Nearly all Christian believers consider God to not just be a loving and caring guy like we try to be ourselves, but the utter paragon of moral perfection — perfectly benevolent and never failing to do anything wrong. God is said to be love and goodness itself, embodied.
The Bible even testifies to this, saying in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love”, and going on to say in Psalms 145:8-9 that “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
However, we already know a few reasons why this cannot be true — God, if such a being were to exist, must be said to permit all of the needless suffering in the world, everything from the Holocaust to Hurricane Katrina, when it was in his power to stop it at any time. Additionally, God allows us to remain dwindling in religious confusion and nonbelief when a clear and consistent revelation would save billions of souls. Instead, God condemns them to a Hell that is definitively unjust punishment.
But we can additionally demonstrate that God cannot be benevolent not from external evidence, but from the Bible itself. Perhaps this is why it is occasionally said that the best way to convert someone to atheism is to have them read the Bible cover-to-cover. God’s actions in the Bible reveal him to be a malevolent and uncompassionate bully, and in no sense the benevolent all-loving perfect deity that many claim him to be.
God Mauls 42 Children With Bears for Teasing a Prophet
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. — 2 Kings 2:23-24
What just happened there? Little children come out of a city and mock a prophet by calling him a “bald head” and presumably telling the prophet to die. So what is the admirable, compassionate response? Ignore them? Turn the other cheek? No, the answer is mauling them with bears. Kill forty-two little children… with bears.
This story has become the textbook go-to example of Biblical cruelty, so some apologists (defenders of the Christian faith) have tried to soften it by suggesting that the children were not really “little”, and were only called “little” as an accident in translation. While the translation argument itself is dubious and debated immensely, even granting it does little to resolve the problem. All it points out is: (1) The Bible contains enough mistranslations to make our interpretation incorrect and confused and (2) Mauling grown men with bears is still okay and admirable according to some apologists.
Additionally, this verse is further softened with the idea that this passage somehow indicates that the prophets’ lives were in danger. But of course, this is kind of ridiculous – why can’t God just protect the prophet or silence the crowd of children rather than needing to kill them? Surely such an omnipotent God has many other options than bear mauling — just teleport the prophets out of harm’s way, or create some sort of forcefield, or make the prophets invulnerable, or… Nope, bears.
Another attempt to answer this question says “The penalty was clearly justified, for to ridicule Elisha was to ridicule the Lord Himself. The seriousness of the crime was indicated by the seriousness of the punishment. The appalling judgment was God’s warning to all who would scorn the prophets of the Lord.” Yes, God has such self-esteem issues that his reaction to being ridiculed is death by bears. This is far from clearly justified; it is horrendously disproportionate.
Gather Wood on the Wrong Day = Torture + Death
While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses. — Numbers 15:32-36
Not only is the crime so obviously crazy, but the method of death is exceedingly immoral – death by stoning is a form of torture in which the person is killed by an entire community throwing stones at the person until they eventually die from severe trauma. Why would a loving God impose this kind of barbaric punishment for any crime, let alone a crime as trivial as picking up sticks on the wrong day? Why is there stoning for breaking the Sabbath anyway?
Sure, the Sabbath is the holy day, and it’s probably important. But is it really so important that someone gathering wood necessitates death by stoning? Clearly something changed, because nowadays working on the Sabbath is no crime at all — today, we do it all the time! But even if it were such a problem back in the day, why does such a petty crime necessitate torture and death?
God Orders All Men to Be Killed, All Women to be Raped
“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. — Numbers 31:15-18
In Numbers 31, Moses’s army defeats the Midianites under God’s direction. During this war, Moses then orders the army to kill all the adult males. When Moses learns that the army had taken women and children captive, Moses tells the army to “kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.” He then tells the army that “all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves”. What does this mean?
Remember that thing about the Ten Commandments, and how people are supposed to not murder each other? Yeah, well here is an example of God ordering people to not follow his other order, and kill people despite saying not to kill people.
What God allowed his own prophet to do without any retribution in a war he directed was for absolutely everyone who was not a female virgin, including children, to be killed. The virgins would then be kept alive and forced into sexual slavery. Sounds like fun for the whole family, right? I guess “Do not rape” isn’t in the Commandments…
This practice of taking women for sex is perfectly acceptable by Deuteronomy 21:11-13, which states that “if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.”
Of course it’s completely fair that the captive gets to mourn her father and mother for a month, but she doesn’t get any choice but to become the wife of someone. She is “taken”. Why would God allow such a depraved and immoral practice to continue? Why would God allow one of his prophets to order an army to do such an immoral thing as take women into forced marriages?
And why would God even allow this kind of war to happen at all, when he has the ability to just zap enemies out of existence, or settle all disputes through diplomacy?
God Orders More Raping, Plus Killing and Torturing of Babies!
Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated. See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children. — Isaiah 13:15-18
The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open. — Hosea 13:16
God must really have something against those the Isrealites go to war against! Lets have a quick gore recap:
- Lots of people will be killed by swords.
- Babies will be chopped in pieces in front of their parents.
- People will have their posessions stolen.
- People will be raped.
- No mercy will be given toward babies.
- Babies will be ripped out of pregnant women.
This is downright terrifyingly gruesome, yet it is something that God specifically predicts and commands. Is this really what a loving, merciful, just, and good God do or allow in his name? What did the wives do to deserve getting their houses looted and babies killed, let alone be raped –- one of the most traumatic experiences someone can undergo? What did the babies do to deserve being shown no compassion? Why is everyone guilty for the transgressions of a few?
God Commands Genocide
However, 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. — Deuteronomy 20:16-17
Being omnipotent, God could have done many things to clear the land given to the Israelites — for starters, he could have simply teleported all the ethnic groups to another area, or simply create land for the Israelites out of nothing. And even if for some reason they had to die, God could have caused them to die painlessly, or could have never created them in the first place. But no, that’s not God’s style. Instead, he has the Israelites go and kill them all by war.
This elimination of groups of people is the very definition of genocide – similar to what Hitler tried with the Jews in Nazi Germany. If God commanded Hitler to kill the Jews, would that make such a genocide okay? Why does God require the complete elimination of entire ethnic groups, and why does he need his followers to do it for him? No crime can possibly require mass murder of an entire group and genocide is definitely not moral even if the Bible commands it. Such passages in the Bible are what lead atheist Richard Dawkins to refer to God as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser.”
Take note of these two defenses that are very commonly made in response to this problem of Genocide, because they get to the heart of the issue about God’s goodness, and we will address them thoroughly in a future post:
The first is to retreat to “God’s ways are not our ways” / “You have no right to question God” / “Whatever God does is just and admirable, no matter what” arguments. We’ll save these to be thoroughly analyzed later, because they apply to all of these biblical atrocities as well as all other problems of evil.
The second is to retreat to the idea that all of those who are killed will end up getting what they deserve — either placed in Hell by God if they were guilty (coupled with evidence that they were indeed guilty: these people were accused of infanticide, bestiality, and incest) or Heaven if they were innocent and wrongly killed. Additionally, add the idea that since everyone is sinful by corrupted human nature, everyone is probably at least a little bit guilty!
This leads to a completely different perspective on the event, as we see by William Craig’s handling of the question:
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli [sic] soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalising effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.
For now, we’ll note that this first defense seems to completely abandon any claim that we can actually prove God is good based on the evidence, and instead have a lot of prima facie evidence that God is evil, and the second defense seems to indicate that murdering anyone is okay because God will always sort it out in the afterlife and we have nothing to fear, as well as saying nothing about the numerous other options God had.
Just based on what we have so far — God ordered the torture and death of someone for collecting wood on the Sabbath, God ordered the death of children in really violent ways, and also specifically ordered women to be raped. This is the kind of character that is worse than any dictator, not the kind of character that is the embodiment of love!
In the next post of this series, we’ll look at even more egregious cases where God obviously is doing something completely unjustified, uncaring, and not worth honoring or worshipping. Yes, it gets even more egregious than infanticide and rape! Then, we’ll look far more in depth at the defenses that are being offered to defend God from claims that he is a malevolent bully.
Directly continued in: The Biblical God is a Malevolent Bully, Part II
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