The Question: In the Old Testament, God commands Israel to wipe out various nations, including women and children. How can a ‘good’ God condone genocide or extermination, much less order his followers to kill innocent women and children?
God does indeed order the complete destruction of several nations in Samuel and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and in other areas of the Bible shows what could be considered at first glance as unjust and even violent actions and commands against various peoples who may be ‘innocent’. This is an interesting topic and relates to the similar question of: how can a ‘good’ God ‘let’ bad things happen to good people?
As with the ‘how can God let bad things happen’ question, firstly it has to be taken into account that we as humans can’t fully understand God’s reasoning or his designs (Isaiah 55:9, Romans 11:33-36).
I’m not trying to say the ‘we cannot understand God’ answers all questions we as Christian’s are otherwise unable to come up with anything for; I’m pointing out that, taking into consideration the God we believe in is all powerful, exists outside of time (has experienced the past, present and future) and possesses all knowledge, it stands to reason that we, as humans could not even hope to fully understand the reasons and thought processes a being like that would have, it is simply impossible for us.
But that aside, I think there are some points that can be made in regards to this topic. Obviously I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who believes in God and everything that entails, because if we are discussing the question of ‘why would God condone genocide or extermination’ it has to be under the pretense that God exists and is indeed all powerful etc. as the Bible says and that the Bible is historically accurate and true… If arguments are made against these responses with the basis that God doesn’t exist or the Bible isn’t accurate or whatnot that is really a completely separate topic entirely and would be addressed as such.
Firstly I’d point out that God created humans to begin with (not to mention all life), as well as life beyond what we know (aka, what happens after we die). In comparison to eternity we live an incredibly brief period of time before dying, so looking at that from the perspective of God, a person having a few extra years of life on this earth must seem so miniscule it would hardly be noticeable. From a humans perspective our years on earth are all we know and thus what we deem most important; so to us having a life ‘cut short’ as it were, is a huge deal, but to God I wouldn’t imagine it is.
Secondly God exists outside of time. He knows what each individual’s life that he commanded his people to destroy would have been had they not been killed, and he is a God of justice and mercy. I believe that His judgement of those people whether they would have died in their mother’s womb or died at 200 years old would be the same and that it would be/will be fair and true. So who are we to say he is ‘bad’ for reducing the number of years they got to live on this earth when he is the one that gave them life in the first place?
Thirdly and this ties in to the previous point, is that God knew what the outcome would be of those nations surviving and we see the results in the Bible as Israel disobeyed God and did not destroy them all. It ultimately led to the downfall of Israel and their enslavement and suffering.
Israel was God’s chosen people, a nation that followed God’s commands and statutes when other nations did not. Is God ‘evil’ for telling his chosen people what they needed to do in order to have prosperity and security? God knew the hearts of the people of those nations he ordered destroyed and knew what would happen to Israel if they lived. I don’t think He ordered their destruction because he didn’t love them and certainly not because he is ‘bad’. I believe he did it because He knew how they were living and their hearts and knew each of their futures and if they were not completely destroyed he knew they would cause great suffering and tragedy to Israel. I think He ordered their destruction because of their past, present and future actions, because of the choices they made, were making, and would continue to make.
So let me put it to you a slightly different way. How many people, if given the absolute knowledge of a serial killer’s past, present and future would say that person should be killed? Is there an ‘appropriate’ time for their life to be cut short, for example, is it only acceptable to have them killed after he or she murders their first victim? If we had absolute knowledge of their past, present and future and knew what they were going to do, is it even morally acceptable to allow them to exist at any stage in their life? How many people if given the option would not have the terrorists who crashed planes into the World Trade Center killed before they committed that atrocity if they had timeless, absolute knowledge of them and the power to cut their lives short?
If we, as flawed humans with different moral compasses and ideals and values have trouble answering the above question, how can we question God’s decisions on that same subject or pretend that we know better? God could have just wiped out those nations he told Israel to destroy instead of commanding them to do it, why didn’t He? Why order His people to do it, especially knowing they would leave some alive and that would be their downfall? God could have just caused those nations to not be born at all for that matter, eliminating the problem entirely…
I believe God has our best interests in mind, and I believe He has plans for our lives and loves us all. I believe He also gave us free will and won’t ‘prevent’ us from making bad choices or disobeying Him or doing things He knows will bring us problems and pain. I believe He does that because He wants our love and faith in return and that cannot be ‘forced’. Love and faith cannot be coerced through circumstances or control.
I think we are responsible for our actions and the actions of others and that as long as evil is in the world we will have to deal with the results of that. I think that trying to say that God isn’t good because of something we think or decide he should or could have done is absolutely foolish and ignorant.
I don’t believe God answers to us nor owes us anything, I don’t believe God exists to give rewards to ‘good’ people or to punish ‘bad’ people, nor is He people’s wish-granting genie. I do believe He is right and just and merciful, and that He loves us despite our actions and thoughts against Him. I believe He desires a personal relationship with us, and that by following Him we can find real purpose and peace in this life.
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