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.