Old Testament God

(John McClanahan) #1

I’ve engaged an atheist in discussion regarding theism. We’ve covered some interesting topics and we ended with one of his challenges: Read through the book of Joshua and explain why the OT God was so immoral. How would you respond to the charge that the God depicted in Joshua is immoral? Thank you for your time.

John M

(Bill Brander) #2

John, I would have to first understand how you define immoral?

(SeanO) #3

@jmcclana As is discussed in more detail in the thread below and very well in Copan’s book ‘Is God a Moral Monster?’, there are a few points to keep in mind:

  1. God gave the Canaanites 400 years (or 4 generations) to repent of their sin and they did not (Genesis 15:16)
  2. The Canaanties were very wicked - sacrificing their children alive at alters to pagan gods and committing extreme acts of indececy
  3. Ezekiel 18:30-32 - God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked
  4. Israel was not an exception to the rule - this was not genocide or racism - when Israel sinned later in the Bible, God also sent judgment upon them. God is both just and fair - He raises up nations and He brings them down.
  5. It is possible that the purpose was to drive the Canaanites out and not to literally destroy all of them (see Copan’s book and the link below)


(Kathleen) #4

Hi, @jmcclana! This question/objection tends to come up a lot not just from atheists, but from Christians trying to understand as well. I myself still struggle at times with some of the stories in Joshua!

A couple of quick things to think through/add to @SeanO’s list would be…

  1. Does God have the right to judge? This is often a foundational question for me because what’s going on in Joshua is that God is using the Israelites to bring judgement on both the Canaanites and their gods. (Similar to how God subsequently uses the Babylonians and Persians to judge Israel.) If God does not have the right, then He is no god. Embedded in the very definition of the God of monotheism is that God, as the creator and ruler of the universe and the One from whom nothing can be hidden, stands as judge over its inhabitants. Part of his job as God is the execution of justice. A natural question that then follows is…

  2. Does God have the right to set out the terms of that judgement? Again, yes. As God, he has the right both to judge and execute justice.

  3. Are those terms just by God’s own definition of just? This is another big question to explore. There are a couple of stories in Joshua make me cringe (‘Yikes, God!’) and ask, ‘Was that really necessary?’, but I remember that God knows everything fully and completely. I also wonder if I would have had the same reaction if I’d lived in that time period? The notion of wiping out of nation-states and the citizens therein (rather correctly) offends our modern, western sensibilities, but in a way, that was the way the world worked back then.

Oftentimes I’ve heard the objection that God is arbitrary, random, and unreasonable. He does whatever He wants, whenever He wants without any rhyme or reason or care. And to some extent, He does do whatever He wants, whenever He wants (Christians often refer to it as His ‘will’), but His will is not arbitrary. What God does (or ‘wills’) springs directly out of who He is - His nature - and He cannot do anything contrary to His nature. If justice is what He is, then, by definition, He cannot do an injustice.

Also, @billbrander’s question is a good one. By what standard of morality is one passing judgement on God? What exactly do they see as immoral?

(John McClanahan) #5

Bill, the concern is regarding God’s command to kill an entire nation, men and women, young and old. The taking of innocent life (women and children) seems unjust and immoral. I believe God has a greater plan and is justified in any act of His but how to explain this to an atheist.

(John McClanahan) #6

Thank you all for your reply. I’ll read through the articles. I do have Paul Copan’s book so will read it as well. Thanks again.


(Bill Brander) #7

Thank you John, I had a similar thought when I first read of Achan’s sin. Just didn’t seem fair to me. But when i thought of the context. Was it not best? By wiping out a whole family tree there was no fear of revenge from surviving members? No possibility of ‘contamination’ seeping through to other members of society. In those days how could you ‘get the message across’?
Perhaps because of my personal context in South Africa where we have countless ‘commission of inquiry’ into corruption. But the perpetrators are still free. Not fair! No I am advocating killing them, but incarcerate them at least. That’s how I would relate your question to a fellow Safrican.