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Violence in God’s Name

Why does the Bible seem to condone evil? Why did Israel kill so many people when they entered Canaan? Why is there so much wars and violence in the Bible? Another related question is Why do children and good people die young?

These questions that puzzle Christians and Jews should be answered. They do have a legitimate answer, but not knowing what that answer is, religious people wonder about it and its seeming inconsistency in godly doctrine, the doctrine that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The question is Why is there so much Violence in God’s name? This violence may come from God’s people or from God.

Gaining Perspective

Before answering the question, however, let’s put it in perspective. Frequently the question has been put into the believer’s mind by those who are challenging his faith. Few people gain that question from within themselves; it is almost always suggested to them by someone else; they accept it and ponder it as if it’s a legitimate inquiry. Think about it: when a question challenging God is whispered into your mind’s ear, where do you think it came from?

The question comes in the form of,

  • “Why did the Israelites engage in wholesale slaughter of innocent people when they entered Canaan? How can God condone that?”
  • “If God is so great, why does he allow innocent children to die?”
  • “More people have been killed in God’s name than anywhere else.”

The questions call into challenge God’s authority. They put God on trial before man, not the other way around, by asking, “If God be god, then why…” It violates the command, “Do not test the Lord your God,” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

That does not imply we should not inquire into this matter for our own edification. We may ask the question in order to learn more about God. We do not challenge God's authority when we inquire into the nature of God, to learn more of him. When the question does come to us as a challenge to our godly faith and of God, then we need to recognize its true source.

God’s Authority

Let’s begin by refreshing our mind about God’s authority.

God is the Creator

Genesis 1:1,

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

God made this earth and he made us.

Think of it this way, suppose a man by himself digs ore out of the ground, smelts it, forms it and makes an automobile out of it. Then, he has another thought and he destroys the car in order to do something else. Shall the car (if that were possible) say to the man, “Why are you destroying me? Who do you think you are? Who gave you the authority to destroy me?” The man has the right to destroy his own creation because he is the creator. That is what gives him the right.

God deals with this same question in the prophet Isaiah

Isaiah 45:9, 12

Woe unto him that strives with his Maker…! Shall the clay say to him that fashioned it: 'What do you think you’re making?' Or: shall the work that was formed say to his Maker, ‘You have no hands'?

I, even I, have made the earth, and created man upon it; I, even My hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

God is the Judge

Ezekiel 18:4

Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sins, it shall die.

The Name of the Lord

Exodus 34:5-8

And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed:
“The Lord, Lord, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.”

I find it interesting that the name of God includes the words goodness, truth, mercy and forgivingness.

First Question

“Why did the Israelites engage in wholesale slaughter of innocent people when they entered Canaan? How can God condone that?”

God not only condoned it, God commanded it. The Israelites were reluctant to kill other people. They were pushed by God to take no hostages and leave no survivors.

Deuteronomy 20:16-17

In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are going to possess, and he has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you; you shall smite them, and utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them

When I said “Israelites were reluctant to kill other people,” it is because they had to be commanded by God to do that deed, and even then they did not follow through and do according to God’s instruction.

Judges 2:1-5

The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim [weepers]. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.

Conclusion

The question is “Why did the Israelites engage in wholesale slaughter of innocent people when they entered Canaan? How can God condone that?”

The answer is that Israel did what they were commanded to do by God. It was done on God’s instructions, not the wanton and ruthless action of an unsophisticated, vulgar, uncouth people. God did not “condone” it. He commanded it. And he has the right to do that, because he is God, Creator and Judge.

Second Question

“If God is so great, why does he allow innocent children to die?”

I’m not going to deal with the question of “innocent” children, whether they really are “innocent” or not. That’s a different theology for a different time, not here. But I will accept the adjective “innocent” and go on with the question.

That question assumes several things.

  • Children are innocent (which I won’t debate here)
  • Physical Death is bad
  • Physical Life is better

None of those assumptions is necessarily true.

Assumption 1 – Children Are Innocent

I did say I wouldn’t address the theology of whether children are innocent, but that I would allow the adjective in order to answer the question.

Many Christians, if not most, believe young children (e.g. ages 0-12) are not guilty or punished for sin. If you believe that, then why would you object to a God taking them to heaven right away rather than allowing them the chance of rejecting God and losing eternal life?

But If you are a person who believes in Original Sin, that the child has inherited Adam’s sin and punishment because he was in Adam at the time of Adam’s sin, then you should also consider Romans 5.12-21. That scripture says, although the result of Adam’s sin may have passed on to all his heirs who where within him at the time, the payment of those sins by the death of the Messiah apply to all those who are under the penalty of Adam’s sin.

Therefore, whether Original Sin exists or not, according to the Bible, children are innocent. The first assumption, I think, is correct; at least, I agree with it.

Assumption 2 – Physical Death Is Bad

As recorded in Matthew 10:28, Jesus said,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The assumption that physical death is bad, I think, assumes there is no life after death. This is it. Therefore, when children die, they have lost all with no hope. But if there is life after death, that changes the dynamics of the whole assumption.

Obviously we should each be careful with our life and preserve it as best as possible. We don’t want to die needlessly or too early. Nevertheless, there is One whom we should fear to offend more than all the murderers, mobsters and marauding armies. They can only kill the body and afterwards do no more. God, however, has the power to both destroy the body and afterwards cast the soul into hell.

The people complain that innocent children who die at God’s hand is a mark against God. They believe that God is not merciful and that they themselves are qualified to judge God and his motives. What shall we say? Should God take a child early to heaven early, or let him grow up, reject God and lose his heavenly inheritance?

Isaiah 57:1

The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.

When God brings a terrible punishment on a people, he first removes the righteous and innocent. He does not punish the innocent with the evil. As Abraham said when talking to the Angel of the Lord,

Genesis 18:25-16

Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

In the case of Sodom, God first removed the one who was righteous and spared his family.

God's taking innocent people from earth before their time is an act of mercy, to spare them from what is to come.

God is Slow to punish

God told Abraham that although the land of Canaan would ultimately become his, nevertheless his descendents would not receive it for hundreds of years.

Genesis 15:13, 18

Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates

God told Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land, but they would also (first) be enslaved “four hundred years.” The four hundred years did not begin until over one hundred years later. You see, Isaac was to be born 13 years after God told Abraham that. Then, after 40 more years, Isaac would begat Jacob (53 years has passed so far). Jacob would later enter Egypt with his family when he was 130 years old. Thus the 400 years began 183 years after God told Abraham about it. The descendants of Jacob, the Israelites, would be in Egypt for 430 years. After that, they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Therefore they would actually not inherit the land of Canaan until about 653 years after God told Abraham what was going to happen before Israel actually got the land.

Before going on, let me answer two minor questions that may have occurred to you. If God told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreigh land for four hundred years, why where they in Egypt for 430 years? The answer is, when they first went to Egypt they did not go as slaves; they went as guests. They were enslaved later, perhaps thirty years later. God told Abraham they were to be enslaved in the land four hundred years. The second question is, why are the descendants of Jacob called "Israelites" and not "Jacobites?" That is because God changed Jacob's name to "Israel" (Prince of God) in Genesis 32:28. Now, back to the lesson.

This chronology is found in Genesis 15 - 47

000 – God tells Abraham his descendants would receive the land later.
013 – years later Isaac was born
040 – years later Jacob was born
130 – years later Jacob entered Egypt
430 – years later Israel leaves Egypt and begins wandering in the wilderness
040 – years later Israel enters Canaan
653 – total years pass

Why? Why so long? Why didn’t God just give the land to Abraham right then and there?

Genesis 15:16

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Canaan was a land where Israel is today. It was filled with several ethnic groups, the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites. The sins of the Canaanites (that is, all the ethnic groups) were not yet so bad that God considered it not the time for judgment and punishment. He would give them a chance to repent and save their lives.

Nevertheless, why? If God knew they were going to be punished anyway, why didn’t he just put an end to it?

God told the prophet Ezekiel,

Ezekiel 33:11

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die…?

God is not in a hurry to inflict punishment. He doesn’t want to punish. Instead, he wants to save and forgive. He gives people every opportunity to repent. If he did not, then you and I would have no hope of salvation. God has mercy on you and me, and he had mercy on the Canaanites.

During Abraham’s day, we know at least two people were preaching about God in Canaan: Abraham and Melchizedek, the priest-king of the city Salem. Six hundred fifty-three years later, there was still a witness for God in Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River. But he was a corrupt prophet who sold his services to the highest bidder.

We have here a land of Canaan filled with people who totally rejected God and his message. Their children had no hope of ever leaving their pagan ways and returning to God. Their parents would see to that; their parents would never teach them about God. Their parents would train them in pagan ways, and the children would perpetuate the sin. It was time for God to end that culture, take home whom he could and prevent more from being born who would also not find their heavenly reward.

Assumption 3 – Physical Life is Better

Physical life is good, because what God creates is good. But when that goodness is used as an argument against God, saying that God has no right to deprive anyone of physical life, then the argument must be answered.

Physical life is good, but heaven is better. Life with God is better. God gave physical life, and God may take physical life. He is the one who has the say-so.

And besides that, in physical life, along with the good, we also have grief, affliction, depression, failure, injury, sickness, distress, pain, confusion, loss and certain death.

Earlier I said that when someone challenges God’s authority about his mercy and right to kill, I said to consider where that question came from. Who but Satan would tell us that our physical life on earth, be it ever so good, is better than life with God in his kingdom?

Third and Final Question

“More people have been killed in God’s name than anywhere else.”

This statement calls into question God’s holiness, God’s justice and God’s people. The implication is that because God’s people kill others, God must be a fraud and there is no God and the people of God are both liars and hypocrites.

Well, that statement itself is a lie. More people have not been killed in God’s name than anywhere else. Actually, very few people have been killed in God’s name, compared to the myriads who have been killed for other reasons, usually land.

I am astonished that so many Christians assume that question is legitimate and tell it to others. I am astonished and hearsick that even ministers teach it from the pulpit. It is not true. Why would any person who belongs to God so quickly, even gleefully, take up the argument that slurs God without first checking it out?

Of course I’m going to prove my statement – that the other statement is false – but not right here because I’ve already proven it elsewhere. I’ll simply refer you to the proof if you want to read on…

“Mythbuster – Christian Killings
www.lookingup.us/rel/myth_christiankillings.php

I want to point out something else along these lines. Frequently the accusation comes like this, “More people have been killed in Jesus’ name than anywhere else.” When I start to show the absurdity of that statement, the accuser says, “Well I mean, ‘More people have been killed in God’s name than anywhere else.’” They think that will get them off the hook by expanding it from Jesus' name (trying to belittle and discredit Jesus and Christians) to God’s name.

Nevertheless, when I continue to show them the absurdity of such a statement, They expand it again, saying, “Allah is God, too. You have to count the people who kill in the name of Allah.”

Say anything, just to be right.

Allah is not the Judeo/Christian God. The god described in the Quran is not the same god described in the Bible. They both claim to be the one and only divine, supreme, creator God, but that is where the similarity ends. You may read about it at

“God of Muslims, God of Jews”
www.lookingup.us/rel/twogods.php

The Bible teaches that God said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The Quran teaches that Muslims are to kill Jews and Christians if they do not submit and become subservient to Muslims and pay taxes to support the Muslim mosque. You cannot have it both ways. Two different gods.

I would at this point also remind you that the Bible says,

Isaiah 14:12-13

“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God’ ”

This reference to Satan is the god who wants to be credited as a being equal to God.

If I were to allow the claim that any god is being described in the statement, “More people are killed in the name of God,” and still show the claim is absurd, the accusers would be able to include all the gods of all people forever, even the so-called gods of money, popularity, greed, lust and so on. Any thing, any claim, any deviation, just not to be wrong, just to win a point.

Nevertheless, as you will see by reading the above reference, “God of Muslims, God of Jews,” even if we did include Allah and other recognized ethnic gods such as Jupiter and Zeus, you still would not have a majority of killing done in the name of a god.

Get Used To It

To the question, “Why is there so much violence in God’s name?” I guess a person could reply, “Get used to it.” God is god. He is the authority and has the right to use violence if he wishes. You are not God’s judge; he is your judge.

God is merciful, kind and forgiving. The call of God is for each of us to get right with him. God will judge the violence and the peacemakers – and the liars.

 

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