Defending God: Is God Unjust for Wiping Out Whole Populations?
I have noticed a trend toward people rashly accusing God, the real God, the one in Scripture, of being unjust. This trend is most pronounced in the younger generation. Tellingly, it is those who are least knowledgeable about God who tend to be the harshest critics. Many of these young people have almost no knowledge on which to base these serious charges, and are simple aping what they have heard in popular culture from such men as Richard Dawkins (who refuses to subject his claims to rational scrutiny by debate with William Lane Craig).
To be young is to have strong opinions, but I am struck by how little information they have before forming these opinions, and how little serious logical thought is behind them. I do wonder if the younger generation has been trained, by those who don't respect them, to forswear the use of reason in favor of shallow emotional responses. People who have been trained out of using their God-given power of reason can be easily manipulated by shallow emotional appeals. People who are trained to use logic and reason have the power to step outside of their own skins and objectively judge the actions of their rulers. And what ruling class in history has ever wanted that?
One charge that keeps coming up is that God must be unjust because He ordered the "genocide" of the Canaanites. It makes no logical sense to judge God on the same standards as if He were another person, but that is exactly what is being done. Again, it is a result of people who are trained to think emotionally being unable to reason outside of their own skin. But the charges against God don't just fall short on logic, they fall short on the facts as well, if one only takes a little care to examine them. But who needs facts when you have emotion? In our post-modern, post-truth world, you don't need to examine anything beyond a few cliches' in order to justify your original feelings, because it is all about the feelings anyway. Why consider the evidence to determine whether or not God is just when you already feel that you don't like God, so just find the cliche' that let's you condemn Him and to blazes with the facts and the reason!
Let's start with the reason part first, then we will get to the facts. It is not reasonable to judge God by the same standards that we judge other people, as if God had the same limitations they did. For example, if He is God, then any life we have, He gave us. And He is under no obligation whatsoever to give any of us another breath. So if we are to accuse God of being unjust, it is not on the basis that He is taking something that does not belong to Him. It would be wrong for you or me to take someone's life on our own initiative, but that is at least in part because their life is not ours to take. This does not apply to God. So as regards to this part of being unjust, the rational mind will find God "not guilty."
OK, so maybe God is unjust for another reason. Maybe He is unjust because He is treating the innocent the same as the guilty. After all, He ordered even children and infants to be killed. Infants have not done anything worthy of death, therefore they should not be punished the same as an adult who was a wicked criminal. Here goes the line of "reasoning": Those who are guilty of some heinous crime may deserve to have their lives taken in order to meet the standards of justice, but babies have committed no crime. If God orders the death of infants, then He must therefore be unjust.
The whole premise of this line of thought is that God is subject to the same limitations of time and space that we are, which is absurd on its face. God knows how each of those infants would turn out in every possible future they would face. It is a subject for debate between those who believe in human free will vs. those who hold to the primacy of God's sovereignty whether or not any of those infants might have rejected gross wickedness if God arranged their future just so, but in either case God is not obligated to do so. That is, He is not obligated to move heaven and earth so as to arrange their circumstances in the one way out of a trillion that they would have to be moved in order for the child to grow up into a mere thief instead of a cold-eyed mass murderer. If He is God, then He knows how they will turn out, given every future they can have, even before they are born. So it is possible God waited until the culture He condemned was so corrupt that there was no one, or next to no one, that could be salvaged from it before He ordered that culture to be wiped out.
So fundamentally, we can't condemn God on the basis of logic alone until we examine the evidence. That is, is their evidence that His character is such that His habit is to order the death of the innocent along with the guilty? Let's take a look.
The command to exterminate (the true meaning of the Hebrew word is "irrevocably give to God") the Canaanites is found in Deuteronomy chapter seven. Yet we see that four hundred years before this, way back in Genesis 15:16, God tells Abraham that it will be his descendants who inherit the promised land, not him, "because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." So it appears that at least one of the Canaanite groups, the Amorites, was not completely corrupted at this time. That is, there would be some infants in that people who would still grow up not quite so wicked as to deserve to be put to death. Of course, in a corrupt enough culture, the innocent don't thrive. They either leave or fall to those more wicked than themselves.
We see confirmation of this interpretation a few chapters later when God tells Abraham is is going to utterly destroy Sodom. This is in Genesis Chapter Nineteen (I urge you young readers to find a Bible and confirm everything I say, Don't just take my word for it, or the word of those who revile God for it, but personally investigate the basis for these charges against the Maker and Giver of your life). Abraham tells God that it is far from His nature to destroy the innocent with the wicked. He asks God if He would spare the city if 50 righteous persons were found there. God answers that He will spare the city if 50 righteous are found there. Abraham then begins to "talk God down" regarding the threshold number that it will take to spare Sodom. All the time Abraham bases his appeal on the fact that God does NOT capriciously destroy the righteous with the wicked. Finally, God says "if there are ten righteous found, I will spare the city."
Of course, as you read on, you discover that the required number of righteous are not found, that only one family, Abraham's relative Lot, is even minimally decent, and the other residents would have killed him for a display of decency had not the messengers intervened. So the one family is told to flee the city, and once they are out judgement falls.
This is the pattern that is consistent in the Old Testament. "Destroying them utterly" turns out not to be as "utter" as one might think. For example, the beginning of the "genocide" of the Canaanites is with the city of Jericho, as recording in Joshua chapters two through six. This is the beginning of the execution of God's command in Deuteronomy Chapter 7 to "utterly exterminate" the Canaanites. In actuality what happened was that spies from the Hebrews went into the city and found there one family that did not need killing- that of Rahab the Harlot. They made a deal with her, and kept the deal- sparing her family. In other words, where it says in 6:21 "all in the city were destroyed" what they meant was "after the few people that still had a heart able to trust in God were brought out, we destroyed all of those left in the city." It was the exact same pattern used in Sodom.
Rahab was not a choir girl. She was a prostitute. God was not demanding perfection from these people in order for them to be spared. And of course the Bible shows that Rahab was "irredeemably devoted to God", not by sacrifice or killing her but rather in the way she lived her life among God's people. She was the ancestor of either Boaz or Jeremiah, depending on what extra-biblical sources you believe. She is listed as a "hero of the faith" in Hebrews 11. So bear in mind that when you read that the Hebrews killed them all, or "destroyed them utterly", understand the pattern and the context. People who were less than perfect people but still had something in them worth saving were spared. The bad blood was purged, lest it spread and corrupt the Children of Israel (which still happened by the way, as bad as the "genocide" was, it was not enough to prevent the remaining inhabitants of the area from turning aside the children of Israel.)
And speaking of Jeremiah, the first chapter just confirms what must be philosophically true of God - He knows what sort of person we will be before we are born. Not that we have no free will, but He knows what that will is like, and how it will respond to appeals, even before birth. "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee" God tells Jeremiah.
The charges against God are false. He is not unjust. To the contrary, He is just and impartial to a degree that we could not endure if He had not paid the price for our sins in His own Son. He stands "Not Guilty" of being unjust with regard to the slaughter of the Canaanites. Those who would condemn even their Maker ought to quit considering what a problem they have with God if He is NOT just and start considering the magnitude of the problem they might have with Him if He IS just.