It is hip and edgy to suggest that in 2012, we have become too moral for God. For a while, it was enough to suggest that God is too authoritarian; too rigid and demanding for a world with so many choices. But lately, atheists and skeptics have added another charge: God is heartless and cruel, as well. “What kind of God executes his own son for the crimes of others?” popular authors taunt us. They sneer that the cross is nothing more than cosmic child abuse. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Old Testament is littered with instances in which God strikes down multitudes, executes his own people in the desert, demands that King Saul destroy all the Amalekites- even the women and children.
The real problem is not that unbelievers make such outrageous statements. After all, sinners are born to sin. But the truly outrageous part is that Christians are actually beginning to take this question seriously. Why does God act that way, we quietly wonder. The result is that we leave the question on the table, as though it’s some kind of logical, intellectual breakthrough. What rubbish! If I may, allow me to take a few weeks to underscore why God must be God, and why questions like this one are so crass and irrational.
Big Idea #1: God seems cruel and heartless because we take his actions out of context. In other words, the Creator God can do things that aren’t acceptable for mere human beings simply because he is divine and we aren’t big enough or wise enough to track with him.
In Psalm 139:16, David writes, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Based on verses like this, saints like you and me understand that God knows how long each of us will live, has determined the day we will die, and even has influence over how we will die. Hence, many of us pray that when the big day comes, we will be able to die in our sleep. We pray that prayer for loved ones for similar reasons. We understand that the Creator God has life and death in his hands.
Think about that for a split second. Some 2600 Americans die every day. That means we are comfortable with the fact that God slays 2,600 Americans every day. Similarly, we’re told that 146,00 people die on the planet Earth on a daily basis. Why is it routine when God slays 146,000 ordinary earthlings every day, yet shocking and offensive when he eliminates a few hundred Amalekites in a military action? You can’t weasel out of this contradiction by insisting that you don’t believe God actually has a hand in all those daily deaths. If he created this machine we call the Earth; if he has populated it with people he designed; and if he has influence over how individuals die but fails to use it, he’s responsible. And that’s just one reason why he’s God and you aren’t.
What’s more, the Amalekites were under a curse from God because of an incident narrated in Deuteronomy 25. When the poor, frail, abused Hebrew nation first emerged from bondage in Egypt, they were quickly attacked by the Amalekites who wanted to pick them off, destroy them, and rob them. The Amalekites actually broke the rules of warfare of the ancient world by attacking from the rear. This meant that rather than facing soldiers and armed men at the front, they began by slaughtering unarmed women, children, sick people, and young people herding animals at the rear; stragglers. For this offense against human decency, God decreed they would die the same way. It’s one of the most basic laws of human life: whatever a man reaps, that is what he sows. We all take comfort in that principle.
So God is not guilty of senseless mayhem in 1 Samuel 15. Rather, he is responsible for dispensing justice. That’s because he is God and we are simply creatures. We aren’t qualified to judge his decisions, because we aren’t intelligent enough to know everything that is at stake. More next week.
In the meantime, lift up the Cross!