Was the Old Testament God Immoral?

Hey JT, you should write a blog post defending God's tendency to commit genocide in the old testament. This demand came from a fellow Christian. I'm not sure if he was being serious, or was questioning my ability to answer that question.

Old testament people killed by God.

But I got to thinking, and I realized that I had never really come to a conclusion on why God actually did some of the catastrophic events which the Old Testament says he did.
Most Christians (and Jews) are in the same boat.  We've just kind-of accepted old testament genocide as fact, we have faith that God is loving enough to have had an extremely good reason to do what he did.

If you know me, I like theorizing about these things. It's important to be able to defend my Faith and help others understand what I believe. There are a select few individuals who may not be Christians because they cannot understand how a God who kills people could also be a God who loves people.

So this post is an answer to a challenge, a guide to those who have doubts, and a project to stretch my understanding.

Here are a few possible reasons behind the wrath of the Old Testament God. Some of them manage to portray God as a loving creator while some still are harsh, but provide enough clarification to be excusable in moral sense. I ordered these from my least favorite argument to my favorite argument.

1. Deserved Punishment

People get capital punishment today for actions less morally reprehensible than those of the people killed by God in the Old Testament. If you kill a couple people you might get executed today.

Now let's put ourselves in the Old Testament.

Have you ever slaughtered somebody just because you want the blessings of your father? Me neither... as far as you know. Let's just say, that's a mild example of the moral reprehensibility of the culture in the Old Testament. It's entirely possible that the people who God killed in the Old Testament were guilty of murder, rape, and other shenanigans.

Another element to consider is that Jesus hadn't yet died for the sins of the people in the Old Testament. Their moral value was determined solely by their actions and whether or not they followed the rules given to them. A person who murdered other people was no longer a person worthy of living. Their actions were not paid for by Jesus' sacrifice and they were therefore completely responsible for the moral consequences of those actions.

2. God killed people for the greater good.

The Old Testament documents the foundation of humankind. If the humans in the Old Testament were wiped out or completely overcome by moral reprehensibility; all hopes for future humankind would be lost. We would be lost. This blog would not exist. You and I would not exist. Even Jesus might not have existed.

The great flood in the Old Testament might be the reason we are alive. Remember how Noah and his family were the only people who had any sort of respect for God? The rest of humanity was overwhelmed by moral depravity.

I'm willing to bet that Noah and his family would have died off in that terrible climate if the flood didn't occur. I'm willing to bet that the murderous people of that time would have wiped themselves out if the flood didn't occur, and there would not have been a single moral person to rebuild humankind.

By causing the flood, God established a method for rebuilding a moral human society.

3. God was given credit for all major events

This may be my favorite reason, because it excuses God from any possible moral dilemma. This isn't to say that the Old Testament is lying when it gives God credit for death and destruction. Instead, the understanding of the authors and initial audience of the Old Testament would never had understood the events described in any other way.

Let me put it this way. We live in a powerful universe. Compared to the universe, our lives are extremely fragile. If a giant rock falls from the sky, people die. We understand this rock to be a scientific event caused by the laws of physics acting upon objects.

People in the Old Testament, on the other hand, understood every event to be a direct action from God. Even the small things were attributed to God, or their other perceived gods. If you asked them how trees grew, they would probably say something about divine intervention. If you asked why they were going to war against another nation, they would have some response about divine intervention.

They had no idea that the rock was orbiting around the sun and just happened to collide into Earth. Instead, they could fathom no other explanation than God's direct intervention.

Imagine a document in this culture that attempted to explain a major event in scientific terms. It would be instantly shunned, probably burned, and most likely lost forever. God knew their culture far better than we do, and he communicated in the best way possible; effectively. God went ahead and took credit for certain natural disasters and human wars because that is the only possible way the Old Testament people could have accepted him.

Take for instance the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is convincing scientific evidence today that they were wiped out by a meteor. In the Biblical account, God took responsibility for the destruction of those towns, but the meteor had been floating around the universe for potentially millions of years. The biblical account was a true story, but maybe God's "wrath" was really just the "wrath" of the powerful universe that God put into place.