“How can you believe in a God who calls for genocide?”
This question is one of many that Christians have a difficult time answering. The reference is to the numerous battles found in the Old Testament. For example, one book in particular, Joshua, is filled with conquests that result in the utter destruction of all living inhabitants—men, women, children, and the aged.
The argument, of course, is that no loving God could ever call for or demand such an outcome. Therefore, the Christian God is either sadistic or evil or fabricated to justify tribalism. The question is of particular interest as the news from the Middle East is relevant to the same topic. Who lives, who dies, who is spared, if any. And more so, who decides?
What makes the biblical stories more difficult, especially as relates to entering The Promised Land, is that in these narratives, the Jews are on the offensive unlike the tragedies surrounding the October 7th attacks where Jewish actions are in response to aggression.
Returning to the initial question, can a loving God call for genocide or not?
To be fair, you and I are not the first to consider the matter. Theologians have delved deep into, sought nuance, and explained the calls for destruction in a host of manners. In short, there is simply not enough space here to explore the justifications, if any, that we might desire.
I do want to offer a few thoughts, though.
Here is an answer you might not like. “God is God. He can do whatever He likes.” Yes, very unsatisfying but true.
The second is this, “Who are we to question God?” Equally distasteful but correct, as well.
So, I think we should stipulate these facts before going forward.
Now, let’s wrestle just a bit together.
First, the death of innocents and non-combatants has always been a consequence of war. In world wars, in skirmishes, even in selective military strikes, there is always the potential for civilian collateral damage as sad as this can be.
Second, we must ask to what extent any part of our enemy can be trusted. Sadly, tribal indoctrination often includes the entire community in warfare. Ask any veteran who has been involved in direct conflict and they will tell of the enemy being more than just soldiers.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, when a remnant of an enemy is allowed to once again grow and fester, we will have to confront the issues afresh. In these cases, will we prevail as we did before? How many more lives will be lost senselessly? It is a risk to not destroy something as insidious as evil.
Finally, the argument can be made that God’s will and the qualities of His character necessitate an honest debate as to whether we truly have enough information to make an informed opinion regarding His conduct. The prosecution seems very believable until the defense can make its case. In the same way, we may wish to tread lightly regarding our judgements or perceptions. As difficult as it may seem, we may have to accept something that seems so inconceivable.
It is a hard truth.
Kent simmons is the pastor of Canyon Community Church in Kingman, AZ.