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Were the Crusades and Joshua’s Invasion of Canaan Equally Morally Wrong?

If the Crusades were wrong, wouldn’t Israel’s invasion of the Holy Land have been just as immoral?  Let’s examine this comparison in detail instead of casually blowing it off.  The key difference between the two is that God commanded the invasion of the Holy Land by Joshua when God’s people have less of a revelation from God, but He didn’t have anything to do in authorizing the Crusades, as shown by the New Testament’s fuller revelation from God, which commands pacifism.  But let’s explain this distinction in much more detail below.

Several distinct subjects arise in this context.  One of them appears implicitly to be about whether the sins and hypocrisy of Christians, of whatever church, refute the truth of the Bible.  Another one concerns whether God was inconsistent in authorizing the invasion of Joshua but not that of the Crusaders since both involved waging war in the Holy Land.  Then there’s that lurking hardy perennial about whether a good, almighty God should have allowed evil to exist to begin with.  This last one is the classic “problem of evil” or what C.S. Lewis called, “The Problem of Pain,” in his book on this subject.   So the first question below is answered first, which concerns whether the sins of Christians refute the truth of the Bible.  Later on, I’ll return to the solution of progressive revelation and the explicit commands of God by revelation to explain the second.  Then third, the general problem of evil will be briefly probed and generally explained.

So first of all, do the sins and hypocrisy of Christians refute Christianity?  Do the Crusades and the Inquisition prove God’s nonexistence and the Bible’s falseness?  Would the voyeurism of televangelist Jimmy Swaggert reveal that Jesus isn’t humanity’s Savior?  Would we then accept it as a general principle that the (im)moral actions of any adherents of any belief system are a way to determine its ultimate truth?  So then, if crusades refute Catholicism, do jihads refute Islam?  If Pope Urban VIII’s persecution of the great Italian scientist Galileo refutes Catholicism and/or theism, do Joseph Stalin’s political attacks on Soviet scientists upholding Mendelian genetics in the name of Lysenkoism (i.e., evolution by acquired characteristics) refute Marxism and/or atheism?   So can we reject a belief system based upon the bad behavior of those upholding it?  In reality, bad behavior by atheists or theists can't logically prove or disprove the existence of God or the truth or falsity of any philosophical position or religion.  The Crusades, the Inquisition, Western Imperialism, the transatlantic slave trade, the Irish Troubles, the Thirty Years War, etc., can't ultimately prove the falsehood of the Bible or of belief in God.  The Bible could be perfectly true, and Jehovah could exist, yet people who believe in it and Him would have an evil human nature that causes them to fail to love others of their faith or outside of it.

            The ubiquity of this bad, emotionally driven argument among people, whether academics or average folk, merely proves how careless many are when it comes to searching for a way to disbelieve in the Bible's God because He makes moral demands of them that they wish to evade.  A good example would be, "Because minister X committed adultery and/or theft, Christianity must be false, God’s laws on sex and/or property don’t exist, so then I can freely commit adultery and/or theft myself."  Aldous Huxley, the British atheist intellectual who wrote the novel "Brave New World," among other things, admitted towards the end of his life the motives behind why he rationalized to an skeptical position:  "I have motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption . . . For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation.  The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom."  Atheists have emotions and self-interested reasons too, and thus will rationalize their own position as justified.  For more on the rhetoric of atheism and role of imagination on why people accepted dogmatic disbelief in God in the past, see Alister McGrath, “The Twilight of Atheism:  The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World.”

            So suppose someone said, "Because atheists (meaning, the Communists) slaughtered 100 million people in the 20th century, their bad behavior proves God's existence."  That reasoning is just as sound a priori (before experience) as saying, "Because Catholics launched the Crusades and the Inquisition, therefore, God doesn't exist."  The equivalency here is obvious:  Bad ethics by adherents of a belief system doesn't prove or disprove anything ontologically or metaphysically.  Consider in this context the Scottish philosopher David Hume's view that we can't go from an "is" to an "ought."   This view is problematic, but it’s still difficult to refute fully convincingly without using revelation.  May it also work the other way conversely, using human reasoning alone?:  We can't go from an "ought" to an "is"!  That is, when starting by using a moral belief as a premise that condemns the behavior of someone, we can’t as a conclusion then determine what entities exist in the universe and what their relationship is to humanity (i.e., what moral demands God or the gods do or might make of us and what the possible consequences are of disobeying Him or them).

            But now, a deeper point emerges here that justifies an anti-atheist using the atheists' bad behavior in the 20th century to argue for God's existence:  What restraints are there on atheists' own behavior, according to their own belief system?  You can condemn a Christian who persecutes others based on his own religious revelation, the Bible, which means his behavior violates the Golden Rule, the command to turn the cheek, loving your neighbor as yourself, etc.  But, given the atheists' own philosophical premises, what can they condemn their own bad behavior by if we happen to be agnostics or atheists ourselves?  What is the source of moral absolutes to atheists?  Indeed, precisely because they are atheists, they can act morally abominably, yet feel good about themselves theoretically!  (Perhaps they might still feel guilty emotionally, but that's God's natural law witness in themselves, such as the Nazi concentration camp guards, Einsatzgruppen, etc. who felt they had to get drunk after killing Jews or afterwards felt the need to transfer out of doing such grisly duties for their Fuhrer).  In the case of the communists who plotted and then later gained political power, any and all the lying and killing was a means to the end of abolishing capitalism and setting up the dictatorship of the proletariat and (theoretically later) the withering away of the state to establish equality, happiness, etc. for the mass of the people.  Hence, the end justified the means (despite the evil methods used to achieve a goal would affect the ultimate “destination”), the goal of ridding the world of capitalism was to be done "by any means necessary."  This was despite communism killed far more people by many orders of magnitude than the most ruthless and callous "robber barons" ever did.  (It's hard to say ruthless business competitors like Rockefeller and Hill actually killed anyone, while men like Gould and Fisk were basically high-level con artists).  The Russian novelist Dostoevsky in "The Brothers Karamazov" (1880) criticized in truly prophetic words the setting up a socialism that ignored God:  "In trying to bring about a just society without Christ, they will end up by flooding the world with blood, for blood cries out for more blood and he who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword."   Hence, the Russian revolution later had the Bolsheviks turn against each other and kill one another, were a partial fulfillment of this insightful prediction.  (The same occurred during the French revolution as well, of course, as the case of Robespierre illustrates spectacularly.  Dostoevsky may have had in mind the activities of the Committee of Public Safety when writing this).

            But could a powerful reason for God's existence ultimately arise ironically from the sins of atheists?  As C.S. Lewis argued in "Mere Christianity," our moral sense is derived indirectly from God even when we aren't believers in the Bible, as part of our created human nature.  (See his "Abolition of Man" for more related material on this general subject).  We can't condemn others' actions without believing in moral absolutes.  But almost all atheists and agnostics deny moral absolutes.  (Ayn Rand and her band of Objectivists are an interesting exception to this generalization, but since they deny the need for self-sacrifice for other people, we Christians would see their moral system as distinctly minimalistic at best).  So how can an atheist condemn a past or present sinning Christian if he believes in moral relativism?  Someone could always claim, while using atheists’/agnostics’ moral/cultural relativism back at them, playing the Devil's advocate to expose the folly of their ethical position:  "Well, slavery, the Crusades, the Inquisition, jihads, Apartheid, Jim Crow, female genital mutilation, Chinese foot binding, suttee, female infanticide, gulags, concentration camps, genocide, nuclear wars, imperialism, racial discrimination, poison gas, landmines, sexism, etc., etc., etc., may be wrong for you, but they are fine for us!  So now you can't condemn us!"  If the atheist/agnostic says the Christian is being hypocritical, by violating his own revelation's moral standards, that doesn't prove the unbeliever’s own moral position intrinsically since he rejects God and the Bible's inspired truth. Therefore, because atheists’ bad behavior is a logical consequence of their belief system’s lack of a good source of moral absolutes, it's actually a better argument to say, "The sins of atheists refute atheism," than to say, "The sins of theists refute theism"! 

            Dostoevsky was deeply right when having another character comment on the skeptical Ivan Karamazov's intellectual position:  "Crime must be considered not only as admissible but even as the logical and inevitable consequence of an atheist's position."  (Although by using natural law theory they’re ways to try to partially evade this kind of reasoning, such as by the respective approaches of C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and James Q. Wilson, how ultimately convincing they are is another issue).  Elsewhere, Dostoevsky has another character say:  "Then, if there is no God, man becomes master of the earth and of the universe.  That's great.  But then, how can a man be virtuous without God?  That's the snag, and I always come back to it.  For whom will man love then?  Whom will he be grateful to? . . . We, for instance, may think that virtue is one thing while the Chinese may believe it's something quite different.  Isn't virtue something relative then?"  The bloody history of the religiously skeptical yet politically fanatical 20th century shows this snag indeed caught atheists and agnostics:  Wasn’t the Europe of the Nazis and Communists even morally darker than that of Medieval Catholicism at its collective worst?

            This discussion naturally leads in to the related “problem of evil” that’s long been used to deny the existence of a loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God:  Could God exist and care while allowing all these moral atrocities to occur?  Atheists and agnostics, however, can't condemn God for allowing evil to exist without believing in moral absolutes also.  But since atheists and agnostics (mostly) uphold moral relativism, they can't use the problem of evil to deny God's existence logically!  If you don't believe in evil, you then can't condemn God for allowing it! 

            But now, would the good behavior of true Christians witness to the world that they have the truth?  What did Jesus tell His disciples the night before His crucifixion?  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  So now, shouldn’t the good behavior of some Christians in their family and business lives convince the faithless to have faith?  Admittedly, the text doesn’t actually say that, but merely that people in the world would know Christ’s true disciples from other people based on their love for one another.  God has to call people for them to be truly converted:  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).  Hence, even (say) the amazing level of self-sacrifice of a Mother Teresa for India’s poor won’t convert automatically the Hindu masses of Calcutta to Catholicism.  Rather, the good works of Christians simply remove an excuse for unbelief (cf. what King David’s bad example in the case of Uriah the Hittite helped cause the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme Him, II Samuel 12:14).  Hence, the sins of Christians largely serve as an excuse for unbelievers to deny the truth of the Bible so they need not undertake the difficult work of changing their lives and beliefs.  But for actual proof that Jesus was who He said He was, He pointed to His relationship with His Father and how His life reflected that, including the miracles He did:  “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?  The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:10-11; cf. John 15:22, 24; 12:42-45).  So although true Christians’ love one for another would witness to the world that they are Jesus’ disciples, that differs from the evidence miracles would serve as experientially or, alternatively, be like a formal proof of God’s existence.

            Ironically, the sins of past traditional Christians don’t prove the falsity of Christianity metaphysically, but the atrocities committed by atheists help to prove atheism’s falsity ethically.  The crimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot could all be seen as the logical consequences of their atheism, while the atrocities of (say) Catholics ignore and deny the correct interpretation of the inspired revelation that's (partially) their source of spiritual authority.  The sins of traditional Christians contradict their overall belief system, but the crimes of atheists corroborate it!

Now, what are the two key differences between Joshua’s invasion of the Holy Land and the Crusades that invaded it nearly 2500 years later?  Perhaps the main reason why people today question the love of the God of the Old Testament concerns why He allowed and even ordered wars that were merciless against the pagan Canaanites.  For a particularly notable case, turn to where God told Saul to kill all the Amalekites, including babies, in I Samuel 15:3:  "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."  God mentioned in the prior verse why He wanted to inflict this utterly severe collective punishment:  "I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt."  But why would he kill the descendants of those Amalekites who sinned so many centuries later, including their young children?  Similarly, why would he command stoning idolaters (Deut. 13:6-11; 17:2-5), promiscuous single women (Deut. 22:13-21), blasphemers (Lev. 24:10-16), and mediums (Lev. 20:27).

 But this leads to a more general point:  Why did God, in general, want the Canaanites to be exterminated at the hand of Saul and (in a previous generation) Joshua?  God wanted to keep Israel from adopting the Canaanite's system of pagan idolatry and its corresponding sexual immorality, which would contaminate Israel's pure worship of Jehovah.  After Moses would die, God predicted that Israel would "play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them" (Deut. 31:16).  God knew that His chosen people were going to chronically violate His law, which leads to the generally sad concluding chapters of Deuteronomy, over which the premonition of Israel's ultimate spiritual failure hovers.  God is totally opposed to syncretism, or the mixing of religions, when it concerns mixing truth with error, much like the world was condemned to in general after Adam and Eve ate of tree of knowledge of good and evil.  By totally eliminating the Canaanites at God's command, the Israelites would help to preserve their moral and spiritual purity. 

 Even before Israel entered the Promised Land, God knew very well that His Chosen People would chronically want to copy the religious practices of the people they were supposed to conquer and displace. In Deut. 12:29-31, God warned Israel, "When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?'  You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."  But, of course, so often Israel did fall away, and worship the false gods of the Canaanites, such as Baal, Molech, and the Asherim poles.  After slaying thousands of Israelites who fell into idolatry with Midian (Num. 25:1-9), God in turn had those Midianites slain en masse (Num. 31:1-18) who seduced His people into worshiping false gods using idols while committing fornication. 

 From a 21st century liberal humanitarian perspective, why was God so seemingly harsh?  (Of course, if we did some historical and philosophical research, we would find out that “humanitarianism” is merely a secularized version of Christian values, as Dinesh D’Souza points out in “What’s God Great About Christianity?”)  Why would God's order to Saul include the execution of young children, even the babies of the Canaanites?  Weren't they innocent of sin?  Here we have to reckon with how utterly holy and pure God is, and how He wants His people to believe and live the same way, to be as perfect as He is (Matt. 5:48).  In order to drive this point home emotionally to us humans, in Scripture God let Himself be repeatedly portrayed as the betrayed husband of an adulterous wife (Ezekiel 16:1-43; 23:1-49; Jer. 3:6-11).  If we ponder the emotions of that comparison carefully, we'll then understand much better why God would command even the babies of the Canaanites to be killed, since when otherwise they would grow up, they would deceive His people into betraying Him.  If they were allowed to live and be raised by their (unrepentant) parents, they would grow up and then believe and practice the same sins as their parents (i.e., idolatry, paganism, religiously-motivated temple prostitution/fornication, etc.)  So long as the Canaanites lived as a separate, competing civilization with their own gods, the people of Israel routinely fell into apostasy and would worship the false gods of the Canaanites.  Although he was wrong, a bitter, disillusioned Elijah felt he was the only one left worshiping Jehovah out of all of Israel (I Kings 19: 10, 14, 17) during the time Ahab was king and the Sidonitess Jezebel was his queen.  That's why God wanted Israel to make a clean sweep of all the Canaanites in almost all cases (excepting Rahab and her family in Jericho, which was one notable exception; Ruth was another). 

 Now, why did God in the Old Testament order Israel to wage war?  Does that allow Christians to wage war today?  Because God doesn't reveal all His laws and His overall will all at once, the Bible is a book that records God's progressive revelation to humanity.  God doesn't reveal everything all at once, or people would reject it as too overwhelming, i.e., be "blinded by the light."  The famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said something like, "If the truth shall kill them, let them die."  Fortunately, God normally doesn't operate that way, at least prior to the Second Coming (Rev. 1:5-7) or all of us would already be dead!  

 The principle of progressive revelation plainly appears in Jesus' debate with the Pharisees over the Old Testament's easy divorce law in Matt. 19:3, 6-9:  "And Pharisees came up to him [to Jesus] and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?' . . . What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.'  They said to him [Jesus], 'Why then did Jesus command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?'  [See Deut. 24:1-4 for the text the Pharisees were citing].  He said to them, "For the hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you:  whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."  Now,  a New Testament Christian shouldn’t cite this Old Testament passage in order to justify easy divorce procedures.  That law has been superseded.  It wasn't originally intended as a permanent revelation of God's will, but it served as temporary "training wheels," so to speak, until such time as a mass of people (i.e., the Church after Pentecost) would have the Holy Spirit, and thus be enabled to keep the law spiritually by God's help.   By contrast, ancient Israel as a whole didn't have the Holy Spirit, and so correspondingly they didn't get the full revelation of God.  Therefore, the physical measures of removing the pagan people from their land was much more necessary than it is was for true Christians today, who have the Holy Spirit.

Now we have a Scriptural record in which God allowed, even told, Israel to wage war, but then centuries later, through the Sermon on the Mount, God told people to love their enemies and to turn the cheek, which simply aren't compatible with waging war.  (See Matthew 5:38-48).  So here the issue is how to reconcile pacifism as commanded by Jesus in the New Testament with the record of Israel's wars in the Old Testament.

In three or four cases, God waged war for Israel, and Israel just had to stand and wait in faith.  One of the most spectacular cases was after King Hezekiah prayed for deliverance from the Assyrian army led by Sennacherib by having an angel kill the Assyrian army's warriors (see II Chron. 32:19-22).  Another case was when Israel was delivered from Pharaoh's army by the Red Sea's parting and then rejoining, which delivered Israel but destroyed the Egyptian army (see Exodus 14:10-31).  Notice that in verses 13,-14 Moses told Israel, "Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord . . . The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent."  Likewise, when Gideon’s tiny “army” of 300 defeated the vast Midianite and Amalekite army, they had only trumpets and torches in their hands (Judges 7:20).  When they blew their trumpets, Jehovah “set every man’s sword against his companion  throughout  the whole camp; and the army fled . . .” (verse 22).  The next verse mentions men of Israel being summoned to pursue Midian, but plainly God gave this victory to Gideon without his company of 300 having to kill anyone themselves.  King Asa of Judah got a great victory over the Ethiopians by asking for God’s help (although Israel probably did kill the Ethiopians themselves in this case) (II Chron. 14:11-13).  But he later relied on buying an alliance with the king of Aram in order to cause the Baasha, the King of Israel, to withdraw his army from threatening Judah.  In response, a prophet told him (II Chron. 16:7-9), “Because you have relied on the kin of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand.  Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen?  Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.  You have acted foolishly in this.  Indeed, from now one you will surely have wars.”  Modern ruling “Christians,” by rejecting God’s help and relying on their own power to kill others by the sword, are similarly condemned.

Although Israel also waged war, God's overall intention from the beginning was different.  Notice that God wouldn't let King David, who had fought in many wars, build the Temple of Jehovah.  Why?  "You have shed much blood, and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed blood on the earth before Me" ( I Chron. 22:8).  The New Testament also has an Old Testament text showing how someone loves should love his or her enemy. (Romans 12:20 cites from Proverbs 25:21-22).  Even though God allowed Israel and even told Israel to wage war, it would have been different if Israel had had more faith originally.  But God was working with an (often) disobedient nation that was supposed to be His model for the world, so He didn't impose His full truth on them at that time, including concerning waging war.

 Now, let's face the ultimate issue lurking behind our temptation to question God about ordering Joshua and Saul to kill baby Canaanites:  God's utter sovereignty.  Fundamentally, we puny creatures are in no better position than Job was to question His justice and righteousness.  The general spirit of Romans 8:28 to 11:36 emphasizes this point. 

Besides punishing the Canaanites for their sins, God inflicted other collective punishments on the human race.  Jehovah had Gomorrah and Sodom totally destroyed for their sins (Genesis 18:20; 19:13, 24-25).  And even more completely and utterly, God drowned every human being and land animal in the world during the great Deluge, except for Noah's family (only 8 people!) and the animals with him in the ark (I Peter 3:20).  So now, is God evil for executing people for violating His law?  Well, God tells us through Paul that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Sinners have no right to live in God's sight:  He has the right at any time to execute someone for their sins before time of natural death comes.  Fortunately, God normally doesn't exercise that option!  And most mysteriously, He had His Son, who also was God, take on the pain and sin of the world, and die on its behalf despite He was innocent!  Jesus' great sacrifice allowed God to reconcile mercy and justice together:  For our sins make us worthy of death, but by having Jesus pay such a great price in our stead, that death penalty is lifted off us, but not because of our merit from obeying His law (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-10; 7:25).

 God still believes in and practices capital punishment, unlike the western Europeans.  As the Creator of life, He may also take it.  But unlike men, He can resurrect and bring to life again the people He executes.  For example, God chose to execute all the people on earth outside of Noah's family by sending the great flood because of humanity's general wickedness (Genesis 6:5-7):  "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  So the Lord said, 'I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.'"  Notice that Jesus predicted that many would be killed again when He returns like it was in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:36-39).

 Clearly, nobody is truly "innocent" or "good" separate from God.  God always has the option of imposing the death penalty on us at any time, but normally He doesn't, since His mercy triumphs over His justice, thanks to Christ's sacrifice.  Furthermore, since He can resurrect the dead, He can give them their lives back.  This helps to explain why He would (say) have Sodom destroyed when not even ten righteous people could be found living there (see Genesis 18:22-33; 19:24-25).  These people were living such a sinful and personally harmful way of life that it was better for them to be put to death rather than still living that way.  Hence, it's hard to look upon the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, the people drowned in the great flood (Genesis 6:11-13) that Noah lived through, and the Canaanites that God had killed by Joshua's army as "righteous" or "innocent," due to their crimes of violence, idolatry, etc.  When He resurrects them at the end of the millennium (see Ezekiel 37:1-14; Rev. 20:11-15), the thousand years of the earth being ruled by Jesus, they will receive a chance to be saved then.

 Therefore, since God is the Creator of human life, we humans are in no position to judge Him for being inconsistent when He takes the life of those who break His law.  He made human life for particular purposes of His own.  If we don't fulfill those goals, He has the right to terminate our lives at His discretion.  We have to respect the utter sovereignty of God, as Job ultimately learned, although that isn't a fashionable idea in the world today.  God is in charge, whether we like it or not, so we humans just have to get used to it and get with the program.  For we're all going to die, whether we like it or not. If God provides us a way out, a way to get eternal life, we should accept it and the conditions involved, especially if they are for our ultimate best good.  

 God also has been questioned for allowing King David’s sons to die violently.  Of course, King David had a dubious record in many regards, although he had a sincerely repentant heart as well (as per Psalm 51).  In order to cover up his committing adultery with Bathsheba, David had Uriah, her husband, murdered with the connivance of Joab by using the swords of the Ammonites in battle (II Samuel 11:1-12:15).  As a result, David suffered a serious punishment for his sins during his lifetime and afterwards.  Absalom’s revolt and losing a total of four sons was a consequence of what he did after committing adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:5-7, 10-14).  Notice that after hearing the prophet Nathan’s parable, he said that the unjust rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb should restore fourfold (verse 5).  That’s exactly what happened.  Consider the sons of David who died violently:  Amon (whose lust for Tamar stirred up Absalom’s revolt eventually), Absalom, and Adonijah (after trying to take the throne).  David also lost the baby son who was conceived in adultery with Bathsheba.  However, we should still examine also his character concerning how much he loved two of his worst enemies (Saul and Absalom), and didn’t want to kill either of them.  So despite he killed so many men in battle, he had the heart of a forgiving pacifist concerning his two top personal enemies!


All of this isn't to say anybody has the right based on prophecy, such as about Israel’s regathering to the Holy Land, to oppress or use force against others.  Rather, we're faced with the issue of God's use of people who are sinning to get His Chosen People (i.e., the Jews in particular) as a nation back into the Middle East so they can have back their land.  Similarly, consider how Rebekah’s and Jacob’s skullduggery was used to displace Esau from receiving Isaac’s blessing.  Their sinful actions secured the ultimate outcome God wanted since the younger son was to rule over the former (see Genesis 25:23-34; 27:1-46).  True, had Rebekah and Jacob acted righteously instead, the Eternal would have intervened somehow miraculously to make Isaac bless Jacob instead of Esau, much as He inspired the blind Jacob cross his hands to bless Ephraim more than Manasseh (Genesis 48:12-19).   Similarly, did God approve of Rahab's lie to protect the spies?  (See Joshua 2:1-14; 6:17, 22-23; Hebrews 11:31).  The lie was a sin, but the result was correct.  God had given Jericho to Israel, so He wanted the spies to survive.  Could we owe similarly our freedom of speech and religion in a practical sense to such parents and their children fighting to defeat the Nazis?  That doesn't mean true Christians who are called and thus know better are authorized to so sin ourselves:  Waging war is a sin, regardless of which side God chooses to win a war for whatever reasons that help advance His master plan for humanity, such as (say) allowing the Allies to win World War II   or the Muslims to not win at Tours so (ultimately) that Church of God and Christians in general would have the freedom to evangelize publicly.  So God doesn’t want any human government to wage war, but He may use the results of various wars, or even intervene to get the correct outcome needed, to advance His overall plan for the human race.

But then consider whether a statue of limitations exists on prior acts of imperialism:  Aren't the Arabs/Muslims equally guilty of using force also, in prior centuries?  Shouldn’t they feel guilty about their past Jihads, if the West should feel guilty about their past Crusades?  Don't we have moral equivalency here? 

The Old Testament describes Judah’s and Israel’s waging war against neighboring Canaanite nations and others.  Does this reality make the Quran’s statements endorsing jihad of little real significance, since most Christians today wouldn’t cite the Old Testament to justify launching modern crusades against Muslims or Jews?   After all, the Biblical authorizations to attack would be of very limited value in this regard, for they concerned specific Canaanite peoples, not generic “unbelievers” or “pagans,” as is the case with the Quran’s words when taken at face value.  The progressive revelation of the Bible, especially as found in the Sermon on the Mount, reveals that Christians shouldn’t wage war (John 18:36), thus superceding those cases where God directly authorized Israel to wage war.  A straight reading of the New Testament shows it teaches outright pacifism, which even the early Sunday-keeping church before the time of Constantine actually largely followed.  Turning the cheek simply isn't compatible with military service! Contrast how traditional Christianity spread in its first 300 years with how Islam spread in its first 300 years if one wants to know which religion intrinsically (even by early Catholic standards) was more one of peace.  Catholic Christianity was spread largely by persuasion while being a periodically persecuted religious minority within the Roman Empire.  By contrast, Muhammad Himself (unlike Jesus) was a general, not just a prophet.  He actually lead men in battle.  Muhammad’s top lieutenants (the future Caliphs and others) ordered men into battle and bore the sword in the first decades of Islam's existence.  Their Muslim armies invaded and  conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and took Egypt, Palestine, and Syria (in particular) from the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.  The also took all of North Africa, Spain, and northern India.  So jihad was an intrinsic part of Islam from its founding days, but the Crusades were basically an invention of the 11th century Papacy, over a millennium after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

            Now, where's pacific part of the Quran to overrule the jihadic portions?  In the case of the Bible, the dispensationalist interpretative principle is often used to set aside a portion of the Old Testament (i.e., which contains the commands to wage war) based upon a further revelation in the New Testament (i.e., the pacific portion of Scripture).  In their case, the moderate Muslims are up against the somewhat similar Islamic doctrine of abrogation (naskh), which teaches that later revelations cancel out earlier ones (as per sura 2:106).  Unfortunately for the moderates, the verses of the Quran written later are normally much more warlike and less tolerant than those written earlier.  The Medinian "jihad" suras (16, 29, 52, 73, 109) were later, the Meccan "tolerance" verses earlier (with the interesting exception of 2).  But the last sura on this subject was the Medinian sura 9, leading Robert Spencer in "Onward Muslim Soldiers" to conclude:  "Thus in effect the Qur'an's last word on jihad, and all the rest of the book--including the "tolerance verses"--must be read in its light."  This is how the Quran's commentator Ibn Kathir sees it.  The Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh 'Abdullah bin Hummad bin Humaid, maintained that "jihad" went through this evolution of meaning in the Quran:  Fighting first was forbidden, then permitted, then made obligatory.  Nor is this understanding limited to the strict Wahabis.  Spencer notes the Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik's 1979 book "The Qur'anic Concept of War,” which contained an endorsement from then president Zia-ul-Haq, had the same three-stage schema.  To say a literal definition of jihad is merely limited to extremists, past or present, is a huge historical distortion.  It's squarely in the mainstream of traditional Muslim legal thought and is easily derived from the primary sources, the Quran and hadiths.

Why does a good almighty God allow evil?  Now in this context it’s worth considering the key, overarching issue about why a good almighty God permits evil to exist.  Why did God allow the Crusades to begin with?  He didn’t command them, but He didn’t stop them either.  Now it’s important to realize that God didn't directly create evil.  When Satan, the leader of the evil angels who became demons, rebelled, there hadn't been evil in the world before he sinned (Ezekiel 28:15-17).  According to the Apostle John, God has no evil in Him (I John 1:5):  "This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."  When God recreated the world in Genesis 1, He said it was all good:  "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (verse 31).  Instead, we need to consider why God freely allowed Satan, the demons, and mankind to violate His law after creating them with either a good nature or a neutral nature that didn't automatically rebel against Him.  God didn't create evil, but He permitted angels and people to do evil.


So then, why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving God freely permit evil to exist in His creation?  There are different ways to consider this problem. The book of Job is basically all about why God let Job suffer despite he was a righteous man.  God's basic response when confronting him was that he didn't know enough to judge Him.  We also can examine the issue of God's giving humanity free will.  But why?  Well, God is in the process of making beings like Himself (Matt. 5:48; Eph. 4:13) who willingly choose to be 100% righteous, but have 100% free will.  God doesn't want to create a set of robots that automatically obey His law, His will, for they aren't like Him then, for they wouldn't have free will, and the ability to make fully conscious choices.  Here God needs to test us, to see how loyal we'll be in advance of gaining eternal life.  The greatness of the prize, being in God's Family and living forever happily in union with God, ultimately makes up for the suffering in this life.  For what's (say) 70 years of pain relative to trillions of years of happiness in God's kingdom?  Unfortunately, our emotions, which normally focus on what's right before us physically, rebel against this insight, but it's true nevertheless.

 God has chosen to respect our free moral agency and to give us the power to reject obeying Him even when we're called.  ("Many are called, but few are chosen.")  God has such great power, but He's chosen to limit it for His high purposes.  Despite being a major school of Christian theology, classical Calvinism's key error is that men and women become wind-up toy soldiers who make only predetermined choices about the ultimate outcome of their lives.  God chose freely to give man's will a freedom rather similar to His own, although it is perverted by an evil human nature acquired since birth from the continuing influence of Satan, his demons, and this world's civilization.  By gaining the Holy Spirit, conscientious, converted Christians slowly have much of this negative influence removed or at least restricted.  Much like during the incarnation God chose to restrict His power (Matt. 24:36), God has chosen to restrict His power in calling and converting people today.  But He still wants us to obey, but He wants us to freely choose to do so (Prov. 30:19-20):  "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him . . . "  Hence, the other leading school of Christian theology among Protestants, Arminianism, maintains there’s a certain level of drama and uncertainty, even from God's viewpoint, concerning how many will be ultimately responsive to His call.

 Now, suppose we’re deeply disturbed by the problem of evil, such as by a loved one’s death or because of some terrible disaster or war striking thousands or millions of people somewhere else in the world, past or present.  It’s still illogical to reject God’s existence on that basis after we’ve proven Him to exist on another basis, such intelligence design’s arguments for the universe’s complexity shows it had a Creator.  For a fundamental truth of the human condition is that we're presently alive, but know we're going to die.  So then, what are we going to do about it, if anything?  Is there any way to live forever?  Or should we just admit that when our caskets are lowered into the ground, that's it?


Christianity says there is a way to live forever, but it involves accepting certain truths by faith, which can't be fully proven by human reason.  It also requires making a formal commitment that requires the believer to change his or her life from the path of sin to the path of obedience (i.e., to confess sins and to repent).  Regardless of what we may think of God's allowing of evil and suffering, if this is the only way out of mankind's "existential dilemma," as I like to call it, I'll accept it personally, in order to live forever.

So then, what did Jesus Himself say about people who were killed by events beyond their own control?  Consider what Jesus told people to do, regardless of what happened to others for whatever reason, in order to save themselves (Luke 13:1-5):  "There were some present at the very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate [the Roman governor of Judea] had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?  I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."  As Jesus explained, everyone is going to die, whether or not for reasons under their own control.  We all have to repent to gain eternal life.  That's because we're all sinners (Romans 3:23), and sin brings upon us all death (Romans 6:23), which Jesus' sacrifice cancels if we accept it by faith.

But notice this leads to a key principle:  Nobody is truly "innocent" or "good" separate from God.  God always has the option of imposing the death penalty on us at any time, but normally He doesn't, since His mercy triumphs over His justice, thanks to Christ's sacrifice.  Furthermore, since He can resurrect the dead, He can give them their lives back.  This helps to explain why He would (say) have Sodom destroyed when not even ten righteous people could be found living there (see Genesis 18:22-33; 19:24-25).  These people were living such a sinful and personally harmful way of life that it was better for them to be put to death rather than still living that way.  Hence, it's hard to look upon the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, the people drowned in the great flood (Genesis 6:11-13) that Noah lived through, and the Canaanites that God had killed by Joshua's army as "righteous" or "innocent," due to their crimes of violence, idolatry, etc.  When He resurrects them at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:5, 12-13), the thousand years of the earth being ruled by Jesus, they will receive a chance to be saved then (Romans 11:25-26; 37:11-14). 

So above it’s been shown that the Crusades and Joshua’s invasion were clearly morally different in God’s sight, that God allowed evil to exist for good reasons, and that the sins of Christians don’t refute the truth of the Bible. 

Eric V. Snow

Click here to access essays that defend Christianity:  /apologetics.html

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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

Do you have an immortal soul? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Here and Hereafter.htm

Does the ministry have authority? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is There an Ordained Ministry vs Edwards.html

Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm

Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm

Is Jesus God? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is Jesus God.htm

Will there be a third resurrection? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Will There Be a Third Resurrection.htm



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