RESPONDblog: But is God Moral?

victory-of-joshua-over-the-amalekites

 

I believe that human morals reflect the God who made us.

(You can find my claim here http://tinyurl.com/ohepkmw)

My claim assumes that God is moral. Yet ironically many people would point to the Bible itself for evidence to the contrary!

“The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer.” – Robert A. Wilson

 

I don’t completely agree with Robert A. Wilson. On the contrary. The Bible I read shows God’s kindness and patience and generosity on page after page. Yet Wilson does make an important point.

 

The Old Testament records that, as the nation of Israel is entering the Promised Land, God instructs them to destroy the Amalekites completely. This does not sound like a particularly moral thing to do, does it! Where is the call to “love your enemies”? There’s no love here – it sounds like there is a command to commit genocide. Innocent Amalekite men…women…and children all wiped out. Where is the moral goodness in all of that?

 

“Therefore, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this!” Deuteronomy 25:19

 

When it comes to issues of death and judgement – I hardly seem qualified to comment. How am I to understand these very difficult and troubling passages from the Biblical record? My compassion naturally goes out to people. So the thought of a whole nation being wiped out is sobering and hard to take.

 

And yet, Scholar Norman L. Geisler, PH.D. puts God’s command into its proper historical context. And I think this context shows God to be absolutely just – he will punish rebellion when he needs to. But it also shows him to be full of mercy – we are not really talking about a whole nation wiped out, here. If people want to escape, God will let them escape.

 

 

First – history records that the Amalekite people were willfully aggressive and immoral. They were not innocent. Their mission was the destruction of Israel. Genocide. The Bible records that the Amalekites took every opportunity to pick off the weak members of the Israelite people whenever they had the chance. There were other nations like this at the time too. Ancient Near Eastern cultures then were often barbaric and brutal and there were no rules for a humane war amongst these nations.

 

Second – the Amalekite people had been given hundreds of years to change their ways. Yet they persisted in their goal – the destruction of Israel. This was a big problem because God’s plan was to bring salvation for the whole world thru this nation of Israel, his chosen people. If the Amalekites would not change their ways – then God’s just punishment would have to be the result.

 

Third – God’s purpose in commanding the destruction of the Amalekites was to destroy an inherently evil national structure. His intention was not to destroy individual people who were willing to repent.

We can see this expressed in the rules of conduct that God gave to Israel. Israel was the only Ancient Near Eastern nation that had compassion and mercy and fairness at the core of their society. Whenever they arrived at an enemy city, they were to first make the people an offer of peace. We have clear evidence that women and children and non-fighting men had the opportunity to leave the city. Only hardened fighting men remained. The remaining people had a choice. Either accept the offer of peace – and live. Or reject the offer and die.

 

Four – there is evidence that people who repented and changed their ways and chose peace, received peace from God. He was good for his word. For example, the Old Testament book of Jonah records a situation where the corrupt residents of the city of Nineveh were to receive judgement. Yet these people repented and their lives were saved.

 

 

So – God is not commanding genocide on the Amalekites at all. He is not arbitrarily wiping out innocent children. Rather – the sobering truth for us is – he is destroying a corrupt national structure that has had time to change its ways and has chosen not to.

 

 

But the fact remains – even though the non-fighting Amalekites were given the opportunity to leave the combat zone, many fighters would have stayed and died. However you try to understand this – God is still commanding the death of people in these passages. How can this be a moral thing for God to do?

 

Again, Norman Geisler helps us to understand God’s command in the light of two important truths.

First – People assume that what is wrong for us is also wrong for God. But that’s not true at all. Why? Well it is certainly wrong for you to take my life. You didn’t make me…you don’t own me. But if God created my life then surely he has the right to do whatever he likes with it? If we cannot create life from nothing – then we don’t have that right to wipe that life out. God has created – and therefore he can.

This is a hard truth to swallow – but I think we intuitively get the principle behind it in other settings. For example – would you agree that an Artist has the right to do whatever he wants with his painting? If he chooses to finish it, sign it and put it in an exhibition then that is fine. However if he decides that he needs to scrap it and start again – he also has that right. Yes?

Here’s another way to look at it. It would be wrong for me to go into your garden, pull up bushes, cut down trees, kill flowers, etc. I could not do that to your garden. But – I am completely justified in doing so in MY garden because I own the bushes, the trees, etc.

The same principle applies with our loving, just God. He has the right to do what he likes – because he made the Universe and he owns it. Thank goodness he is just, caring and compassionate. Much more so than me.

 

Second – technically, God takes everyone’s life eventually. That’s what death is all about. We don’t know when it will happen – but one day we will die. God’s eventual judgement on the corrupt Amalekite people may just have clarified the timeline for them!

 

 

 

In summary – these are difficult issues not to be taken too lightly. They hold sobering truths for us today. Yet when properly understood in their historical context, I think it becomes easier to get a helpful and thoughtful perspective on them.

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Published by

stuartgrayuk

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

6 thoughts on “RESPONDblog: But is God Moral?”

  1. The word to describe someone who makes rules that he doesn’t follow himself is “hypocrite”.

    And the idea that God “owns” people is just as screwed up as the idea that God murders people. You’re trying to defend genocide by invoking slavery; how obviously on the wrong side do you have to be before you notice it?

    1. If we call God a “hypocrite” for commanding us to love our enemies – and yet elsewhere commanding the death of people (including us one day) – then Philosophically speaking we are making a category mistake. What do I mean? Well we are viewing God as if he is a person who says one thing and does another due to their own twisted behaviours and desires. But God is not a person. He is completely other from us. He is by definition bigger and more powerful than everything he has created. He is by definition good and just (this is the moral argument I have blogged about recently). He is not a person and so we are simply mistaken for thinking of him in that way.

      Further – if we blame God for his judgement on people – we are making the mistake of underestimating our goodness. How do we know we are not deserving of this judgement?

      think of it this way. If a painter painted a landscape…yet some of the colours he placed on the canvas decided not to stay where the artist wanted them to go…imagine the paint had free will to choose to do what it was designed to do…or choose not to…imagine these paint blobs decided they wanted to do their own thing and wander elsewhere on the canvas…then the artist’s painting would be ruined and the artist’s vision for a beautiful scene would be frustrated. With a ruined painting…who could blame the artist for scrapping the painting and starting again?

      When we live as if there is no god it is like we are behaving like the free will paint blobs who do their own thing. We are ignoring the artist’s intentions – and making a mess of our own making. Thank goodness “the artist” (or God) gives us a chance here and now to recognize our position…and he holds out forgiveness to us here and now (this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ)…he doesn’t want us to receive the just result from our self centered, artist ignoring choices…

      But when we are our own God…we really don’t want to hear this nonsense. Trust me – I get it 🙂

      1. “But God is not a person.”
        Then stop personifying it.
        Yahweh, the god in the Bible, is just as person-like as, though more evil than, nearly every other fictional supervillain.

        “He is by definition good and just”
        Morality does not work that way, especially not if you’re going to call it objective morality. Saying that whatever he does is moral by definition is the same as saying that morality is subjective, defined by the whims of a god rather than being a set of principles independent of any authority.

        “Further – if we blame God for his judgement on people – we are making the mistake of underestimating our goodness. How do we know we are not deserving of this judgement? ”
        Freudian slip there?
        It’s true, though, that you are underestimating our goodness.

        “If a painter painted a landscape…yet some of the colours he placed on the canvas decided not to stay where the artist wanted them to go…imagine the paint had free will to choose to do what it was designed to do…or choose not to…imagine these paint blobs decided they wanted to do their own thing and wander elsewhere on the canvas…then the artist’s painting would be ruined and the artist’s vision for a beautiful scene would be frustrated. With a ruined painting…who could blame the artist for scrapping the painting and starting again?”
        The implications this has for how artificial intelligences would be mistreated with people like you in charge are downright disturbing.
        If the paint blobs have free will, then the artist absolutely WOULD be wrong to kill all of them. If he wants a painting he can control he should just use normal non-living paint.

  2. That’s right mate. If I was defending genocide – I would be on completely the wrong side. I certainly could not be an authentic Christian. Genocide is a horrific inhuman extermination of all individuals regardless of who they are. This is not what the Bible is talking about. That is incompatible with the character of the god described in the bible. If you read my blog – I’m not defending genocide. This is a misrepresentation of my position here. What I am doing is putting difficult passages – that pop atheist culture misrepresents – into their proper historical context. One reason they misrepresent is they make the schoolboy error of misreading the text – of choosing not to recognise the distant cultures involved – and the hyperbolic language typically used by them.

    To position Israel appropriately – god had to dismantle brutal nations – and he did so thru the humane nation of Israel. And it meant battles and the death of soldiers – and it meant the disruption of others in the nation. Which as we read on…caused various problems and challenges for the incoming Israelite people.

    Yes – I believe God created us…so in one sense he owns us. But he also respects your free will. He’s not going to force anyone to do what they don’t want to do. You are free to reject what I am saying…and you are free to get to the end of your life paying no notice to…or admitting the existence of … God. Go for it.

    But heres a caveat mate…in my experience there tend to be consequences when we choose to reject him and what he is doing.

    1. ” Genocide is a horrific inhuman extermination of all individuals regardless of who they are.”
      Actually the definition of genocide is “the systematic destruction of all or a significant part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.” It doesn’t have to be killing every individual, especially not if the individuals who are spared are forced to become something else. In fact, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifically lists “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” as something that can qualify as genocide if it is done with the intent to destroy the group.

      “To position Israel appropriately – god had to dismantle brutal nations – and he did so thru the humane nation of Israel.”
      Israel was just as brutal and barbaric as the nations it conquered, possibly even worse considering how many “crimes” had the death penalty there.

      1. Hi mate

        I’ll go with the Oxford English Dictionary definition of genocide, I think!

        The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group:
        a campaign of genocide

        Oh how easy it is to pass judgement on these ancient cultures from the comfort of our 21st century vantage point.

        Israel was of a different order of humanity at the time in the Ancient Near East. If they do not meet your personal standards of acceptability – that may be because you are viewing them thru 21st century eyes…

        Stu

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