A Defense of God's Moral Character

Dan Lenington on November 23, 2016

Recently, I received a list of scripture references with accompanying accusations against the moral character of God. The basic premise of this list was to imply that God is inconsistent at best and outright evil at worst. Before examining these implications, a basic assumption should be recognized. It is often assumed that man can provide his own moral standard by which to create a good society and even judge the actions of God. However, history shows that not only does a human standard of morality differ from culture to culture, but it also changes with time. In some cultures today, slavery, rape, child abuse, and murder are normal and expected. In some cultures, genocide, racism, and torture are excused. If man creates his own moral standard, then who can say that one culture’s standard is superior to any other culture. Yes, one might say that a behavior is destructive to life, but can we even say that life is valuable in a society that believes life is just a cosmic accident? Animals rape, kill, and abuse each other. If we are just animals after all, why would these actions be considered wrong for us?

Consider also that every human being is inconsistent with his own moral code. He may say that lying is wrong, except when it brings him a desired end, or maybe he says lying is always wrong but he can’t seem to stop embellishing and exaggerating the truth on occasion. He may say that adultery is wrong but can’t seem to stop lusting after other men’s wives. Every human can agree with Paul when he admitted in Rom. 7:15, 19 “For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” So mankind is a poor place to look for an objective moral standard by which to judge the actions or laws of God. We can’t even be consistent with our own conscience! The basic accusation then remains that while we as humans can’t objectively cast judgment on the actions or laws of God, some may still try to say that God is inconsistent with His own moral standard. It is to this concern that we now examine these passages of Scripture to defend the moral character and consistency of God’s moral standard. As we will see, often there has been a lack of study to understand the grammatical and historical context as well as a failure to recognize the full range of meaning in various terms.

Is God evil if He creates evil? Isaiah 45:7 says that God makes peace, and creates evil. This question hinges on the meaning and use of the term translated “evil.” The Hebrew word ra’ah commonly means something bad. It can mean morally bad or just a bad situation such as a calamity (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon). In the context of this verse, it is contrasted with peace. Therefore, the evil God creates is not moral evil but rather a bad situation, or we could call it judgment. God either allows or brings judgment on people and nations to discipline them (like a good judge) to restrain evil. This objection is simply a lack of understanding into the full meaning of the term evil as it is used in Hebrew literature.

Does God deceive people although He commands us not to bear false witness? 1 Kings 22:20-23 explains how God allows a lying spirit (likely a demon) to compel King Ahab’s prophets to tell him that he should go out to battle where he will be killed. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11 tells how God will allow Satan to deceive the nations during the end times with his signs and deceptive miracles. Ezekiel 14:1-10 records how Israel wanted to believe that they would have peace even though God had promised judgment. So they sought prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. In each of these passages, God is not actively and directly deceiving individuals. He is allowing a demon in 1 Kings, Satan in 2 Thessalonians, and false prophets in Ezekiel 14 to deceive people because in each case those people want to believe those lies. The Bible tells us clearly that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:19), but He has given people and Satan temporary liberty to do and believe much of what they desire. However, all evil will ultimately be judged.       

Is God guilty of sanctioning moral behaviors we consider evil? First of all, we must ask from where our definition of evil comes if not from a standard of morality higher than ourselves. I could say that I think rape, slavery, incest, and child abuse are wrong but someone may say that they enjoy these practices, so they think these are permissible. Who has the right to say one is wrong, and one is right. The consensus of society can and has often been wrong in the past and in the present. So the foundation for morality must come from a higher source which I would present as the very nature of God Himself. An action is wrong because it violates God’s perfect nature. Our natures are far from perfect and are therefore inadequate as a basis for morality. Now let us see if God’s commands are consistent with His nature.

Does God sanction incest? Lev. 18 explains all of the types of sexual relationships which are forbidden by God. Among these are forms of incest such as a man marrying his sister or mother. Abraham married his half sister (Gen. 20:11-12), a practice which God did not seem to mind (Gen. 17:15-16). (Lot’s daughters had sexual relationships with him though the Scriptures do not paint this in a positive light (Gen. 19:36). Cain married a wife (Gen. 4:17) who according to biblical necessity had to have been his sister. (There were no other people around of a different family to marry). Is this a contradiction? First, we must remember that anyone getting married is marrying a relation, just a more or less distant relation. However, God eventually forbade marrying close relations because of concerns for genetic deformities. Cain married his sister about 2600 years before the law was given in Leviticus. Even Abraham married his half sister over 600 years before the law was given to Moses. Originally, this law was not needed because genetic mutations had not increased so as to cause genetic deformities in children born from close relations. Incest is wrong because God says it is wrong from Leviticus 18 onward but originally it was not a problem. We must take into account the reason for the law which came over time.

Does God sanction cannibalism? In Leviticus 26:27-29, God warns that if Israel breaks their covenant of obedience, He will allow them to be conquered and they will end up eating their children due to a lack of food while under military siege. Later in Jeremiah 19:8-9, God again warns them of this looming situation. God is not actively making them eat their children. He is warning them to repent. If they don’t, they will be under siege by Babylon and will eventually run out of food, choosing at that time to engage in this horrible action rather than repent or surrender. Again, God is not sanctioning cannibalism or making Israel engage in it. He is warning them that if they don’t repent, He will not deliver them from the natural consequences of their sin. He will not protect them from being conquered, and will not stop them from choosing this action. God doesn’t always restrain sin because He gives us a choice to obey Him or not. However, He promises that one day justice will be served for all sin; even the ones we don’t think are too bad.

Does God sanction cruelty? Psalm 137:8-9 records a poem of Israel that hopes for revenge on Babylon. It hopes that someone will throw down the children of Babylon on stones causing their death as Babylon had done to the children in Israel. Under the Old Testament law, the punishment was equal to the crime; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. This restricted exacting unequal revenge. While this is certainly just, it is not merciful. Christ raises the standard in the New Testament calling us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:38-44). While it is not a nice thing to think about, we can understand why Israel wanted the Babylonians to experience the same pain they had in seeing their own children crushed.   

Does God sanction child abuse? In Numbers 31:16-18, God had told Israel to destroy the Midianite nation for enticing Israel into sexual sin. God had judged Israel with a plague and now was using Israel to judge the Midianites. However, Israel kept alive the women and children, many of whom were part of Balaam’s plot to entice and corrupt Israel. Therefore, Moses commands that all the male youth be killed since they would simply grow older and seek revenge. He commanded that all the women who had been involved with the plot to entice Israel to be killed. Lastly, he commanded that the young women who had not been involved be kept alive and allowed to stay with the Israelites families. Now, some might assume that these young women were abused. But the text does not say or imply this. Most likely, they became maidservants and were brought up to be future wives for Israel’s sons. This objection is based on biased assumptions.   

‚ÄčTo Be Continued...