I looked intently into Geisler's eyes. My voice leaked sarcasm as I posed the most pointed objection to God's character. "You talk about compassion and mercy," I said, "but those qualities are hard to understand when we see God ordering genocide by telling the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7 to 'totally destroy' the Canaanites and six other nations and to 'show them no mercy."'
That got me started on a roll. "And that wasn't an isolated incident," I continued, picking up speed as I went. "God ordered the execution of every Egyptian firstborn; he flooded the world and killed untold thousands of people; he told the Israelites: 'Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."' That sounds more like a violent and brutal God than a loving one. How can people be expected to worship him if he orders innocent children to be slaughtered?"
Despite the force of the question, Geisler retained a calm and reasoned tone. "This shows," he said, "that God's character is absolutely holy, and that he has got to punish sin and rebellion. He's a righteous judge; that's undeniably part of who he is. But, second, his character is also merciful. Listen: if anyone wants to escape, he will let them."
Geisler paused. My questions clearly required a more extended explanation. "Lee, you've raised a whole bunch of good issues, and they deserve a thoughtful response," he said. "Do you mind if we go through those passages a little more carefully? Because if we do, I think we'll see the same pattern over and over."
I gestured for him to proceed. "Please," I said, "go through them. I really do want to understand."
"Let's start with the Amalekites," he began. "Listen, Lee, they were far from innocent. Far from it. These were not nice people. In fact, they were utterly and totally depraved. Their mission was to destroy Israel. In other words, to commit genocide. As if that weren't evil enough, think what was hanging in the balance. The Israelites were the chosen people through whom God would bring salvation to the entire world through Jesus Christ."
"So you're saying they deserved to be destroyed?" I asked.
"The destruction of their nation was necessitated by the gravity of their sin," Geisler said. "Had some hardcore remnant survived, they might have resumed their aggression against the Israelites and God's plan. These were a persistent and vicious and warring people. To show you how reprehensible they were, they had been following the Israelites and had been cowardly slaughtering the most vulnerable among them-the weak, elderly, and disabled who were lagging behind.
"They wanted to wipe every last one of the Israelites off the face of the earth. God could have dealt with them through a natural disaster like a flood, but instead he used Israel as his instrument of judgment. He took action not only for the sake of the Israelites, but ultimately for the sake of everyone through history whose salvation would be provided by the Messiah who was to be born among them."
"But the children," I protested. "Why did innocent children need to be killed?"
"Let's keep in mind," he said, "that technically nobody is truly innocent. The Bible says in Psalm 51 that we're all born in sin; that is, with the propensity to rebel and commit wrongdoing. Also, we need to keep in mind God's sovereignty over life. An atheist once brought up this issue in a debate, and I responded by saying, 'God created life and he has the right to take it. If you can create life, then you can have the right to take it. But if you can't create it, you don't have that right.' And the audience applauded.
"People assume that what's wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it's wrong for me to take your life, because I didn't make it and I don't own it. For example, it's wrong for me to go into your yard and pull up your bushes, cut them down, kill them, transplant them, move them around. I can do that in my yard, because I own the bushes in my yard.
"Well, God is sovereign over all of life and he has the right to take it if he wishes. In fact, we tend to forget that God takes the life of every human being. It's called death. The only question is when and how, which we have to leave up to him."
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