So why was it moral and right for God to command the deaths of the Canaanites? To kill so many in the Flood?
I know this is going to sound a bit harsh, but here’s the reality of it all. These people were all destined for destruction anyway.
I mean, they were disobedient, God-less, and destined for the destroying fires of gehenna.
And if God could justly and morally give them the punishment they deserve at Judgment Day, why not during this life by flood or the hands of Israelites.
In fact, given that God did not send them to perpetual conscious torment for their sins, he was merciful in merely shortening their lives on earth, rather than sending them to hell.
Really? Well, Paul said,
(Act 14:16-17 NAS) 16 “And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
(Act 17:30-31 ESV) 30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
If the Gentiles didn’t go to hell pre-Jesus, does this mean those outside of Israel before Christ went to heaven when they died? No.
(Eph 2:11-12 NAS) 11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision ” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands — 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Before Christ, the Gentiles had no hope, separated from God.
Well, if they didn’t go to heaven and they weren’t punished in eternity, what was their fate?
The best I can figure, when they died, they died. They ceased to exist. What other possibility is there?
You see, the notion that our souls are inherently immortal is Greek, not Jewish or Christian. Rather, the Bible teaches that immortality is a gift given by God to the saved —
(Rom 2:5-7 ESV) 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
(1Co 15:53-54 ESV) 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
(1Ti 6:16 ESV) 16 [God] alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
We are not born immortal. We are mortal by nature. Eternal life comes from God, and if he chooses not to give us eternal life, when we die, we cease to exist — unless God has other plans for us.
You see, God’s treatment of the Gentiles in pre-Christian times was unimaginably merciful. Whatever punishment they received for their sins, they received in this life — in this “mortal plane.” This was grace for all.
If God chose to exact just punishment during this mortal existence through the Israelite swords, or by Flood, well, I’d rather die by the sword and then cease to exist, than die a natural death only to meet the wrath of God in gehenna. It’s still mercy.
But what about the children?
The obvious counter-argument is the fact that warfare and floods kill not only adults but children, including children so young that they surely don’t deserve death.
It’s a fair question, but it assumes a lot. For example, it assumes that anyone deserves life, and from God’s perspective, that’s just not true.
(Rom 9:20-24 ESV) 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Paul’s point in v. 22 isn’t that God sent the Gentiles pre-Christ to an eternal hell, but that God, in his mercy, did not — even though that would have been just. God showed divine patience.
But that was a matter of grace, not entitlement. What we all deserve is destruction and death — those of us who are in any sense accountable for our own sins.
But children? Well, God clearly killed children in the Flood. He clearly ordered the deaths of all alive in certain Canaanite cities.
If God knows that an Amelekite child will grow up to be a sinner, disobedient to God, and a participant in a culture that destroys souls, why does God have to wait until the child is 30 to do the just thing? If God knows the child will only become a worse and worse sinner, deserving of more and more punishment, why is it good for God to wait for the child to do more wrong and so deserve to be punished even more? How would that be loving?
It’s tough for humans to put themselves in God’s shoes — impossible, really — because we are so limited in our knowledge and understanding. We cannot carry the moral weight of God’s decision making because we just don’t know enough to even come close to right.
But God is not like us, and therefore can’t be judged by the standards that apply to us. That’s his point to Job. That’s Paul’s point. And it’s obviously true.
We struggle greatly with this thought, in part because we imagine God to be more human than he really is. And in part because we can’t fully grasp what it would be like to know the future perfectly. And perfect foreknowledge dramatically changes what is and isn’t right.
But this much we know for sure. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will be saved. In a very real sense, God himself died on the cross for our sins. Someone far greater than a mere man died for us — and we are thankful. We correctly see it as the greatest act of love in history — and yet it means that God intended the crucifixion of Jesus for thousands of years before it happened.
Jesus died, and yet his death was an act of love. It doesn’t really make sense. Why would the death of a good person be an act of love? But it certainly is — to a believer.
I don’t expect unbelievers to understand, because they’ve not walked with God and felt the love that comes through faith in Jesus. And, yes, it’s an unprovable, subjective argument — that’s true. That’s not a surprise. It’s the nature of much of Christianity —
(1Co 2:12-15 ESV) 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.
It’s a difficult lesson — and frustrating if you’re in the middle of an argument with an atheist, I’m sure. But for those who’ve experienced the heart of God through faith in Jesus, it’s absurd to argue that God has acted immorally in his treatment of anyone. It is his nature to sometimes be just — but he is so often gracious, better than just, that we sometimes think of justice as unfair, even wrong. It’s not.