Intellectually, I could understand Geisler's answer up to this point. However, emotionally it didn't go far enough. I was still unsettled. "But the children..." I persisted. Geisler, himself the father of six children and grandfather of nine, was sympathetic. "Socially and physically, the fate of children throughout history has always been with their parents, whether that's for good or for ill," he pointed out.
"But, Lee, you need to understand the situation among the Amalekites. In that thoroughly evil and violent and depraved culture, there was no hope for those children. This nation was so polluted that it was like gangrene that was taking over a person's leg, and God had to amputate the leg or the gangrene would spread and there wouldn't be anything left. In a sense, God's action was an act of mercy."
"According to the Bible, every child who dies before the age of accountability goes to heaven to spend eternity in the presence of God," he replied. "Now, if they had continued to live in that horrible society, past the age of accountability, they undoubtedly would have become corrupted and thereby lost forever.
"What makes you think children go to heaven when they die?" I asked.
"Isaiah 7:16 talks about an age before a child is morally accountable, before the child 'knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.' King David spoke of going to be with his son who died at birth. Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these,' which indicates they will go to heaven." There's a considerable amount of other scriptural support for this position as well."
I jumped on an apparent inconsistency. "If ultimately it was best for those children to die before the age of accountability because they would go to heaven, why can't the same be said about unborn children who are aborted today?" I asked. "If they're aborted, they're definitely going to heaven, but if they are born and grow up they might rebel against God and end up in hell. Isn't that a forceful argument in favor of abortion?"
Geisler's response came quickly. "No, that's a false analogy," he insisted. "First, God doesn't command anyone today to have an abortion; in fact, it's contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Remember, he's the only one who can decide to take a life, because he's the ultimate author of life. Second, today we don't have a culture that's as thoroughly corrupt as the Amalekite society. In that culture, there was no hope; today, there's hope."
"So," I said, "you don't think God was being unreasonable by ordering the destruction of the Amalekites?"
"You have to remember that these people were given plenty of opportunity to change their ways and to avoid all of this," he said. "In fact, if you take all of the Canaanites along with the Amalekites, they had four hundred years to repent. That's a very long time. Finally, after waiting centuries to give them an opportunity to abandon their path toward self-destruction, God's nature demanded that he deal with their willful evil. He certainly didn't act precipitously.
"Now, we have to keep in mind that those who had wanted to get out of this situation had already done so; they had ample opportunity through the years. Surely the ones who wanted to be saved from destruction fled and were spared.
"In Joshua 6, where the Bible talks about the destruction of Jericho and the Canaanites, you've got the same pattern. This was a thoroughly evil culture, so much so that the Bible says it nauseated God. They were into brutality, cruelty, incest, bestiality, cultic prostitution, even child sacrifice by fire. They were an aggressive culture that wanted to annihilate the Israelites.
"Again, you've got evil people who were destroyed but the righteous among them who were saved. For instance, Rahab, who protected the Israelite spies, was not judged with the other people. And look at what happened to the corrupt residents of the city of Nineveh. God was going to judge them because they deserved it, but they repented and God saved the whole bunch. So here's the point: whoever has repented, God has been willing to save. That's important to remember.
"You see, God's purpose in these instances was to destroy the corrupt nation because the national structure was inherently evil, not to destroy people if they were willing to repent. Many verses indicate that God's primary desire was to drive these evil people out of the land that they already knew had been promised for a long time to Israel. That way, Israel could come in and be relatively free from the outside corruption that could have destroyed it like a cancer. He wanted to create an environment where the Messiah could come for the benefit of millions of people through history."
"The pattern, then, was that people had plenty of warning?" I asked.
"Certainly," he said. "And consider this: most of the women and children would have fled in advance before the actual fighting began, leaving behind the warriors to face the Israelites. The fighters who remained would have been the most hardened, the ones who stubbornly refused to leave, the carriers of the corrupt culture. So it's really questionable how many women and children might actually have been involved anyway.
"Besides, under the rules of conduct God had given to the Israelites, whenever they went into an enemy city they were to first make the people an offer of peace. The people had a choice: they could accept that offer, in which case they wouldn't be killed, or they could reject the offer at their own peril. That's appropriate and fair."
I had to admit that these insights shed new light on the situation, especially his comments about the ample warning that had been given and the likelihood that women and children had probably evacuated the area prior to any battle. And as troubling as these passages are, it helped to know that Israel would offer peace before engaging in a fight and that the biblical pattern was that repentant people are given opportunities to avoid the judgment.
"God, then, was not being capricious?"
"He's not capricious, he's not arbitrary, he's not cruel. But, Lee, I have to tell you something: he is undeniably just. His nature demands that he deal with corrupt people who stubbornly and willfully persist in their evil. And isn't that what he should do? Isn't that what we want for justice to be done? One of the key things to remember is that throughout history, for those who repent and turn to him, he's compassionate, merciful, gracious, and kind. In the end, we'll all see, his fairness."
Still, there was another troubling episode-again, involving children-that seemed to challenge Geisler's opinion that God does not act capriciously. It involves one of the strangest episodes in the entire Bible.
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