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God, Genocide and Good Friday

April 13, 2017

Every now and again, atheists debating Christians play the old morality card: how can we worship a God who committed genocide through the Flood and through Joshua? This came up again last week, and I decided to put down some thoughts about this.

My first thought is (as so often): this bypasses the question of what is true. God’s existence can’t be determined on whether you approve of him or not… You can’t really go from “I don’t like this” to “this can’t be true” – that’s a logical fallacy, and atheists tend not to like logical fallacies!

But since this particular argument is quite popular with atheists, I still felt I needed to address it. So here are my arguments why those two events can’t be considered “genocide”.

  1. Sometimes evil becomes so strong and ubiquitous that it has to be dealt with forcefully. That was surely the motivation for World War II, as well as the current war against ISIS and many other attempts at curbing various atrocities. It’s true that some of those attempts turned into spectacularly misguided failures, but the thinking behind them was the same as with God wiping out an increasingly evil humanity through the Flood. And since with God isn’t a fallible human being, we know he acted with full knowledge of the consequences and with full conviction that this was the only way to safeguard humanity’s future.
  2. The number of Flood casualties was very limited, compared to most modern wars. The whole human race probably consisted of no more than 50,000 individuals at the time of Noah, based on the fact that Noah was the tenth generation after Adam. (And if somebody say, “Surely you can’t take Adam and those genealogies literally”, then you don’t have to take the Flood literally either, and the whole genocide problem disappears.) Twice as many died in Hiroshima alone, but very few have accused the US of genocide… Not to mention how many died in WWII, on either side of the conflict. War is nasty, and there will be casualties – but sometimes that seems to be a price humanity is willing to pay, even with our limited knowledge of the present and non-existent foreknowledge of the future. Isn’t it possible that God, who has perfect knowledge and perfect foreknowledge, also sometimes has to go to war against evil and injustice?
  3. The only offensive war God sanctioned in the Old Testament was the Conquest of Canaan (and the battles that arose on the way there). All other wars were either self-defence, or initiated by Israel but not by God. And as for the Conquest, the Bible gives a two-fold reason for that: 1 – God’s plan of salvation required a nation dedicated to him to prepare for the coming Saviour, so Israel had to be given its own land. 2 – the Canaanites were depraved and ripe for God’s judgment, just as Egypt had been when God stuck them with the ten plagues.
  4. God has the right to judge. This point is probably the true crux of the matter: if God had the right to judge the Canaanites or indeed the entire human race, then he has the same right towards each one of us. And that is exactly what the Bible tells us. One day each and every human being will have to face God and answer for the choices they’ve made during this life. According to the Bible, God has the right and the power to sentence us to death if that’s what we deserve – and according to the Bible, that’s exactly what we deserve.

But the Bible adds something we would never have guessed: God doesn’t want to kill us all. He wants to rescue us; that’s why Jesus died on the cross. The Bible explains he took our punishment, and offers every one of us forgiveness instead of judgment.

That’s where you have to start: the love of God as expressed on the cross of Jesus. Everything else has to be understood in that light. If God was a bloodthirsty tyrant, the cross makes no sense. But if God is the righteous judge who loves us and wants to rescue us, but also sometimes has to act decisively against evil, both the cross and the Flood make sense.

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From → Christianity, Faith, Jesus

2 Comments
  1. Can I add a couple of things? One, this is really all about God’s character, most non-Christians believe that if there was a good God he would not be a liar. Thing is, God promised Adam and Eve that if they were to disobey and eat the fruit, then they would die. The whole matter is that if God is honest then sin results in death. How we die, and how many die at one time, is secondary to the fact that we all die because God has judged sin. The only way to solve the problem of sin and that it causes death is the cross. We still die by being united with Christ, and rise with him in resurrection. He takes our punishment on the cross by dying, there is no letting someone off the hook. All sin results in death. God maintains his justice, holiness and integrity through punishing all sin. I think people struggle to understand the magnitude of the problem when they start complaining about God’s actions in the Old Testament.
    Secondly, God may not stand behind all actions equally because there is no evil in him, but he is sovereign over everything. The Jews were sent into exile by God not just the Babylonians. Just because God doesn’t actively tell someone to go to war does not mean he is not in control or achieving his purposes. We shouldn’t allow non-christians to believe evil is outside of God’s control and influence.

  2. Bingo! G-d alone has the right to judge. Only He has all the facts because He’s beyond history. Very good thoughts mt friend!

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