Imagine you are a king or queen. You genuinely love your subjects. However, you expect them to honor you as king or queen. If they fail to honor you as you expect, you take actions to make them and their infant children suffer.
Does anything about this scenario jump out to you as rather absurd? Does genuine love ever intentionally produce suffering for the innocent offspring of those considered worthy of suffering? Yet this is not merely a fictional scenario if the Bible is to be believed. All of the Earth’s infants suffered a drowning by a God depicted in other passages to be genuinely loving. Does this make sense? Should we set aside our own sense of how an actual love is expressed, and shrug off the apparent absurdity of a loving God acting this unlovingly towards innocent infants? Should we adopt the standard of love, however far removed from our own standard, of the very God we are assessing? Do we first accept a God, then assess that God by his own standards?
There are times that the actions of loving parents may seem rather unloving to their children. These times include 1) instances of parental punishment and 2) cases in which the parent stands by and allows the child to learn from their mistakes. This argument is not referring to such instances.
The arguments here is that the God of the Bible acts towards those he claims to love in ways that are clearly contrary to our notion of love. What standard do we use to determine what actions are loving and unloving? We use human standards. Why? It is logically incoherent to use the standards of the very candidate God we are scrutinizing, We understand our own notion of love, however imperfect, and consider what actions are consistent and inconsistent with that love. Would an actual God author a book for humans about love, yet mean something entirely different than what humans mean by love?
The following biblical passages contain several events in which innocent babies were made to suffer by the hand of God.
– Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:3)
– Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:23)
– Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities–and also the vegetation in the land. (Genesis 19:24-25)
Keep in mind we are not referring to the suffering of the allegedly wicked parents of these innocent babies, but only to the innocent babies themselves.
Based on these clear passages in which innocent babies were made to suffer by God who could have easily transported them to heaven without any suffering, can we say the allegedly loving God of the Bible is truly loving? Would you, even with your imperfect love, have even considered doing to these infants what the God of the Bible did?
Common responses to this argument based on the suffering of the Amalekite infants seem to focus on either 1) the offenses of the parents, or 2) the transport of the slain infants to Heaven. These responses ignore the suffering these infants experienced.
Some responses claim there was no other recourse since the suffering infants of corrupt parents would have somehow contaminated the Israelites more than their own Israelite children. Yet, when pressed, few of those offering this argument condone aborting a fetus simply because the biological father was wicked. The actual death of the innocent infants, a death of significant suffering, is the legitimate focus here.
Others might suggest that God has explicitly said that children should not suffer for the sins of their fathers, citing the following passage.
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. (Ezekiel 18:20)
Yet, the following verse states the opposite.
You shall not bow down to [idols] or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:5)
This contradiction is resolved only through creative hermeneutics and the perversion of the concept of love into something quite close to its inverse.
Note that just as the unloving behavior of a loving God is incoherent, the impatience of a God who claims to be long-suffering is incoherent. How many times must a human sin before the “long-suffering” God of the Bible deems them worthy of eternal damnation? Most Christian leaders claim a single sin is sufficient.
KING: Remember that family who would not acknowledge I was their king.
QUEEN: I remember.
KING: I hacked them to death with a sword.
QUEEN: What do you mean you “hacked them to death”? All of them? I thought you said you loved that family.
KING: Yup, killed all of them. And of course I loved them. I’m a loving king.
QUEEN: But surely you did not kill the infant twins.
KING: Hacked them to death too.
QUEEN: But what did they do?
KING: Doesn’t matter. I’m a loving and just king. I can do what I want.
QUEEN: But you can’t keep claiming to be loving when your actions exhibit the polar opposite of what love truly is. You hacked to death innocent infants who had nothing to do with the decisions of their parents. How loving is that?
KING: I said I was loving, right? Don’t I get to decide what actions are loving?
QUEEN: I would suggest that, even as king, you can’t invert actual concepts to their polar opposites. What you have done to those infants is most commonly referred to as an act of hatred.
KING: I’m king. I can invert the meaning of any concept I want.
QUEEN: Then I suggest you don’t deserve the respect you expect from your subjects. Nor from me for that matter.
KING: Watch yourself. Your neck is no less tender than an infant’s.
Another related consideration is the way the biblical God, should he truly exist, stands by watching while children are raped and tortured. Christian leaders claim God may have some mysterious reason for watching the immense suffering of millions of such children we see around the world. What do you think? If your neighbor stood by and watched while a child was raped and tortured, would you grant your neighbor the benefit of a doubt and assume he had some mysterious reason for letting the child be raped and tortured? Or would you distinguish between possibility and probability, and condemn your neighbor as highly probably less than impotent, loving or just, and refuse to honor him? You and I would not allow such atrocities for any imaginable reason. Should we not also condemn as unworthy or imaginary any alleged God who allows such atrocities in this world? (See #04.)