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Why Was the Ancient God So Cruel?
The following conversation is fictitious as presented here, but it is based on many actual conversations and exchanges in which I have participated over the years. Arnie’s responses would represent my own under similar circumstances.
Arnie: How’s it going, Joe? Where do things stand in your spiritual search since we last talked?
Joe: Well, some things seem to be coming together for me, Arnie. But others…gee, I don’t know. There are other issues that I just can’t seem to resolve.
Arnie: You know, Joe, I respect your insistence on maintaining intellectual integrity in your search for truth. God doesn’t want you to close down your mind in order to accept Christ. But on the other hand, you don’t have to have every answer to every question in place before you acknowledge Christianity as being true, or before you commit yourself to follow Christ.
Joe: Well maybe not, Arnie, but before I pray to the God of the Bible, I’d at least like to know to which God I’m praying.
Arnie: What do you mean by that?
Joe: I mean that the God of the Old Testament very often seems mean and cruel and angry, while the God of the New Testament is full of love. So which is it, Arnie? You can’t have it both ways. How do you explain the harshness of God in the Old Testament?
Arnie: A better question may be: “How do we explain the mercy of God in the Old and New Testament?”
The really amazing thing is God’s mercy.
Joe: Now it’s my turn to ask, “What do you mean?”
Arnie: Well, God is 100% holy. Why should He ever be expected to put up with any sin or nonsense whatsoever from His creation? Instead of being amazed that He periodically calls for judgment in the Old Testament, we should be amazed that He ever shows mercy and patience. I mean, think of it, if God was not merciful, even you and I would be zapped the very instant that we’d rebel or sin in any way today.
Joe: Interesting. But it still boggles my mind that a loving God would condone the wholesale slaughter of innocent babies such as He did in Deuteronomy 2.
Arnie: In a fallen world, isn’t it possible that God may have to periodically authorize some less-than-ideal measures in order to deter further evil? Like a police officer who, in order to deal with disorder, has to use force. If you think about it, whenever God tolerated or ‘ordered’ violent action in the Old Testament, it was to restrain evil or to deter some greater atrocity.
Isn’t it possible that God chose to condone some less-than-ideal measures in order to restrain further evil?
Joe: I never thought of it that way. But why did innocent babies have to pay with their lives for what their evil fathers did?
Arnie: Innocents often necessarily pay for the sins of others. In this world our lives are inextricably inter-twined. What one man does will, more often than not, in some way effect his neighbor. I may pollute the air, but you’ll then breathe the pollution. If a mother smokes crack, her baby will likely be born addicted.
Exodus 34:6-7 cites this very principle at work. By the way, notice God’s attributes here in this Old Testament passage: “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thou-sands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grand-children to the third and fourth generations.'”
It seems to me that the only alternative would be for God to perpetually purge the world by sending Noah type floods over the entire earth about every ten minutes. That wouldn’t be very realistic, would it?
Sources and recommended resources: Letters from a Skeptic, Greg Boyd, ©1994 Victor/SP Publications; The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul video series, ©Ligonier Ministries; In Defense of the Faith, Dave Hunt, ©1996 Harvest House Publishers