Challenge: Your God Is a Monster

Posted: December 14, 2010 by Amy Hall in God is Real, Weekly Challenge

This objection has come up quite a bit in the comments at the STR Blog:

The God of the Bible is a monster. How can you possibly believe in a god who would command genocide, much less like and trust him?! Even if I thought he were real, I would never follow him. And frankly, it makes me nervous that you do follow him, because how do I know you won’t think he’s commanding you to commit genocide sometime in the future?

This one is quite a bit more difficult if you haven’t yet thought through it. I think a good response requires a thorough knowledge of the overall story of the Bible, of God’s stated purposes, and of His proven character. Are you ready to respond to this one? Give it a try, and then be back here on Thursday to hear Brett’s answer.

  1. Sam Harper says:

    Most people would not follow God if they had an accurate understanding of him. I think there are a lot of people who remain Christians because they have a distorted picture of God–that he is just a big Teddy bear in the sky or something. Nobody can follow God as he truly is unless God changes that person’s heart, and when he does, they won’t be able to help themselves.

    But that might not be the best way to respond. One way to respond is to ask, “Why do you think God is a monster? What did he do that you disapprove of?” When they bring up Biblical examples, you can take them one at a time. Like Amy said, this requires a good knowledge of the situation. It helps to be Biblically literate.

    If the person doesn’t believe in ANY kind of God, you can always question what they base their moral objections too. For every Biblical example of monster activity they bring up, you can ask, “What’s wrong with that?” as if you don’t see the problem. That’ll force THEM to justify their own moral paradigm, and it’ll be hard for them to do without appealing to some sort of deity.

    Another response–the lazy one–is to hand them a copy of Paul Copan’s book, “Is God a Moral Monster.” Paul Copan is awesome possum, and I recommend anything he writes, even if he is wrong sometimes. 🙂

  2. Sam is right that this requires some good biblical literacy to answer. I would start by asking “can you give me some examples?” When they do I’ll do my best to give an answer. I don’t think there is an emotionally satisfying answer to the whole thing, but there are things that help me accept it a bit more. I think it’s helpful to look at the bigger context of the Bible and what God is doing. It’s easy to read those passages in a vacuum and think “God is terrible,” but lets seek to understand those events in light of what the Bible reveals about God before and after those events. In a few places God explicitly says that the Canaanites were wicked, even sacrificing their own children to their gods (Deut. 12:31). God, the source of goodness and justice, used Israel as his tool to judge the people and he gave the land, which belongs to Him anyway, to the Israelites. The ultimate reason He did this is so that through Israel’s seed will come a Messiah who will save all of mankind from their sins. I just think understanding the context helps, though it may not be completely satisfying emotionally.

    You can’t look at these particulars in the Bible and treat them as the norm. God may have worked in that particular way in that particular time, but these days, after the coming of Christ, He doesn’t act that way. We’re commanded to pray for our enemies, give our enemies food if they’re hungry, and water if they’re thirsty (Matt. 5:44, Rom. 12:20-21).

    This might lead to the discussion on whether the God of the OT and the NT are the same or different, but that’s for another time.

  3. Adrian Urias says:

    I agree with what has been said already.

    Concerning the accusation of genocide. I would say that it is always ok, at any time in any place, for God to take BACK the life any person(s). This is entirely his prerogative. God is sovereign over all, and if he feel like he can take your life, he is in that special place to do so. The same cannot be said for us, however, because it is not our life to take. We don’t have that authority. But if God commanded us to take the life of another person, then we’re merely instruments of what he is allowed to do. And to disobey would be immoral. So no, God is not a moral monster.

    Also, I would avoid the word genocide. When they ask “how can you believe in a God who would command genocide”, as I have already briefly said, genocide implies its already evil. It’s like asking, “When are you going to stop beating your wife?” any answer you give is not going to be satisfactory. Genocide implies malice, which I don’t think God is capable of. So I wouldn’t agree with the grammar of the question.

  4. Dakota Botello says:

    When bringing up the charge that God is a monster i would hesitantly piggyback on Adrian’
    s argument that God, being an almighty creator, has a right to take back anything he has created. Anything that someone has created, he who is the creator, ultimately has the right and also the authority to take back.
    God in the old testament, also is less concerned about physical death, than spiritual death, as is a constant theme in the new testament as well.

  5. As Sam says, you can point out that God is only a “monster” to those who deserve it. Then you can ask, “But you’re a good person, right? What’re you afraid of?”

  6. Daniel Gruhn says:

    As with most emotionally charged objections, care is needed for cold reason is not a sufficient means for a satisfactory answer. So I am not sure if my response is satisfactory.

    I too would probe them for their moral grounding and question them as to their notion of fairness and justice. Most people wrongly see fairness and justice as practical synonyms which tends to overinflated their need for fairness. I do not consider it fair that a wicked man prolongs his life but a righteous man perishes, or that it rain on both the righteous and unrighteous; but no injustice is being done for mercy is God’s to give to whom He wills.

    Now one could go into the historical behavior of the Canaanites but I won’t here. I don’t see the need. The Canaanites were moral apostates who deserved God’s judgement, but the reality is that all of humanity is no different. The Canaanites received justice, the Israelites received mercy. This was a foreshadowing of the future judgment of the world. A sentence of death we all deserve for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The severity of Israel’s actions towards the Canaanites also served as a warning to the Israelites themselves. God will not tolerate disobedience for long and all disobedience will be eventually judged. So is God a monster for rightfully condemning people who do evil? Or is God the monster for not bestowing undeserved mercy on all?

  7. Would you agree that serial rapists/murderers are monsters? With ultimate wisdom, God made a plan that works with the evil which we cause. Parents look like monsters to their kids when they are being disciplined or, an example in the extreme, maybe even not being given meals of candy.

    Back to God’s plan; God wants us to live in perfection. Originally, humanity was placed in the paradise of the Garden of Eden. God knew that we would become monsters by disobedience. By trusting in the sacrifice of God’s perfect life lived by Jesus, “monsters” are saints that can return to planned paradise.

  8. Dino says:

    First, he/she is taking a moral stand, and one that they think is superior to God’s. Then he/she assumes God doesn’t have a moral reason for doing what he does (despite what it might look like to us). The statement also shows their lack of knowledge of the Bible (and God’s action in history).

    An infected part of the body, left to travel its inevitable course, will surely cause the body to die. When the cancer has become so corrupt – so corrupt that it will kill the rest of the body, it must be cut out. That is, the corrupted body part must be removed for the health and well-being of the rest of the body so that life will continue. The same could be said of those who died in the OT by God’s command (“genocide”).

    Now this body (humanity) is infected (sin) and in need of a cure (Jesus). The morality of the supposed “genocide” is that, had the Israelites been “infected” by the Canaanites (and others) and ceased to be (no longer exist) then Jesus would never have been born and the separation (from God) caused by sin would never have been bridged. No Salvation.

    But also, we are creatures created by The Creator. We are his. Whether we like it or not, He chooses what He wills for us, for the world, and for mankind. If God created life then He is the only one who gets to define it… and He can take it away as He justly must do at times.

    I think whatever doubts we have about God being a moral monster in the OT, the revelation that is revealed through Jesus in the NT can give us confidence that the “commanded genocide” in the OT was done for Right reasons. In fact, if we can get past our own self-interest we would see that it was a gracious act of Love. And we should understand that it (the “genocide”) was not a careless decision by God. He had given the Canaanites 400 years to change their ways… and they did not. The intense immorality of any group of people cannot be allowed to continue by a Completely Moral God.

    This was a tough one. It’s the best I could do without quoting the scholars and making this longer than it already is. 🙂

  9. Mike says:

    It’s always curious to me how most people have heard the story of Noah’s Ark their entire life, but only get up in arms about “genocide” when the story of the Caananites is pointed out to them.

  10. Aaron Mattingly says:

    I think there is a problem in the tail end of the comment designed to throw you off guard and put you on the defensive. The best thing to do is ignore this and move to the challenge against God. This kind of comment is really nothing more than a bunch of assertions assuming certain *facts* without spelling them out. If you dispel this then you needn’t be concerned with the following assertion.

    “And frankly, it makes me nervous that you do follow him, because how do
    I know you won’t think he’s commanding you to commit genocide sometime
    in the future?”

    There is an intrinsic problem with the God being described. The challenger would like to argue that God is a (moral) monster who commands genocide. Yet on the other hand is not willing to concede God’s as Sovereign Creator over his creation and his right to execute justice. In fact, the reason they make this argument is precisely because they reject the sovereignty of God over creation. This ‘god’ is not the God of the Bible but a fiction of the challengers imagination. Basically it’s a straw-man God consisting of attributes that suit the challengers objection – an all powerful God with less moral insight or understanding than a mere human. I think we need to agree on the terms we use so that we are talking about the same God before the conversation can continue.

    If you are going to deal with Gods morality you must be willing to do so on the basis of all his revealed attributes and not isolate incidences of judgement in the Bible from this definition of God. Any argument against Gods morality that does not take into account the fullness of his attributes is an argument against some other entity. it is not the God of the Bible. So, if I grant you that terms ‘cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing’ (although I don’t think I should) you must also grant me the terms “Sovereign creator, morally just and infinitely compassionate” for example. For me this is just the starting point in this difficult conversation.

    After establishing which God I’m talking about then I would want to “You said that, ‘God is a monster who commands genocide'”. Obviously we have quite different understandings about God and what is happening in these Bible passages, and I’d like to understand where you’re coming from before I respond. What I think your saying is that it is morally wrong for God to command the mass extermination of a group(s) of people and that his being complicit in such actions as described in the Bible make him monstrous. Would that be correct? If yes, then we have a basis for proceeding. My next question would be “On what grounds do you base your moral standards by which you now judge God?” In other words, “How do you KNOW that it is wrong, for anyone, let alone God, to exterminate mass people groups? Where does this sense of moral indignation and outrage come from? What are objective grounds upon which you make your judgement?

    Beyond this we can now begin to ask them for the actual *facts* of demonstrated mass genocide in the scripture e.t.c… and then begin to deal with them one by one on the basis that we have clarified their understanding of God and their grounds for making a moral judgement.

    There are some noble virtues embedded within this objection to God. That is one of the preservation of humanity as a race, resistance to a violent, morally vacuous authority and preservation of one’s ability to make decisions free from the coercion of such an authority (…how do I know you won’t think he’s commanding you to commit genocide in the future…). I think these are grounds upon which Christians and non Christian’s could find some agreement.

  11. In my iPhone app and print book, Doubt Busters, I break down each of the components of violence and deal with them separately. (Why does God keep a record of wrongs? Isn’t it hypocritical of God to command us not to kill, yet he had killed millions at the Flood? Why would a child be put to death for hitting or cursing his parents? Why did an angry God kill everyone at the Flood? Why did God tell Moses to kill children? Why would God command violence toward the Israelites in the OT? If God is pro-life, why did he command the slaughter of infants and children in the OT?)

    The questions are just easier to answer when you boil them down to specific acts rather than addressing a vague observation. Each type of violence demands a different answer. God being a monster is a conclusion. The conclusion is unfounded when you are able to discuss the different aspects one by one in context.

  12. gene says:

    I’m not so put off by such questions. The problem with people killing when God commands them to boils down to the same dillemma the Jim Jones congreation had…How do you know God is speaking to you? So God tells you to kill your neighbor? Do you justify it by pointing to the Cannanite massacre? God tells you to buy a black slave and beat them (without killing them); do you point to Exodus 21 to justify beating slaves? The issue is who interprets scripture correctly. Calvinists say they do. Arminians say they do. The Catholics say they do.

    To me the question is relevant when I hear Christians endorsing that God is indeed violent. We make about as much sense of a compassionate loving God who is grusomely violent as Jihadists do of Allah. Then when challenged on compassion, we turn to arguments regarding his rights (being the creator). We suddenly drop the compassion statement and begin endorsing the right of God to enact violence on those whom he divinely loves.

    I think we intepret the bible wrong which make us think God is like Zeuss…Love me or I’ll gut you like a fish!