The Bible is a pretty mixed bag when it comes to morality. On the one hand, you have the revelation of a creator God whose very essence is love, which is expressed through compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. On the other hand, you have a God who is portrayed as being merciless, vengeful, and genocidal. If the Bible is taken as a flat text, where every single verse holds the same amount of authority, you’ll find a very schizophrenic God.
Most Christians would agree that God is good and that God is good—all the time. So if God is good all the time, that means if he murders, slaughters, destroys; or commands genocide, slavery, rape, and infanticide, then those things are also good. After all, a good God can only do good things. All those actions, which normal people would describe as evil, should be considered good if God is doing them or commanding them to be done.
How can evil things be good if God does them? Do those evil things cease to be evil? Is it our definition of evil that is wrong? Or is God eviler than us?
Killing Babies is Bad and Good
When King Herod found out that a new King (named Jesus) would be born, he ordered that all the baby boys in the area be killed (Matthew 2:16). Most Christians read this part of the Gospel story and recoil in horror at the horrendous act of evil. That’s good. That is healthy. The systematic slaughter of so many innocent lives is pure evil.
Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, were warned ahead of time and so they managed to escape to Egypt in order to save their baby’s life (Matthew 2:13). Ironically, Egypt was also the location of another mass murder of baby boys, hundreds of years before. In the exodus story, the last of the ten plagues that God visited on Egypt was the plague where God killed all the firstborn sons (Exodus 12:29-30). The systematic slaughter of so many innocent lives is, in this case, not pure evil?
Why is it okay for God to do the same thing that King Herod did? Why is it evil when Herod does it, but good, acceptable, and celebrated when God does it? As you can probably start to see, we have a problem with how we interpret the Bible.
The Loving Genocide of God
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.
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.
We are taught from a young age that the act of racial genocide is wrong. We are taught, and most believe, that the systematic slaughter of an entire people-group is pure evil. Few people today would attempt to make the argument that genocide is merciful, good, or correct. If you came across someone who was trying to teach people that any one of history’s genocides was the correct course of action or that it was good and holy—you would be correct to view that person as a psychopath. So why do we not view pastors as psychopaths when they preach that it was good for God to drown the entire planet or command the Israelites to slaughter babies?
The road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover.
– Andrew L. Seidel
Reading the bible is the fast track to atheism.
– Penn Jillette
If you were in a history class and the professor told you about an event in history where an army invaded a foreign land, killed all the men and women except for the virgin girls, which were kept as sex slaves, would you view it as good or evil? Hopefully, your answer is “evil.” Now, what if you were in church and the pastor told you about a story in the Bible where the Israelites invaded a foreign land, killed all the men and women except for the virgin girls, which were kept as sex slaves, would you view it as good or evil (Numbers 31:18, 32-35)? Hopefully, your answer is still “evil.” If not, you might be a psychopath—but if so, you were trained by the church to be that way.
Switching Off Your Conscience
By not questioning the evil we can read about in the Old Testament, the church trains its congregants to ignore their innate sense of right and wrong. Parishioners are conditioned to mistrust their own conscience because they are told that God is good all the time and can do no evil. Church-goers are left with an ultimatum: either rape and genocide are good, or God is evil. Our moral intuitions are muted concerning God but not concerning anything else. At least, that is the hope. Unfortunately, Christian history has shown us that sometimes the Bible is used as an excuse to continue on with acts such as slavery and genocide.
The Old Testament describes God killing over 25 million people. The Hebrew Bible is the most violent collection of literature ever written. If you’re a mentally and emotionally healthy person, accepting these violent stories as acts of good instead of evil goes against every fiber of your being. The church trains you to mistrust your own intuitions. You are trained to believe that you must be incorrect because the Bible records these seemingly evil actions as being taken by an all-holy God.
Many Christians don’t know what to think about the Flood story. On the one hand, they believe it would be horrible to drown countless people, but on the other, God is good, and so drowning people must be good when he does it. Most Christians just try not to think about it. Subconsciously you are trained to question or ignore your own sense of morality. You are conditioned to rely on the authority of a preacher or the authority of the Bible. Such thinking encourages intellectual passivity. Don’t question it. God is good; move along.
Is God More Evil Than You?
“God gives life and God can take away life.” Okay then, oftentimes, in the Old Testament, genocide is carried out by God’s people; God often doesn’t do the killing directly. So if you believe that God actually commanded genocide, then you should be open to the possibility that he could do so again. What if God commanded you to slaughter men, women, and children by the thousands? What if you were certain that he told you to. Would you do it? Of course, your answer is “no way!” But by refusing God’s command, you are effectually saying that you are less evil than God. If you think drowning everyone on earth, ethnic cleansing, commanding rape, encouraging slavery, or slaughtering children is evil—then you believe that God is more evil than you. But of course, this is impossible. So something else must be going on.
If you are an apprentice of Jesus who has declared with your mind and body that he is your King, then he dwells inside you (Galatians 2:20; Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 12:12-27; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 3:6, 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24; 1 Peter 2:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:18-20; Revelation 21:22). You have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16). Because you have the mind of Christ, you know that the Flood is evil. You know that genocide is evil. You know that rape is evil. You know that slavery is evil. You know that killing everything that breathes is evil. Deep down, you know it.
So if genocide is evil, but God is good, then logically speaking, only one conclusion can be drawn—God does not do evil things such as genocide. This should seem obvious, but many Christians recoil at such a thought (horrifyingly enough), but they only do so because the Bible is their god. They won’t admit as much and may not even realize this is the case, but the Bible is their final authority on all matters—even their innate morality that makes them human.
The God Over the Bible
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The whole point of the New Testament is to show us that God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are higher. While ancient people thought that a flood was necessary or that genocide was necessary, God’s ways are higher. Jesus shows us that he doesn’t require these evil actions (John 18:36). The Bible itself says that no one has seen God except Jesus who makes him known (John 1:18). Jesus is the full and complete revelation of who God actually is and what he is like (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus, and Jesus alone, has the authority to tell us what God is fully like—the Bible does not have that authority (Matthew 28:18). On the cross, we see a God who would rather let his enemies kill him than he himself kill his enemies (Romans 5:10). That heart and mind dwell within you, and it tells you that genocide is indeed evil.
God does not change—but we as a human race do. We learn, we grow, we evolve, we become more and more like Christ with every passing generation. Just around 150 years ago, Christians still whipped their slaves and used the Bible to support it. So if we change, but God doesn’t, then it logically follows that our understanding of God changes—it grows in accuracy and expands in understanding as we collectively spend more time in his presence and he dwells within us. We pass on what we have learned to our children, and they pass it on to their children, and along the way, sometimes we write it all down. This is what happened with the Bible. Our great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents maybe didn’t understand God as well as we do now. And maybe we don’t understand God as well as our future linage will 1,000 years from now. God doesn’t change, but we do.
When we wonder what God is like, we have a written record of Christ’s life and ministry. But more importantly, in addition to that, we have Jesus himself who is alive and active, living inside his children. The Holy Spirit informs us that genocide is evil. That understanding is now woven into our being. Jesus is the Word of God and we have the mind of Christ.