened at all, and that the accounts of it in Joshua are mythological. This is very different from the position of St. Paul Copan, who appears to believe (if I have understood correctly from blog posts reviewing his book) that the Canaanite conquest was a historical event, but that certain particular descriptions of it are hyperbolic.

The conquest of Canaan is, on the face of it, much more embedded in the middle of the Old Testament historical narrative than Genesis 1. It is easy to read Genesis 1-11 as partially mythological without changing much of substance in what follows. On the other hand, a total denial of the historicity of the conquest of Canaan would also seem to also undermine the historicity of Moses, the Exodus, and the giving of the law. Are you prepared to say that these events are totally mythological? I am not. On that scenario, it would seem like Judaism is basically false in its core historical claims. (Maybe there is a way for this to be compatible with the Incarnation really having occured, but if there is a God who is willing to enter history around AD 1, he would also be willing to act previous to that time to prepare the way for that.)

Regarding St. Paul Copan's view, while I don't find it at all implausible that (1) the degree of success in wiping out the Canaanites is sometimes exaggerated (since many Canaanites seem to still be around in later events), and that (2) some of the shrewder Canaanites might have fled the Holy Land and so been spared. But it seems disingenuous to interpret the text in any way that wouldn't be considered genocide today. On the face of it, the instructions to Israel were instructed to kill even noncombatants, and their failure to do this completely is explicitly identified later on as a sin. Given the stories (like Achan, or Samuel) in which Israel is rebuked for making exceptions, I find it difficult to understand these texts in a way that is at all compatible with modern sensibilities.

By the way, in medieval theology, allegorical interpretations of the Bible were regarded as an additional layer of meaning, not an alternative to the text being literally true. As St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, God has the power to symbolize his intended message by means of historical events that actually occurred. So the allegorical meaning actually rests on the foundation of properly understanding the literal meaning --- which doesn't of course mean that we can ignore genre conventions, about to what extent the narrative is intended to reflect real historical events. But things are more complicated than just: allegorical or historical, pick one.

(Nor is it obvious to me that denying the historicity of the event would remove the ethical problem from the text. Even if the event didn't actually happen historically, it's still presented in divinely inspired Scripture as a narrative that is supposed to reveal something about God's character and values. For example, I think we learn something from the Noah story about how God doesn't grade human beings on the curve --- it is possible for virtually everyone to flunk the test --- and this is still revelatory, even if a global Flood didn't literally happen.)

95. JamesH says:

“I think you are conflating two very different scenarios here. It sounds like you believe that the Canaanite conquest never happened at all, and that the accounts of it in Joshua are mythological. “

I am open-minded on the question of whether the conquest actually happened. My understanding is that there is not very much archeological or other evidence that it did. However, this question does not seem to be central to the “hamstring” issue. Even if the conquest was an actual historical event, that doesn’t seem to be a good reason to suppose that God would impart a message to hamstring horses; those present at an actual conquest may have simply felt that God was imparting a message about how to deal with horses, or it may have been some sort of elaboration. This last interpretation seems to be consistent with Copan’s “hagiographic hyperbole.”

“...The conquest of Canaan is, on the face of it, much more embedded in the middle of the Old Testament historical narrative than Genesis 1. It is easy to read Genesis 1-11 as partially mythological without changing much of substance in what follows. On the other hand, a total denial of the historicity of the conquest of Canaan would also seem to also undermine the historicity of Moses, the Exodus, and the giving of the law. Are you prepared to say that these events are totally mythological? “

I agree that it’s easier to read Genesis mythologically than these other books. On the reading of Exodus etc., all I would say is that we just don’t know how much of these books is history and how much is mythology, “hagiographic hyperbole” or something similar. All we can do is go along with the best available scholarship and be prepared to modify our views as necessary in the light of any new evidence.

“Even if the event didn't actually happen historically, it's still presented in divinely inspired Scripture as a narrative that is supposed to reveal something about God's character and values. For example, I think we learn something from the Noah story about how God doesn't grade human beings on the curve --- it is possible for virtually everyone to flunk the test --- and this is still revelatory, even if a global Flood didn't literally happen.)”

I agree with this completely. I am just arguing that the Bible is a collection of books in different genres. All we can do is use the best available scholarship to elucidate whether a given book should be read historically, as a moral fable or so on. A moral fable can impart a true moral message and can just as well be divinely inspired as an historical text. We should always be prepared to modify our views in the light of new historical or other evidence.

96. Mactoul says:

Genesis 1 is very different from the later chapters. Fr Jaki claims that Genesis 1 is post-exile and its purpose was to held up God as model for sabbath observance. I am unsure whether it could be called a myth.
I wonder if there are any myths, properly speaking, in the Bible.

97. JamesH says:

Yes, “myth” and “mythological” might not be the best words to use here as these terms have a variety of different meanings. I meant to say that we should read Genesis allegorically. Since the Bible is not a single book but a collection of books spanning many centuries, it isn’t always obvious, either, whether a given book should be read allegorically or not.

98. Rhonda Dynneson says:

I want to believe that scripture reflects the Ancient cultural world view of the people retelling their history. God is active and guiding them to a fuller knowledge of himself. Even now 2000 years after Christ, we have to admit that our own cultural world view influences how we interpret scripture, politics, and the news. Even in our personal lives our perceptions cloud reality. I choose to believe that Jesus is God’s Word to us and that God continues to evolve our world view and align it to his, through scripture, prayer, loving and supportive community, personal and corporate experiences (history and science) And by the power of His Holy Spirit we get ever closer to knowing Him and experiencing eternal life now.

The ancient people had many gods and thought the most powerful god was the warrior god that could defeat all others. The Israelites thought Yahweh was like this and God worked with them to eventually reveal his true heart and character, culminating in the incarnation of himself.

99. Bert says:

One thing about perceptions of God, it's subject to projection of ones own mentality and thought processes, as well as those one is familiar with. Biblical narratives often are out of the scope of many understanding because of these traits of human thought.
Which, I have yet to see any ever take note of the type of people that were slaughtered. Never.
Take the type people who destroy others lives by their own desires and lusts, doing whatever they so choose, regardless of who they hurt. Whether they're just sick saddest, mean spirited, or oppressors. Or simply violent. The type that would target anyone reading this right now. Where they lust after you, so that they take you by force and have their way with you, or they see you have something they want so they take it by deceit, force or otherwise. Then, it being an accepted way of life. The only way you'd stop such a culture is to annihilate them. Then, like killing children, and women. Some will remember a slaughter, where they hold grievances. Such types repopulate, they'll probably be taught about these things where they harbor hard feelings as well as having a vendetta. Not to mention others like such of other nations who were similiar or worse. Which nations interact, which talk of having shared grievances and vendetta's, in time, they could repopulate to a powerful force, then collude against Israel, who were to be better people, understanding you do not do others like this.
Which, it justifies mass annihilation. Different circumstances warranting various levels of action.
These are things the average person, even preachers do not know, nor think about. Yet, it's common sense. It's understood by world leaders, but common people know nothing of it it seems. Look at the Soviet Union, where political opposition were killed or sent off to Siberia. How about the road where it's said every 3-4' lies a dead body of those building the road collapsed dead. Or, even WWII, prisoners in the gulags being offered freedom if they fight in the war, where they suffered huge losses. Faithful being killed, as an atheist state was desired. Or fleeing to other countries. A good example of obliterating and minimizing ones opposition. It's happened everywhere. Look at American Indians. They'd attack settlers, the army sent forces to deal with it. Yet, others assisted willingly, who did not oppose the intentions. Look at China and the Dalai Llama. Or the students that rose up.years ago. Look at Africa, in Rwanda in the 90's, mass obliteration, as there was an agenda. The methodology may change as tactics and strategy can be found effective, which still quells their resistant, but isn't as likely to spark outrage, thus rebellion with support from others.

100. Karolyn says:

Hi Aron,

I appreciate your thoughts on this highly controversial and divisive topic of the OT God being anything but the God of love. I have to admit that in order to accept the killing of innocent babies and animals even by God you have to turn off your humanistic feeling. It is never right to stab infants perdiod. I refuse to live in a world where it’s ever right nor can I hope to find myself in a “heaven” bought with such a horrifying price. I stopped being a Christian when I had a baby. Looking at him and imagining him to be in those times “rightly” slaughtered by “God’s people” makes me so scared and confused that I cannot understand how such a religion could exist for so long. The fact that you and I habe such different moral thresholds for suffering of the innocent shows that in favt people don’t have some built-in moral compasses as implied in the Bible. I still think that it’s beneficial for some people to clung to this faith to feel complete amd happy and in no way do I judge them, but for me such depictions of God only make sense if they were people’s imagination created either with evil purpose or by some honest mistake. Please note that don’t consider myself an atheist as I am convinced that there is life after we die and that this world is not just a freaky cosmic accident. I just think that going in the direction of abrahamic religious will not lead to the truth, it will only lead to confusion the evidence for which this discussion is. I hope everyone is going to come to terms with the evil in this world one way or another, may you all have peace of mind. As for me, I don’t know which religion is true and for that matter if any of them are true, but I do believe that people who saw the light and the other side during their near death experiences don’t lie. Please read their stories online (for example https://www.nderf.org/Archives/NDERF_NDEs.html) There are so many of people who did experience something when their heart stopped beating for a while, my mother’s included. Blessings to y’all.

101. Aron Wall says:

Bert,
You make some interesting points, which are certainly germane to the question of the Canaanite conquest. But I also find your comment very disturbing, with its seeming implication that genocide might also be justifiable even in the case of large modern ethnicities (including, apparently some subgroups of Russians, Native Americans, Chinese, Rwandans...). I have to strongly dissent from your implication that it is possible for human beings to correctly identify, using merely human wisdom, cultures that are worthy of being wiped out.

Let me emphasize that according to my blog post (like what the Nazis did) is still ALWAYS WRONG except when justified by an explicit divine command. (And there are no such divine commands valid for this era of history, in which Christians are instead commanded to tell the good news about Jesus to all nations, and to love even those who seek to kill or harm us.)

The exception arises, not because I am a divine command theorist, but because only God is able to make the moral judgements required. All cultures contain some good as well as some evil, and it would require superhuman wisdom to know that the speculative long term good obtained by removing a culture, outweighs the very obvious and palpable evil associated with killing innocent children. Hence, a human being who orders a genocide (apart from the limited exceptions found in the Torah, which were valid only for Old Testament period) is always and invariably evil.

Karolyn,
Thanks for your comment. Your feelings of moral revulsion towards killing babies certainly do you credit. I assure you that, as the parent of a 7 week old infant, the thought of anyone killing such a being is as loathsome to me, as to any other parent. But emotions by themselves don't add up to a logical argument. I can't help but notice that your comment is based almost entirely on an emotional argument---claiming I'm inhuman, as if I liked the idea of killing babies---rather than refuting any of my specific arguments in which I mentioned several specific ways in which God is quite different than human murderers.

St. John says that "God is love", and "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all." So it is certainly common ground between us that God could never do anything which is not loving. I am not asking you to believe in a God who is evil---it would be better not to believe in God at all, than that. The question is what difference God's far superior knowledge and power makes.

In order to judge whether an act is ethical, it needs to be taken in light of the full circumstances. For example, when a surgeon cuts open a baby's chest cavity in order to perform a life-saving operation, this is very different morally than if another person did a similar act just for fun. If you jumped up and down and said "It's just wrong to cut open a baby, no matter what the circumstances are!" then that would not change the fact that the surgeon is morally justified, because there is a greater good (the long term health of the child) which justifies it.

Now you say you are not an atheist, and that you DO believe in an afterlife. So it is clear you think there is a life beyond this one. If God is responsible for providing this life after death, then obviously this opens up the possibility of a greater good which we only obtain by dying in this life. Hence, for all your protests, you cannot logically rule out the possibility that when God takes the life of a child, he does so in order to provide the child with a far greater good than what they would have experienced in this life.

So I don't think your argument succeeds. And it is for this logical reason---and not because I am morally defective, I hope---that I am willing to state that God (but not humans) has moral authority over human life over death.

You wrote:

I have to admit that in order to accept the killing of innocent babies and animals even by God you have to turn off your humanistic feeling.
[...]
The fact that you and I habe such different moral thresholds for suffering of the innocent shows that in favt people don’t have some built-in moral compasses as implied in the Bible.

Even if you were right about the ethics of the genocides in the Old Testament, this argument doesn't follow at all. If, as you say, somebody has to "turn off" their humanistic feelings, then logically that implies that they still have those feelings, they are just suppressing or ignoring them. And that is exactly what St. Paul meant by the "law written in our hearts". Paul certainly wasn't trying to say that everybody always follows his moral compass! Or that people never ignore it and do bad things in the name of religion---if that were true, then Jesus would not have been condemned by the Sanhedren, and crucified.

(But perhaps you were just lashing out in anger, and didn't really mean to assert this?)

Also, I don't think our moral thresholds are that different. "Never commit genocide", and "Never commit genocide, unless explicitly commanded to do so by God" work out to pretty much the same thing in day-to-day life, especially since I don't think God gives such commands in the modern era.

102. Aron Wall says:

[Editorial note: I just expanded this blog post significantly.

Also, there are a lot of people who have read this post and comment on it solely for purposes of expressing their anger against the God of the Bible, or that anyone could believe in such a Deity. Most of these posts don't engage in any substantive way with the things I've written. If you wish to make an argument against this blog post, please make sure to re-read the four sections labelled I-IV and then make sure that what you are saying is actually responsive what I've written. Thanks!—AW]

103. JamesH says:

"Karolyn writes: As for me, I don’t know which religion is true and for that matter if any of them are true, but I do believe that people who saw the light and the other side during their near death experiences don’t lie."

I have always been very sceptical about these reported "near death" experiences on theological grounds. Surely, God, being omnipotent, would know whether someone was about to die or not. If He knows that they are *not* going to die, then, presumably, He would not "run" a near-death experience for that person. To suppose otherwise is, in effect, to suppose that He is not omnipotent.

104. Aron Wall says:

JamesH,
I don't put a huge amount of stock in NDE's myself, but since Karolyn thinks they are important, I thought I would say something about what would follow from them. It is true that there are enough commonalities between different reports of NDE's that I'm not sure they can be dismissed out of hand.

Regarding your theological objections, I agree that it seems inconsistent with God's omnisicence for him to accept somebody into heaven proper, given that he knows whether or not they are going to die. But, I'm not sure that's a necessary implication here. There's a reason why NDE are called near death experiences rather than actual death experiences. It is not necessary to assume that NDE's are identical to what happens to people who are "all dead", as Miracle Max would say. (And in many cases the spiritual beings explain to the person in question that they are going to have to return, which seems fully consistent with God knowing whether the person is going to really die or not.)

Given the existence of a spirtual world, it is not suprising if people might be more likely to have mystical visions or experiences at times when their ordinary mental processing is disrupted (e.g. during a state of cardiac arrest, but it's not as if only near-death patients have visions). St. Paul himself talks about an event of being "caught up to paradise" (2 Cor 12:2-4) in what seems to regard as a possible "out of body experience"---but he is careful not to say that he actually knows. And if a person is having a medical crisis, it may make sense for their vision or dream to be thematically related to life after death, even if that person is not really going to die.

As always, such visions should not be uncritically treated as infallible, especially given the tendency of some people to remember spurious detials after the fact (a fact which is not necessarily helped by talking to researchers who are trying to study stereotypical NDE experiences). Nor are such experiences as authoritative as established biblical revelation (cf. Numbers 12:6-8).

In any case God does not necessarily need to follow our own rules in deciding how to reach people. I have a friend who converted to Christianity as a result of an intense theological psychadelic trip he experienced, after smoking weed (which occasionally has effects more similar to LSD). Now I myself would strongly advise against using drugs as a method to obtain spiritual insight, since I think it dramatically increases the risk of false (or even demonic) spiritual experiences. But, this is a rule of human wisdom, and not a restriction that I am in a position to place on God himself, who can do whatever he wants.

105. I.

There is no meaningful distinction between "When God commands something, it is right because God has commanded it" and "God is only capable of commanding that which is right, because God is Good." Both are examples of Divine Command morality and, indeed, both are the same statement. If we cannot reason what makes one act 'Good' and another 'Evil', beyond 'God did it' then it can serve no purpose to us nor does it make sense to deliver unto us via sacred texts. It is much more reasonable to consider that the God of the Israelites is a narrative device of their King and, as such, God must be depicted as capricious because at times the King will be capricious. The God of the Israelites is no different than the multitude of Bronze Age patron deities of City/States, in this respect except that people still make such logical blunders in attempt to rationalize his actions and I've yet to see any attempt to rationalize Marduk as such. If I kill and claim God has commanded me to, it makes no difference as to which God I am claiming has commanded me, I have committed an immoral act because there is no reasonable means of drawing distinction between my claim being the truth, psychosis or an excuse.

When Abraham pleads with God not to destroy Sodom, it is most interesting to me that, not only does Abraham suggests that this might be an immoral act and that God sees enough truth to let him make his case (which is textual evidence against your entire supposition), but that at no point does God stop him or tell him 'that's too few righteous; at that point the morality calculus doesn't weigh out' but Abraham simply gives up having negotiated God down to 10. I cannot help but to wonder if God wasn't waiting for Abraham to say, 'Actually, maybe you just shouldn't murder them all, either way?'

Similarly, Abraham being ordered to murder his son, regardless of Abraham's (potentially flawed) assumptions, it makes very little sense for an all-good and all-knowing God to abuse Abraham and traumatize Issac in this way. Ostensibly, God should know the result and there should be no need to test, and even if we assume there was some point to the test (and thus accept a limit to God's knowing), walking Abraham to that point only to call him back at the last moment doesn't actually test Abraham because he doesn't actually do it. An all-powerful God could raise Issac back from the dead and, thus, there would be no reason to stop Abraham.

The only pretext that could make sense, in my reckoning, is that there are limits to God's knowledge (specifically preserving free-will) and that Abraham was on the precipice of doing it and thusly failed God's test of his morality. Abraham (and by extension, humanity) had not developed a moral philosophy sophisticated enough to reason that he should challenge God.

If God orders you to kill someone, I should hope you'd argue the point.
I certainly would.

The faithful often have said 'God works in mysterious ways', yet this seems to invariably come up as rationalization for why the irrational 'moral of the story' should be accepted and never why deeper reasoning, which sheds light upon that mystery, might be considered. Almost as if, 'it didn't make sense then, therefore we cannot make sense of it now.'

106. Aron, I could not help but notice your last comment and I can't help but wonder...

For what reason do you believe your friend's experience was not false or even demonic, beyond simply agreeing with the conclusion?

107. Aron Wall says:

Lilith,
Welcome to my blog. Here are a few reactions to your comments.

As a matter of fact, I did not rule out the possibility of "false or even demonic" elements in his weird trip. Some of the aspects did seem to me to be potentially dangerous or potentially leading to arrogance. But I think there were probably also some elements which came from God. When my friend told me about his experience, I prayed and asked God "Well I don't know if it's your will to give me the gift of discerning spirits in general, but I need it right now". I ended up telling him I thought his visions were a mix of different elements and if he wanted to sort it out in his mind, it would be a good idea to lay of the drugs and engage in more mundane religious practices for a while.

That being said, I don't think it is necessarily illegitimate for "agreeing with the conclusion" to play a role. There is a time and a place to weigh the evidence about whether Christianity is true, but the rest of the time one must act on the assumption that one's beliefs are correct.

It is much more reasonable to consider that the God of the Israelites is a narrative device of their King and, as such, God must be depicted as capricious because at times the King will be capricious. The God of the Israelites is no different than the multitude of Bronze Age patron deities of City/States, in this respect except that people still make such logical blunders in attempt to rationalize his actions and I've yet to see any attempt to rationalize Marduk as such.

You can't have read very far in the Bible if you think that God invariably supports the actions of the Israelite King (or more generally, the ascendant powers of the time). In fact it is far more frequent for the prophets to be morally critical of Israel. Even King David and King Solomon are at times severely rebuked for moral wrongdoing.

I agree that support for political powers was pretty much normal for "the multitude of Bronze Age patron deities of City/States" but that makes it all the more remarkable that the Old Testament generally does not adhere to this pattern! In fact, I'd go further and say that our basic modern assumption that it's a good thing to critique the ruling authorities, is something that we ultimately inherit from Judaism.

There is no meaningful distinction between "When God commands something, it is right because God has commanded it" and "God is only capable of commanding that which is right, because God is Good." Both are examples of Divine Command morality and, indeed, both are the same statement.

This is simply an incorrect use of words---in the philosophy literature, the phrase "divine command theory" refers only to the second claim and not to the first one. As for saying that there is no difference, there is all the difference in the world. If some act X is good but for reasons I don't understand, then by doing X I obtain the goods in question even if I don't understand how my act is connected to them. For example, if I get sick and the doctor tells me to take some nasty tasting medicine, but I don't understand his explanation of why it will cure my disease, that doesn't mean I can't accept on his authority that it will help. Obviously this is not equivalent to the statement: "health by definition just means obeying whatever doctors say" (which obviously wouldn't be correct).

Another difference between the two statements comes from the fact that, if God commands me to do a thing (not necessarily killing somebody, my point is more general) for an unknown reason, that maybe at some later point I will come to understand what that reason is. So I actually agree with your statement that we shouldn't do the following:

The faithful often have said 'God works in mysterious ways', yet this seems to invariably come up as rationalization for why the irrational 'moral of the story' should be accepted and never why deeper reasoning, which sheds light upon that mystery, might be considered. Almost as if, 'it didn't make sense then, therefore we cannot make sense of it now.'

Yeah, I think a better approach would be to try to understand the deeper reasoning behind the events as much as possible.

If I kill and claim God has commanded me to, it makes no difference as to which God I am claiming has commanded me, I have committed an immoral act because there is no reasonable means of drawing distinction between my claim being the truth, psychosis or an excuse.

I would certainly meet you part way here, and say that the burden of proof is higher for supposed divine commands to kill people (or to do other things which seem severely wrong by ordinary moral standards). Even though I do believe that God has talked to me on a number of occasions, if I thought he was telling me to kill somebody I would hold it to a higher burden of proof than normally. But in cases where the divine voice has already confirmed itself with numerous miracles (e.g. the miracles of the Exodus) I think the people who heard God's commands under such circumstances did have reasonable means of distinguishing the commands from psychosis or excuses. (Obviously, a skeptic might think the Torah miracles never happened, but this is an uninteresting hypothetical since in that case Judaism is false and obviously the commands of a nonexistent deity should not carry any moral weight.)

If God orders you to kill someone, I should hope you'd argue the point.
I certainly would.

As the Abraham and Sodom story indicates, the God of the Bible does make room for human reactions to change his decisions, so you wouldn't necessarily be off-base to do so. (There are numerous other examples of God accepting such requests in the Bible.)

Ostensibly, God should know the result and there should be no need to test, and even if we assume there was some point to the test (and thus accept a limit to God's knowing),

My view is that while God knows all realities (including the future), if God had not tested Abraham, there would have been no fact of the matter about what Abraham would have done (since human beings have free will). So even though God knows everything that exists, he still needed to test him in order to know this.

walking Abraham to that point only to call him back at the last moment doesn't actually test Abraham because he doesn't actually do it. An all-powerful God could raise Issac back from the dead and, thus, there would be no reason to stop Abraham.

This seems like a pretty minor quibble compared to the other stuff. Abraham's other actions make it clear that he intended to go through with the sacrifice (even though Abraham also seems to have believed that he would get Isaac back afterwards somehow).

Yes, God could have raised Isaac from the dead (a point made in Hebrews 11:19). But by stopping the sacrifice, God made it more clear that he didn't want human sacrifices to be a part of the Israelite religion going forward (cf Leviticus 20:1-5). Furthermore, the substitution of the ram for Isaac points to the principle of substitutionary atonement, and foreshadows the way Christ dies in our place for our sins. Since Isaac was not Christ, it was unfitting for his sacrifice to be taken to its conclusion.

108. Bryan says:

As a Christian, I've been struggling with this for a long, long time. It brings deep sorrow to my heart and the feeling of helplessness, despair and fear. These feelings are not for myself but for others.

109. Aron Wall says:

Bryan,
"helplessness, despair and fear" don't sound like very Christian attitudes to me. If you are capable of trusting Jesus with your own life, then you should also be able to have confidence that he is doing what he can for other people as well.

The difference is that the way God is going to deal with other people isn't really your business (John 21:22). In the Old Testament, God has chosen to share some details with how he dealt with people thousands of years ago, but you shouldn't bother with that if it makes you unable to function spiritually.

The fact that somebody died in God's judgement does not imply that they are permanently rejected by God, as St. Peter makes clear when he stated that Jesus preached the gospel even to the "spirits in prison" who died in the Flood. So even dying in a divine punishment for sin, does not necessarily permanently separate a guilty person from reconciliation with God. How much more can we trust God to save all those who die and are innocent, such as infants?