My friend Edgar asked for my opinion on some questions from some of his Sunday School students. I see the same sorts of questions from adults as well. My goal is to provide some brief, concrete answers.
First, I think it is important to have a game plan with questions like this. Whether answering a skeptic or equipping a believer to answer the skeptic, my goal is always to give clear, thoughtful answers that address the question and then point to the word of God as quickly as possible. When in doubt, I’d rather someone read the Bible than listen to me. God’s word made many promises* about what it will accomplish but contains no such promises about anything I say.
I highly recommend reading Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions to learn how to navigate conversations like these (only $2.99 for the Kindle edition — you can’t afford not to buy it!). The burden isn’t all on you, and the conversations don’t have to be hostile. There are many ways to ask polite questions to get people thinking more carefully and to highlight their errors.
Here is the second question:
If God is morally good, all loving and kind, why did he command the stoning of people, or the annihilation of entire peoples (man, women, children, babies, etc)? Why does God allow evil at all?
This is a great opportunity to ask clarifying questions. Typically, it will highlight that the skeptics know very little about the issues they are questioning. They are often just repeating sound bites they have heard from Richard Dawkins and the like.
I encourage you to never dodge this topic! At a minimum you have an opportunity to share this truth: God used the most evil act in history to bring about the greatest good in history. Jesus was the perfect man (far beyond our comprehension) but was betrayed, given an unjust trial, brutally beaten and then nailed to a cross like a piece of meat until He died. That was the most evil act in human history. Yet it brought about the greatest good: The salvation of countless sinners who could never be reconciled to God on their own. So never underestimate God’s ability to appropriately punish and redeem evil. (Hat tip to John Piper)
Then you can ask questions like this:
- Who was stoned, and why? Do you understand the context of how the Jews were set apart as special people and were to be a witness to the world?
- Who was annihilated? (No “entire peoples” were annihilated, and there was no genocide, though the inhabitants of the Promised Land were supposed to have been completely eliminated in a one-time cleansing.)
- Why did God command the land to be cleared out? (The skeptic probably doesn’t know that God had given them 400 years to repent, yet they continued to offer child sacrifices and more.)
- If God were to eliminate every bit of evil from the universe at midnight tonight, where would you be at 12:01? Remember, you would be judged based on his standards. You don’t get to compare your best traits to your neighbor’s worst traits.
- Do you want God to completely remove your ability to disobey him? That would make a great prayer!
- Do you think you are in a position to sit in judgment of God? If there is a God, would we be in a position to dictate the terms and conditions to him?
- Would a loving and kind God let sins like child sacrifice go unpunished? (Young children were literally placed on burning hot statues to be killed.)
Those kinds of questions can provide opportunities to point to what the Bible really says, and can put God’s actions in perspective. One of our biggest problems is always looking at things from our viewpoint, and forgetting that ultimately it is all about God and his glory — and rightfully so!
Remember that if people are sincere in their questions and aren’t just using them as excuses to justify their rebellion against God then it is completely legitimate to let them do some of their own homework, such as reading a book like Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.
If they don’t want to do more work or read the Bible, it may be pearls-before-swine time and you should obey Jesus’ command to move on. Pray for them and perhaps God will make them spiritually alive in the future. You will have done your work as an ambassador and an apologist (defender of the faith):
2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
* Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.