There is a question going around, in at least atheistic circles, and I’ve seen it stumping Christians. But what’s interesting is I’ve also seen Christians using this line of reasoning to try and stump atheists, and I don’t think either of them is good. So for the Christian, think about what we’re going to go through today, and think about if you would make similar points this way. And if you do, I would caution you against using this method we’re going to look at. We should never want to make a point, even if it’s the right point, in the wrong way. We want to reason consistently and logically. We don’t want to somehow score points in an illegitimate way.
Now, what am I talking about? What is this argument, or really assertion, not so much an argument, that’s made more popular today? Well it goes like this. Someone might ask you, “Would you destroy everyone with a flood if they did something you didn’t like? If someone, let’s just say, even sinned against you, would you kill all of their children?” And of course, what’s being referred to here is the actions of God and the commands of God in the Old Testament. So for instance, Noah and the flood. God basically kills everyone on earth except for Noah and these in the Ark as an act of judgment. He commands Israel to go kill the Canaanites later on in the Old Testament also.
So this claim is trading on those sins. It’s saying, well, if someone did something wrong to you, if someone made you really angry, would you wipe out all of them? Would you kill all of their children? Would you drown them in the ocean? And I think for many Christians, their first impulse is gonna be to say, “No,” and then to maybe feel stuck. Because on the one hand, no, I wouldn’t do that. But what the person is trying to accomplish with this question is not to get you to answer the question. They’re trying to get you to answer a different question. We have to be aware of that. The question they’re trying to get you to answer implicitly is, “Do you think God did the wrong thing?” That’s the question, because what they’re going to do, if you say, “I wouldn’t drown everyone,” for instance, “who wronged me,” they’re going to say then, “So do you think God did the wrong thing when God drowned everyone who wronged him?” And we have to be prepared to work through this.
I think this line of questioning has the potential to catch many Christians flat-footed without the ability to respond well, so we need to prepare, which is probably why you are listening to this podcast. But we need to be prepared for this question particularly, and there are three issues at least with this line of questioning and thinking.
The first is what I already alluded to: that it’s asking a question to try and get you to answer another question that’s not being asked. And they’re going to quickly turn the question around and say, “So based on your answer, do you think God did the wrong thing?” So the questions are not actually to get to the truth of something; it’s to try and trap you. So I think we have to be on the lookout for that. It’s also probably not the most effective way to have a conversation. This is different than leading someone to a conclusion. The way I have seen this often done actually does feel like it’s trying to trap the person, and Christians have used this tactic too, and I’m not sure it’s the best use of reasoning either. So that’s the first thing. It’s not really trying to get to the truth of an issue necessarily; I think it’s trying to trap the person.
But the second and perhaps bigger issue is that it’s confusing our feelings for moral standards. What’s attempting to be done here? The person is trying to use my feeling about how I don’t like, perhaps, that everyone was drowned or I wouldn’t drown them. They’re trying to use that to then say I think God did the wrong thing, and that’s not a good way to reason.
An example would be, God commands capital punishment in Genesis 9. This is long before the law. It transcends the law. The principle is if you murder someone, you take their life, then the people God has delegated authority and responsibility to have the obligation to take your life as punishment, capital punishment. Now, it’s not murder to kill a murderer. It’s killing to kill a murderer, but murder is the unjust taking of innocent life. These are different things. The intent and the circumstances matter. One is judgment; one is evil. We’ve got to be clear on that.
I think capital punishment is a good thing. It’s a moral thing. It was commanded by God. But I have to tell you, that doesn’t mean that I want to be the one to actually put the lethal injection in someone. Or back when we had firing squads, that I would want to be the one to shoot the bullet or drop the guillotine or something. But here’s the problem. My displeasure and revulsion, perhaps, at the act of capital punishment does not mean capital punishment is a wrong thing or a bad thing. It doesn’t even mean I think capital punishment shouldn’t happen. What it means is simply I have a feeling. That’s as far as this goes. We can have bad feelings about good things. The emotional response people have sometimes while looking at medical procedures that could be life saving tells you nothing about the legitimacy of the procedure. Just because you don’t want to be the one to, let’s say, cut someone open and put your hands in them and take out an organ doesn’t mean that that isn’t actually a good and necessary procedure.
So that’s the first problem with this. It confuses our feelings for moral standards. It doesn’t matter if I have bad feelings about what God did. Actually, I do think it matters. It reflects poorly on me, not on God. And so the question once again gets things 180 degrees opposite from where they should be. If I have bad feelings about what God did, that’s a reflection and a judgment on me, not on God. Why would I think I could stand over God? But once again, we don’t really choose our feelings. We can talk more about that, but we don’t really choose them, so how does our feelings reflect on the goodness or badness on what God did so we can actually say he did the wrong thing just because I feel bad about it? So the question doesn’t help there. You’ve got to be prepared to walk that through.
But the third issue is that it confuses how humans should treat each other with how God should treat humans. Isn’t the question kind of built on a certain type of hubris? That we actually think that we are in the position to judge what God did? That if I say I wouldn’t drown everyone who wronged me in a flood, that somehow God is wrong to judge and drown everyone in a flood? That doesn’t follow. It’s poor logic. If you try to reason by analogy, you have to make sure that at the major important points that the things are actually analogous. And let’s just consider. The situation in the Old Testament is God judging man with a flood. In the question, it’s man judging man with a flood. That’s not analogous. That’s grossly, inadequately different. So the analogy fails. That’s the real danger in reasoning by analogy. It is actually very dangerous to do because there’s always something, it seems like, that we assume or we consider, and it’s not actually analogous. It doesn’t actually fit and it isn’t parallel between the two circumstances.
And that’s the case here. This question and line of questioning is confusing how we should treat each other as humans with how God should treat humans. So no, I wouldn’t want to drown people who wronged me in a flood. No, I wouldn’t order someone to go kill their children in that way or them, like we have with the Canaanites. So what? If someone’s asking me this question, I’m gonna tease out why they’re asking it, because I think the answer actually portrays something inaccurate as we talked about initially in our first point. But I’ll answer the question after I put my caveats on it, and then I’m gonna make the point, so what? I’ve just told you what I wouldn’t do. And now all you’ve learned is what one human wouldn’t do to another human. You haven’t learned anything about, one, what God would do to a human, or two, if it’s actually right for God to do that to a human. See, that’s the thing: we have different types of relationships.
Something that may be right for me to do to my child may be wrong for me to do to someone else’s child. Something that’s right for me to do to another adult might be wrong for me to do to my child. So if you have two MMA fighters and they’re fighting it out in the ring, that might be legal. We could talk about the rightness in a different context. However, that doesn’t mean I can get my child in the ring and do the same sorts of things to them. Different types of relationships dictate different types of responsibilities and obligations. And surely, even if we understand that in terms of man to another type of man, humans to humans, how much greater, how much far more removed and different and distant are the types of obligations God has to humans? They’re very different. It’s not one creation to another creation. It’s the Creator to his creation. And to flip that around, what obligations does the creation have to his Creator? You can’t understand the question without answering that last question.
So, when we talk about the flood or the Canaanites or God’s judgment in general, it’s not like one person to another person. It’s a response of the Creator, the sovereign of the universe, to his creation, rebelling against him. That’s a huge difference. So governments punish people. And isn’t that interesting, right? So the people asking this question are probably comfortable with rapists and murderers going to prison. And you could ask someone, if someone wrongs you, do you think … would you actually lock them up forever? Would you execute them? And the person would probably say no. But that’s exactly what our government does, because that’s the type of responsibility government has. That’s not the type of responsibility I as an individual have. So once again, different types of entities or persons have different types of obligations.
But the major issue with this, besides those three things, is simply it assumes that we can judge God. Why would we think, if the type of God we’re talking about actually exists, that we would be able to stand over him in moral judgment? He is the standard of moral judgment. How could you have a moral law that applies to everyone and gives us obligations to each other and to God unless there’s some sort of transcendent standard and transcendent law giver? You couldn’t have that sort of thing. It’s not enough for us to say, “Morality’s subjective. We decide on it on our own. There’s no transcendent standard,” and then turn around and say God did the wrong thing. I hope you see the issue. All we’ve actually communicated is that God did something we didn’t like. If everyone has their own standards, if there is no transcendent law giver, there are no laws to be broken. Everyone makes up their own laws and conceptions of right and wrong, and in that case, all any of us can ever say is, “I don’t like it. It’s not what I would do. It broke my personal reality.”
But of course that’s not how people talk. They might cash it out that way if you push them on their philosophical grounding. And if you ask such a person, “Do you think things are right for everyone or wrong for everyone?” A lot of times the type of person who asks this question would say, “No, I don’t think there’s some sort of transcendent morality. I don’t think morality is objective.” And in which case they’ve just given away the farm. They’ve told you that they have a personal standard of right and wrong and for some reason they think everyone else should follow it. And of course that makes no sense.
So you can actually turn this around on them. They’re asking you, “If someone wronged you, would you destroy all of them with a flood?” And I’m gonna say no, but that tells you nothing about God, by the way. But I could also ask them something. I could ask them, “If someone wronged you, could you even say it was wrong?”Could you say it’s wrong where they would have to think it’s wrong? Because what if that person who wronged you had a different standard of right and wrong?” If there’s no transcendent standard, all you can say is “I don’t like it.” If there’s no transcendent standard, then the flood wasn’t wrong. If there’s no transcendent standard, then they can’t say that the Canaanite destruction was wrong. They can’t say anything is actually wrong unless there’s a transcendent standard. There must be a moral lawgiver to have a moral law.
But if there’s a moral lawgiver, we can’t judge that moral lawgiver apart from himself. We can’t judge that moral lawgiver by our standards. And that is why God has acted justly at every point. Morality and holiness and right and wrong is grounded in who he is. He is good. He can’t do something that is not good because he is the good. He is the holy. And so we as the creation have no right and no ability to judge him. Where would we get a standard to judge the Creator? How can the creation judge the Creator? It can’t.
So, just to quickly recap, this question is trying to trade on the fact that maybe we feel poorly about what God did. I think that’s a reflection on us, not on God. Two, that we might do something different than God did. Okay, maybe we would if we’re talking one person to another person. But it confuses the relationship of God to creation and creation to creation. But here’s the final point. I’m actually quite comfortable saying that if you’re asking if I were God and the other people in question were human beings, would I do what God did? Yes, I would. I would. If I were who God is in his character and I knew what God knows, I would act the same way he does. So I’m not gonna stand in judgment over God. That’s incredibly important for us to understand. But let’s be careful when we start asking questions. Let’s give a little thought to figuring out why the person wants to ask that question. Because some questions, like this one, are more like a trap than an honest inquiry.
So I hope this has been helpful, and I’ll talk to you next week on Unapologetic.