I don’t like this subject.
Christian apologetics is great, especially if it’s on a subject like Creation vs. Evolution, or the Resurrection of Christ, or Transubstantiation, but when it gets on a subject like the righteousness of God and his judgment things get a bit messy.
A dear cousin of mine recently called me out on a statement I made about the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. I was arguing that abortion was unjustified according to God’s law, which eventually degenerated into a debate about the consistency of God’s character concerning murder. This went on for dozens of comments back and forth (we were on a Facebook status update when all of this started), until we both had to sit down and seriously formulate some arguments. I think that Facebook is an awful place to carry on a debate, so I decided to reproduce some of my arguments here, on my blog, for clarity. Perhaps some of my readers have input for me, either encouragement or criticism. Whatever anyone has to offer, I would be appreciative of anything that will help sharpen my wits and keep me grounded in the truth.
My cousin said, “"God is not a reliable source for morality, therefore he should not be used in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate." As I understand it, his position rests on the idea that God is inconsistent because he forbade his people to murder, (“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13) while commanding them to do that very thing (“When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—…seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.” Deuteronomy 7:1-2a).
1. God commands that one human should not murder another.
2. God commanded humans to murder one another.
3. God’s laws are contradictory.
4. Therefore God’s morality is not consistent.
5. Therefore God is not a reliable source for morality.
6. Therefore his morality cannot be cited as a deciding factor in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.
The whole argument rests on whether or not the killing of the Canaanites was “murder”, the same kind of murder which God forbade in Exodus 20. Here is my argument.
· The “killing” of the Canaanites and the “killing” of the Ten Commandments are not the same kind of killing. Therefore God’s laws are not contradictory, they are consistent, and God is a reliable source for morality, therefore his morality can be cited as a deciding factor in pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.
Murder is the unlawful taking of life. Killing is the lawful taking of life. Murder, as the dictionary defines it, is “the crime of (a person) killing another person deliberately and not in self-defense or with any other extenuating circumstance recognized by law.” The word in the Hebrew for "kill" in Exodus 20:13 is תִּרְצָח (ratsach). It is translated into the English many different ways, depending on the context: "slayer 16, murderer 14, kill 5, murder 3, slain 3, manslayer 2, killing 1, slayer + 310 1, slayeth 1, death 1" (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.] 1995.). Clearly this is not a commandment that humans not take human life, it is that humans not unlawfully take human life. Murder is clearly forbidden by the Christian God.
So is God guilty of murder, as defined above? If the Israelites had taken it upon themselves to destroy the Canaanites and take their land, they might have been guilty of murder. However, the supreme ruler of the universe commanded them to destroy the Canaanites, for his own reasons. Suddenly it is no longer a situation of one person killing another person, it is God killing a person.
i. A human being who takes the life of another human being “deliberately and not in self-defense or with any other extenuating circumstance recognized by law” is guilty of a crime, according to God’s law.
ii. But if God takes the life of a human being “deliberately and not in self-defense” he cannot be guilty of a crime
a. Because God is the one who decides what an “extenuating circumstance” might be. He is not acting outside of the law or contradictory to it, but he is able to define exactly what the justifying factors in a case are. In an American court of law a justifying factor for the taking of a life is self-defense. In God’s “court of law” he has his own set of justifying factors; he “made the rules” and has the authority to decide what qualifies as an “extenuating circumstance” in the case of taking a life.
b. Because murder is the taking of one human life by another human being. If God takes a human life then it is not murder. If he executes his divine judgment on somebody through another human being, then it is ultimately God’s responsibility.
When it comes right down to it, the destruction of the Canaanites was only lawful because God says it was. This all sounds like a circular argument because the “person” committing the action is the same “person” who determines what is and is not legal. So the whole argument hinges on the question, “What is ‘law’?” If it is law which divides the murderers from the executioners, then law is the deciding factor in this case.
1. Christians believe that God is the source of law and morality.
2. Therefore, whatever he does in lawful and just, quite literally “because he said so.”
So do Christians serve a whimsical God who makes rules and then goes along merrily breaking them, singing, “It’s OK because I said so?” Of course not. There is no instance in the Bible of God going against his character, which is love (1 John 4:8), truth (John 14:6), holy (Isa 6:3), spiritual (John 4:24), righteous (1 Cor 1:30), perfect (Matt 5:48), good (Luke 18:19), just (Deut 32:4), pure (1 John 3:3), and unchangeable (Jam 1:17). Even the killing of the Canaanites is consistent with the character of God.
Let me bring up one more point, Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death….” It can be argued that the Canaanites were a depraved, cruel, degenerate people who by every rule of justice deserved to die—every man, woman, child. therefore their extermination was more like the carrying out of a just sentence than a wholesale slaughter of innocents. Even though the Canaanite children may have never worshiped a false God or taken part in sinful rites, they were born “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and so were under the death sentence. Every human deserves to die; that is the penalty for sin and God would be justified in carrying it out. The last half of Romans 6:23 is what gives hope to our world, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”