Why Does God Destroy the Innocent?
Without question there are difficult passages found within God's word - truths about God that are sometimes hard for fallible human minds to accept. One such "troubling" truth about the Bible is the destruction of women and children in the Old Testament. At times God had His people to destroy whole nations including men, women, children and livestock (see Josh. 8.24-26; 1 Sam. 15.3-4, etc.). These passages have always disturbed people, including Christians, and have been a stomping ground for atheists and Bible skeptics alike. Generally their concern is: "Why would God allow innocent women and children to be destroyed?" Many (understandably) approach this topic emotionally. Since ignorance is grounds for all kinds of error and doubt, this writer is convinced that the "problems" people have with this topic can be eliminated with the knowledge of several facts. Let us prayerfully and honestly examine this difficult topic.
Some may question or judge our Creator and even make unwarranted assumptions about Him. Nevertheless our Creator said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55.8-9). Paul wrote "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (Rom. 9.20). Similarly, Jeremiah wrote, "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand... " (18.6). Through Isaiah God said, "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker... Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’..." (Isaiah 45.9 NIV cf. 10.15). God said to Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! ..." (Job 38). Simply put, we are in no place to question or judge our Creator.
We serve an all-knowing and all-powerful God. He is loving, compassionate, just and merciful. As such He is the ultimate standard of authority and will rule accordingly. He is absolutely sovereign. In other words, God does not answer to anyone. Everyone answers to Him. Paul taught, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things..." (Rom. 11.33-36). Our Creator "...is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3.20). This is the God to whom every human is accountable.
As the sovereign Creator, God not only has the right to give life, but to take life as well. Job responded to his losses by saying, "...The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1.21). Some assume that when God takes life that He is unjust or immoral, but such is not the case. First, remember that He is the Potter and we are the clay. He has the right to discard any clay He chooses. Second, may we never forget that we do not deserve to live. Paul taught that "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3.23) and "...the wages of sin is death..." (Rom. 6.23). The very fact that God continues to give us breath from day to day demonstrates His long-suffering and mercy. All who have transgressed His law deserve to spend eternity in Hell. However, He bestows grace upon all who will call upon His name in obedience to His will. As His creation, we ought to praise the Lord continually for these undeserved blessings.
Moses recorded, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us..." (Deut. 29.29). Can we fully comprehend our Creator? For instance, is it possible that God can be right in a thing and we just do not understand why? Since we can never fully understand all of the facts, we often question the unknown without trusting God's decisions. For example, this writer's child is of the age where he questions certain decisions and commands issued. Those who are parents understand and know that their knowledge and wisdom far surpasses that of their children. Thus, when a parent decides something, it is sometimes irreverent and always irrelevant what that child thinks. As parents we know all the facts and we can see the outcome of a situation. We know that if our children are jumping on the couch and were to slip and fall they could potentially slam their head against the coffee table. They may not understand our rules and decisions, but they either have to learn to trust our judgment or decide to be defiant toward us.
What, then, was God's purpose in destroying these children? The simple answer is that we do not know, and Christian, that is OK (2 Cor. 5.7). We trust that our Lord knows best, that His decisions are made in our interest, that He does nothing unnecessarily and that His ways are pure, just and holy. Let us be content with this because He is sovereign and we are not.
Consider, however, that a case could actually be made that God was saving these children. For example, God saved them from growing up in a wicked, perverse and abusive society which oftentimes included child sacrifice and sexual acts. These evil deeds were commonly characteristic of pagan societies in worship to gods such as Baal, Molech and Chemosh. Furthermore, He saved them from becoming just like their parents and suffering the same fate as them (ultimately, eternal damnation). Additionally, there were times when children would have to bear the consequences of the parents' sins though innocent in the matter (Num. 14.18, 33). Finally, we must consider that God knew of future events that would be thwarted by the death of the children. Perhaps these children would grow to threaten the chosen nation of Israel. For all we know, God was protecting and preserving His people from whom our Lord would descend. Therefore, in reality, God showed these helpless children mercy and they will spend forevermore in His presence. Should God be despised for such beneficent deliverance, amid His judgments upon these nations?
While whole nations were devoted to destruction (Num. 21.3; Deut. 7.2; 20.16-17), God was long-suffering as He gave them time to repent. For example, consider the people of Noah's day. God waited 120 years for the world to repent. Eventually, however, His patience ended and only eight souls in the entire world were found righteous (Gen. 6-7). Consider the Ninevites as well. God sent Jonah to this Gentile nation to demand repentance from them. The King of Nineveh and its people took God seriously and repented, sparing destruction upon the nation including 120,000 thousand children (Jonah 4.11).
Some nations were incredibly wicked and an abomination to the Lord (cf. Deut. 9.4; 18.9-12; Lev. 18.24-25, 27-28). Thus one reason it was necessary to destroy these nations and their religions is because they would ultimately turn God's people away from Him to serve other gods (Num. 33.52; Deut. 7.3–5, 12.2-3; 20.18; cf. Psalm 106.34-42). Coupled with the fact that these nations were a continual problem for the Israelites, this was God's way of physically eradicating sin. For instance, the Amalekites began terrorizing the Israelites in Moses' day but God suffered long with them for 400 years, until their judgment in Saul's day (Exo. 17.14-16; 1 Sam. 15). Further, the judgment promised upon the Amorites in Abraham's day did not occur until 500 years later, during the days of Joshua. He did not destroy these people until their sin was "full" (Gen. 15.12-16).
As to the women of these nations, they were not as "innocent" as some claim them to be (cf. Num. 25.1-3). Some women from these nations would cast their own infants upon the flaming hands of the statue of the god Molech. Thus these women were sinners deserving of death. On another occasion God was merciful by destroying all of Jericho but sparing Rahab and her family because of her faith (Joshua 6). Surely, the rest of the city knew of the power of God and yet simply rejected Him just the same (Josh. 2.10-11; 9.9).
Sometimes it was necessary for God to destroy whole nations to make an example out of them and to show His power (cf. Rom. 9.22-23). Their destruction was just retribution. He gave them hundreds of years to repent and follow Him, but when their sin was "full," they undoubtedly deserved destruction. However, in these examples, God is also pictured as a loving, long-suffering, merciful and just judge. He desires that none be lost and that the wicked turn from their ways rather than die (Ezekiel 18.25-32, 33.11; 2 Peter 3.9). As Paul said, "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" (Rom. 11.22).
Therefore, we find that God took vengeance on nations who would not repent of their sins, spared individuals who were found righteous, and spared nations who chose to follow Him. All the while He was delivering children from a future of pain and suffering. Sound familiar? God's physical judgments under the Old Testament in many ways parallel our pending judgment. On that future day, the earth and everything in it will be destroyed. Those who have been found faithful will go to heaven while those who are unrepentant will burn in an everlasting fire. Among those who will go to heaven will be all the innocent children around the world who have not known sin. In reality, there is no difference between our pending judgment and judgments conducted under the Old Testament. If we can comprehend the judgment coming upon us (in which innocent children will be delivered), why can we not comprehend the judgments of God under the Old Testament?
Finally, who are we to question God's actions? If we do not like some things found in the Bible maybe we need to adjust our thinking. The problem we have with God is not His problem, but ours. To reject God's word because one does not like or understand something that the Bible teaches is to create a false god that is tailored to one's liking. That is complete arrogance. BG