As promised Sunday, here’s my consideration of the question about God’s justice in the Old Testament. It’s not a definitive answer…but an attempt at framing the question in a cultural context
I’ll begin by referring you to a much longer article on this subject, because page one explains why this is an important subject. It’s there we’re introduced to the assault on Christianity from the new and popular atheists, who all share a common belief that the God of the Bible is morally destitute, creepy, prone to fits of jealous rage and because of this, not worth believing in, even if He does exist.
These guys, for all their flaws, have given voice to one of the questions/problems Christians have as they seek to love God with all their mind: “If God is loving, why is He so often killing people, or telling His people to kill people?”
The worst answer I read in doing a little research for this was: A) God is good, therefore B) all His actions are good, therefore C) our outrage displays the flaws of our intellect, not the flaws in God’s goodness.
I know some readers who will agree unconditionally with that logic, but I’ll suggest that we usually use evidence to come to conclusions, rather than beginning with conclusions and then using them to deconstruct the evidence, or call into to question the intellect of the detective. You can’t tell the detective his reasoning is completely broken, and then tell him that the faith to which God is inviting him is reasonable.
Instead, let’s consider these truths:
1. We see the ethical movement of God in “incremental steps” . In other words, in contrast to the prevailing ethics of surrounding cultures, the God of the Bible is universal, not favoring a single tribe, but intent on bringing salvation (read: intimacy, peace, justice, mercy, hope) to all nations. This will only be seen fully when God reigns fully, the hints of which are offered in Isaiah 2, where there’s an outbreak of universal peace! However, “getting there from here doesn’t happen in a day” because the prevailing gods are capricious, demanding child sacrifices, invoking sexual orgies as part of ceremonial worship, and warring against each other for borders, supremacy, or favor from the people. In the context of ancient near-eastern culture, the fact is that God of the Bible would have stood out in contrast to the others for His displayed elements of mercy, concern for the poor, widow, immigrant, and more.
2. The hyperbole is real. God never intended the destruction of every living person in the promise land, as those exhortations were confined to cities. Further, there’s compelling evidence that the cities were actually more than cities; they were military compounds, and as such, bastions of trouble which needed addressing.
3. The Canaanites deserved to die. The same article referenced above indicates that the Canaanites were that morally corrupt. We’ve known regimes (Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler et. al) whose leaders needed to die, and to reiterate, it remains unclear, linguistically, and archeologically, whether or not “kill everyone” meant everyone or just those in power.
Still, the stories have given rise to the charge that God isn’t just, simply because our sensibilities are assaulted by the notions of what God is asking. It’s important though, to realize that all of us are offended whenever people in power abuse such in order to oppress, abuse, murder. We’re not just offended – we want justice. Interesting then, that we should, without knowing all the cultural context or evidence of crimes, presume God to be the perpetrator of injustice in these cases, thus exonerating the dead as “victims”, even if they were perpetrators of the most horrific kinds of crimes. It’s as if we have it in for God – as if we’re eager to indict Him rather than the Canaanites, when the evidence of history points in the exact opposite direction. And in this sense, our fallen intellect, indeed, gets us into lots of trouble. Paul calls it being “darkened in our understanding” in Romans 1, his way of saying that once we reject God, we have it in for God, and will go to great lengths to blame Him for everything.
Maybe this post (a departure from the norm on this site) will provoke some good discussion. I only ask for respect in the dialogue.