Hi John and Arron,
One of my youth in youth group was asking about violence in the OT and how that can be justified by a loving God. He's reading through Joshua right now. I have some of my own answers but I'd like to look around at how other people are responding to that question. Can you point me to some reliable resources on this topic? I took a look at the CARE Winnipeg website and couldn't find anything.
Here is my initial and quick response…
Paul Copan has a book called “Is God a Moral Monster?” I’d suggest getting a copy of that book. It also deals with other Old Testament ethic type questions, such as the slavery issue. It’s a good read.
I’ve also put some serious thought into this question but haven’t posted my conclusions on the site yet. The level of thought in your questioner will determine how deep you want to go, obviously, but here are a couple of quick thoughts to keep in mind answering this question…
- How is it possible there can be such a thing as good or evil apart from the premises found in biblical Christian theism? This works as a double edged sword, I know. If He is the standard of good, how is this violence then justified? We will get to that. The reality is that this question smuggles in Christian capital to give it credibility and traction. If the Christian God does not exist, this question is no longer legitimate.
- From what I see in scripture it is easily argued there is a measure of grace in every act of God, even in His judgments. For example; Adam and Eve were driven from the garden for their own sakes. Had they partaken of the fruit of the tree of life, they would have been eternally separated from their loving creator. This presupposition will come into play when answering the rest of the present question.
- Only in the God of the bible do we find both justice and mercy in perfect balance and measure. No other theistic world view can make this claim. Take Islam for example; if your good deeds out weigh your wicked ones, then Allah grants mercy, but the sin debt remains. If Allah condemns, then he may be called just, but mercy is absent. Consider these terms for atheists, justice and mercy are nebulous and arbitrary terms. They are mere conventions without any weight or true content. When we receive forgiveness in Christ, we receive mercy, but not at the expense of His justice, which He bore upon Himself in order to save us. If we reject this precious mercy, then He forever remains just. According to Romans 1 and 2, we are entirely and thoroughly without excuse. There is no room for doubt we are set to receive exactly what we deserve, or else we allow for Him to bear the justice as our substitute.
- “God takes pleasure in the death of no man” (Ez 18:23/32, 33:11). This is precisely the word we should expect to find in scripture if God is Love, God is merciful, but He is also just and holy (holy in this sense refers primarily but is not limited to His moral perfection and purity).
- God in His longsuffering let their iniquity heap up for over 400 years before the Israelites were sent in to clear out the land; make note this same longsuffering is our salvation ( 2 Peter 3:15).
- This is rightly to be understood as an act of judgment on the people for many atrocious evils. They were guilty of the most severe sexual perversion you can imagine. They were in the habit of sacrificing their children to those gods. It has been suggested, they were guilty of some forms of cannibalism as part of their occult worship. Those cultures more violent then the judgment God sent for them, as God at least takes no pleasure in death.
- Think about how this environment afforded no hope after 400 years of practice for future generations of children who did survive the forced incest, child sacrifice, and torture at the hands of wicked men.
- Add point 2,4,5,6, and 7- it would have been an act of mercy toward the children who would not only have the suffering end, but were most certainly condemned to hell had not God intervened and limited the maximization of this wickedness.
- More grace and mercy- I also personally believe that children who have not reached the age where they can understand the gospel in any way, have the blood of Christ applied to them. King David mourned the death of his child through sinful union with Bathsheba. His consolation was that he would go to be with the child at some future date. When reading the Psalms, it is clear David knew he was going to be in the presence of God after his death. Add two plus two… David knew the child was in the presence of God. The same would hold true of all the children killed in the conquest of Joshua. This is grace of the highest degree.
- I posit God has sufficient moral grounds for allowing not only the evil in the world, but also sanctioning such heavy justice. It is commensurate with his omniscience and perfect character. Here is the ultimate example; God allowed wickedness to prevail in the early first century… to the degree Jesus was murdered. God’s reason for this was so He could make an end for sin, defeat death, and pave the way for reconciliation with mankind.
There is more that could be added, but I’m sure this is enough to think about.
If you have any thoughts, responses, or extra material on this of which you think I’m unaware, I’d be happy to see what you have.
Grace and peace.