The following conversation is fictitious as presented here, but it is based on many actual conversations and exchanges in which I have participated over the years. “Arnie's” responses would represent my own under similar circumstances.
Arnie: How's it going, Joe? Where do things stand in your spiritual search since we last talked?
Arnie: You know, Joe, I respect your insistence on maintaining intellectual integrity in your search for truth. God doesn't want you to close down your mind in order to accept Christ. But on the other hand, you don't have to have every answer to every question in place before you acknowledge Christianity as being true, or before you commit yourself to follow Christ.
Arnie: What do you mean by that?
Arnie: A better question may be: How do we explain the mercy of God in the Old and New Testament?
The really amazing thing is God's mercy.
Arnie: Well, God is 100% holy. Why should He ever be expected to put up with any sin or nonsense whatsoever from His creation? Instead of being amazed that He periodically calls for judgment in the Old Testament, we should be amazed that he ever shows mercy and patience. I mean, think of it, if God was not merciful, even you and I would be zapped the very instant that we'd rebel or sin in any way today.
Arnie: In a fallen world, isn't it possible that God may have to periodically authorize some less-than-ideal measures in order to deter further evil? Like a police officer who, in order to deal with disorder, has to use force. If you think about it, whenever God tolerated or “ordered” violent action in the Old Testament, it was to restrain evil or to deter some greater atrocity.
Isn't it possible that God chose to condone some less-than-ideal measures in order to restrain further evil?
Arnie: Innocents often necessarily pay for the sins of others. In this world our lives are inextricably intertwined. What one man does will, more often than not, in some way effect his neighbor. I may pollute the air, but you'll then breathe the pollution. If a mother smokes crack, her baby will likely be born addicted.
Exodus 34:6-7 cites this very principle at work. By the way, notice God's attributes here in this Old Testament passage:
It seems to me that the only alternative would be for God to perpetually purge the world by sending Noah type floods over the entire Earth about every ten minutes. That wouldn't be very realistic, would it?
Did God Condone Infancticide?
Arnie: What initially may sound rather atrocious becomes a lot more understandable when you hear the other side of the story.
Arnie: Which is—in a fallen, evil world (unlike the one that God created), there are seldom any really happy alternatives. What God eventually condoned here as necessary is certainly not what he originally envisioned as ideal.
But let me ask you a few questions. Would you ever think it justifiable to put two teenage boys in the scope of a rifle and pull the trigger? Does that sound unthinkable, atrocious, and absolutely unjustifiable? Well, what if those teenage boys’ names were Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris? Few folks would condemn the SWAT officers who did that very thing at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
Arnie: Well, what is clear from history is that these so-called innocent Amalekite babies were part of a self-perpetuating system of evil that often defied description. There are many reasons to believe that these babies represented a rising generation of Mohammed Attas, Osama bin Ladens, and Adolf Hitlers.
Ancient sects and nations like the Amalekites would often heat up an idol like Molech with fire until it was glowing. Then they would take their newborn babies, place them on the arms of the idol, and watch them burn to death. (Source: New Bible Dictionary, Tyndale, 1962.) At other times they would kill disabled, weak, and elderly people without so much as a second thought (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
In The Case for Faith (Zondervan, 2000), author Lee Strobel poses a question similar to the one you've asked. He says:
Apologist Norman Geisler responds,
Arnie: In many cases, innocent people do inevitably suffer when justice is being wrought. But aside from that, when the Righteous Judge of the universe is sitting on the bench, any means that He may choose to use is self-justified. After all, He is the very creator and sustainer of human life.
Still, there's more to the story here than mere punishment for wickedness. In a scenario not unlike America's 2001-2002 role in Afghanistan, God was using Israel at this time to “clean house” in a world gone awry.
R.C. Sproul says this in Now That's a Good Question (Tyndale, 1996):
Arnie: Josh McDowell and Don Stewart in Answers to Tough Questions (Here's Life Publishers, 1980):
Author: Daryl E. Witmer of AIIA Institute .
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