Almost daily I pray, Spirit, lead me into truth without borders. What does that mean? For years, I have been praying that God will lead me into his truth about the matter of atrocities in the Bible—not human attempts at truth to explain away the atrocities, cover them up, or deny they happened. I want to understand—at least in part—why they occurred.
One of my grandmothers used the word smidgen a lot, describing a tiny portion of something. I pray that this teaching about a thorny biblical subject—a “sticky wicket” as the British say, will be a smidgen of truth to tackle a difficult biblical theme. A friend has called this biblical theme: “The Killer God.” I feel that term is appropriate, but it’s a subject we don’t like to think about, much less use a term such as killer God.
Ever since I became a follower of Jesus many years ago and began reading through the Bible, I have been greatly troubled by the various atrocities recorded in the Bible. The atrocities ordered by God or directly committed by God have been especially troubling, so much so that I have tended simply to gloss over them when reading the Bible.
They simply didn’t make sense, and I certainly couldn’t explain them—especially to critics of the Bible who used such atrocities as one of their major sources of criticism of God who is called in the Bible the God Who is love—that is to say, God’s basic character and nature is love, and everything He does flows from his love. (1 John 4: 8 – 11) The critics charge, “How can such a God of love be a killer God?”
Yes, I have struggled for many years when reading about atrocities in the Bible, especially those ordered by God or directly committed by God. Humans killing other humans by their own volition is bad enough, but for God to order humans to be killed or to kill them Himself seems absolutely unspeakable and beyond belief to me!
It’s one of those Bible subjects that I’ve never before seen fully addressed—much less addressed satisfactorily. When I’ve asked notable scholars about the matter, they’ve either sidestepped my questions, tended to “sweep the matter under the rug,” tell me the atrocities really didn’t happen, or offer me some pseudo-scholarly answer that those parts of the Bible that tell about such atrocities are not really part of the “inspired” Word of God—they were inserted by translators to cast God in a bad light more in keeping with the pagan gods of those times. Some have even suggested that it was really Satan who committed the atrocities, then influenced Bible writers to insert the name of God into those places in the Bible that tell of the atrocities!
[Note: My thoughts in this paragraph and the one immediately following were triggered by some musing furnished me by my dear young Jesus-brother, Corey Friend.] One view I’ve heard some people express through the years in an attempt to explain away or justify God killing people (or having people killed) goes something like this: “When people get to heaven, they will be so full of bliss and complete joy in the overwhelming presence of God that they won’t even think about anyone suffering eternal conscious torment in the burning fires of hell; so if we can make it through this life without giving much thought to the matter, then in heaven we won’t think about it at all—out of sight, out of mind.” Such a view is not worth serious consideration, and it is not supported by any biblical teaching.
In addition, I’ve heard well-intended people say that such events in the Bible mysteriously bring glory to God by showing his absolute sovereignty over his entire creation—that He can do anything and everything He chooses to do…and that brings glory to Him. My response to that empty view is the same as in the above paragraph.
I’m openly addressing the matter of the killer God in this teaching, and I’m keenly aware that is all I’m doing, not bringing the matter to any successful resolution or understanding. I’m only attempting to share some thoughts a few others and I have pieced together through the years—thoughts that have helped me a little; maybe they’ll help you, too.
I hope you will agree with me that during this mortal life we live on planet earth, “we only know in part and merely see through a glass darkly,” as the Bible puts it (1 Corinthians 13: 12). All human understanding is finite and limited. I feel the reasons for the atrocities cited in the Bible will only be known more fully when we humans transition into our immortal state in Eternal Realms. Yes, only when we enter Jesus’ eternal Kingdom on the freshly restored earth will we even begin to come close to understanding such matters.
A few years after becoming a follower of Jesus, I began to understand that one of the major themes in the Bible is that of apokatastasis (“God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of all things, including all humanity”). I then began to get a slight feel about how biblical atrocities might be somewhat understood in the light of apokatastasis. The entire concept of apokatastasis is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15: 24 – 28 in the Bible:
“Here is God’s final goal. Jesus will never stop crushing his opposition until his last enemy—death—is defeated. Then when Jesus is absolute Victor, He will submit Himself—and hand over his Kingdom—to God the Father. That will be the final, joyful consummation of all things God has purposed. God will then be All in all—absolutely everything to everyone…including all humanity. God will finally be supreme, the indwelling and controlling factor of all life everywhere. His loving and benevolent rulership over all his creation will at last be absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!” (Amplified and paraphrased)
Frankly, before coming to understand the biblical teaching about apokatastasis, I had been embarrassed at various times when people broached the subject of biblical atrocities to me; I’ve felt that somehow I must “defend” God for killing people—but I really didn’t have anything of substance to say in his defense. I was ashamed that God would cruelly kill people whom He created in his image—especially innocent infants, children, and females. I wanted to delete certain passages from the Bible. I even wanted to think that maybe certain troubling passages in the Bible about the killer God really didn’t belong there—maybe they were inserted by someone to put God in a bad light. And so on…
I just couldn’t handle the subject. I still can’t handle the subject fully, but the following smidgens of thoughts have at least helped somewhat to assuage my feelings, my misplaced anger at God, my troubling emotional confusion and consternation, my doubts about the trustworthiness of the Bible, and my feelings of guilt on God’s behalf. Even with only a limited, finite understanding of God’s ultimate, loving and good purposes for all humanity in apokatastasis, have the atrocities in the Bible begun to make some slight sense.
On the contrary, for those who mistakenly believe in eternal conscious torment for people who do not become followers of Jesus in this life, such atrocities make no sense whatsoever; they show God to be capricious, evil, and vicious, similar to the false gods noted in the Bible. If, as many believe, the vast majority of humanity is destined to suffer eternal conscious torment, then God made a very serious mistake in creating humanity in the first place and then turning around and killing most of them—knowing full well they would suffer eternal conscious torment in an ever-burning hell! It’s difficult to lovingly worship that type of killer God!
Speaking of false gods, people often felt they had to placate such false gods with human sacrifices; for example, to worship the false god Molech (or Moloch), priests and parents would sacrifice their babies and infants to Molech by casting them into raging fires such as those fires kept burning in the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) outside the city of Jerusalem.
I’m now going to offer twelve smidgens of truth—incomplete reasons (partial explanations?) that have helped me understand—at least just a little bit why God would order people to be killed or kill them Himself—in the overarching light of the biblical theme of apokatastasis.
One: God views the matter of human death entirely differently than we humans do. In fact, death and life—in a sense—are the same to Him. In the eternal simultaneity of God’s perspective, He perceives both the living and the dead as ultimately being fully alive (Luke 20: 38). From his sovereign perspective of eternity, no matter how one dies, no matter who dies, no matter when one dies, no matter at what age one dies, no matter under what circumstances one dies—immediately after their deaths, they find themselves in God’s presence for Him to begin to fully redeem, restore, and reconcile them to a final and complete, all-loving, eternal relationship and union with Him.
Two: In many cases—from God’s perspective, biblical deaths by atrocity were actually “blessings in disguise” to perhaps save the dying person(s) from later lifetimes of cruel slavery, horrible physical and sexual abuse, human trafficking, painful torture, slow, unspeakably painful deaths, pedophilia, painful abortions, the perversity of some painful sexual practices, forced into battle to die dreadful deaths in warfare, sodomy, castration to be made eunuchs, painful poisonings, thrown into fires, boiled in oil, drawn and quartered, ad infinitum.
Three: Sometimes God would destroy entire nations of people because their lifestyles and practices were so vile and horrible that they would “contaminate” societies around them if allowed to remain viable nations. Perhaps God had all the inhabitants in such cultures die for the “greater good.”
Four: God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth as a human being, submitting to slow, horrible, agonizing, mental, emotional, and physical torture, and took upon Himself all of humanity’s worst violence in his own painful death—flowing from his pure love for humanity’s ultimate good. God—who had never experienced pain or death, took horrible, painful death upon Himself on behalf of all humanity, knowing full well that in the end, all humanity (no matter how they died) would be enfolded into his loving, eternal embrace. Jesus, God incarnate, experienced death on behalf of—and in place of—every human. (Hebrews 2: 9)
Five: We can begin seeing “through a glass darkly” why God told various people in the Bible to literally kill all members of a certain tribe or group. “Why should God cause innocent females and children to be slain?!” has been the justifiable outcry of many people for long ages of time. For too long we who believe in God and the Bible have given the weak reply: “Well, the God of the Old Testament is not really the God of the New Testament, and God’s ways were different back in those days.” This mistaken conclusion utterly ignores certain references such as Malachi 3: 6 and Hebrews 13: 8: “For I am the LORD, I do not change;…” “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and throughout the ages of time.”
But if we can at least begin to see in part that all of those people God ordered killed (or killed Himself)—including innocent infants, children, and females—might make no more progress toward a vital relationship with Him in this life—perhaps because of the influences of a depraved and degenerate society and culture in which they lived—why not deliver them over to death and the grave, knowing full well that later, they will eventually turn to God and be fully redeemed, restored, and reconciled to Him?
Six: This same line of thought at least partially answers the question, “Why do some people die so young?” Isn’t it at least a possibility that those who die young are actually, in a sense, being speeded on their way to accepting Jesus’ full and complete payment for their sins, while those who still live evidently will have opportunity—via a friend who is a follower of Jesus, via an evangelist, via a missionary, or the like—to accept Jesus in this life. Both ways lead to Jesus. God who knows the thoughts and hearts of all people, knows which route will be speedier for a given individual. With this in mind, Isaiah 57: 1 reads, in part: “Yes, some people die seemingly before their time. God is simply protecting them from evil to come…” (paraphrased)
Seven: [This paragraph and the next were contributed to this teaching by my friends, John and Bonnie Morris; also see #11.] With all that was said above, we would like to offer a comment about God’s judgments. If we can understand God’s ways in judgment, it will help us to see that every move God makes throughout the Bible in dealing with humanity is to benefit those He judges. He always purposes to bring remedies or cures to humanity when He judges them. His judgments are not like human judgments. God’s judgments are never without hope. Human judgments often results in condemnation, because generally they are not remedial as are God’s judgments. God’s judgments actually save and restore, with a view towards the ultimate redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of all humanity to Himself.
To better understand the principles of God’s justice and judgments, please read 3 other teachings by Bill on this website: “Hope in Judgment,” “Hope in Justice,” and “Judgment and Justice.” Hopefully, you will see that the love of God remains consistent in all that He does.
Eight: It is logical and reasonable to reserve judgment and conclusions about any matter until all the facts and evidence are in: compile all the facts, put them together into a meaningful whole, research their meaning, and then put them together in order to make one’s judgments or conclusions—like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. We must do the same with this matter of biblical atrocities. Let’s reserve judging God and arriving at incomplete conclusions until the puzzle is completed.
Nine: [Almost all the thoughts for Number Nine were contributed to this teaching by my dear friend, Gerry Beauchemin.] “Though I don’t have an answer that fully satisfies me, I am comforted knowing that death is not hopeless for anyone. God will wipe away every tear. Death, sorrow, crying and pain shall cease (Revelation 21: 4).
Author and theologian, Dr. Norman Geisler, in defense of Israel’s alleged “atrocities” against the Canaanite and Amalekite cultures wrote: ‘This was a thoroughly evil culture… They were into brutality, cruelty, incest, bestiality, cultic prostitution, even child sacrifice by fire. They were aggressive cultures that wanted to annihilate the Israelites. God took action not only for the sake of the Israelites but, ultimately, for the sake of everyone throughout history whose salvation would be provided by the Messiah who was to be born among them. God’s purpose in these instances was to destroy the corrupt nation because the national structure was inherently evil.…’
Many biblical references indicate that God’s primary desire was to drive these evil people out of the land they already knew had been promised for a long time to Israel. That way, Israel could enter the land God promised them, and then be relatively free from the outside corruption that could have destroyed Israel like a cancer. God wanted to create an environment where the Messiah could come for the benefit of millions of people through history. Besides, under the rules of conduct God had given the Israelites, whenever they went into an enemy city they were to first make the people an offer of peace. The people had a choice: they could accept that offer, in which case they wouldn’t be killed, or they could reject the offer at their own peril.
That’s appropriate and fair. Most of the women and children would have fled in advance before the actual fighting began, leaving behind only the warriors to face the Israelites. The fighters who remained would have been the most hardened, the ones who stubbornly refused to leave, the carriers of the corrupt culture… God is not capricious, he’s not arbitrary, he’s not cruel…he is undeniably just. It seems, if Dr. Geisler is correct, that God had to protect Israel in order to fulfill His ultimately good purposes for the entire world.
We who believe in the Blessed Hope of Jesus’ return to make all wrong things right can at least be comforted knowing suffering is not eternal. But why is there so much unfairness in the world; even extreme suffering? Is there any purpose to it? What is it intended to teach us? I think the answer lies in the significance of the ‘Body’ of Christ. ‘There is one body.’ ‘The body is not one member but many.’ ‘I pray that they may be one.’ ‘Bear one another’s burdens.’ ‘Bear with one another in love.’ ‘That the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ ‘I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body’ (Colossians 1: 24). There are eighty ‘one another’ phrases in the New Testament. They are everywhere!
Could it be that through our oneness, the experiences of individuals become the experience, lessons, and wisdom of all? It is evident that in God’s sovereign will, we all must go through degrees of pain and suffering; some less, some more. I believe that through our oneness in God’s Spirit, we all bear with Christ (identify with and participate in) the burdens of all humanity. We must learn the full measure of the sickness of sin, and even more wonderfully, the full redemption and contrasting grace and love of our Father!
When we all become one in Christ and knit together, there will no longer be an issue of fairness in suffering. Each will identify and truly empathize with each other’s pain. The lessons gained from the experience of the world’s full history of sin will be everyone’s to share. This gives deep meaning to all pain and the oneness we experience as members of His body. We are all one. Our brother’s and sister’s pain is our own! Only an almighty God of infinite knowledge and wisdom, could ever do such a thing. Our gracious Father will nurture this attitude in us more and more as we mature in Christ. [I thank Derek Calder for these insightful thoughts.]”
Ten: [This paragraph is from my dear friend, Jamie Luck.] I have sometimes wondered if the Bible is not a “Cliff Notes” version that leaves a lot of holes with unanswered questions. And the danger is that humankind either thinks there are no holes, or fills the holes with the wrong answers! I am definitely not dogmatic that everything in the Bible is crystal clear. Like the Apostle John wrote near the end of his biography (Gospel) of Jesus, if everything Jesus did was recorded, there wouldn’t be enough books to contain all He did! So surely we are missing pieces of the puzzle. I feel the “killer God” of the Bible falls into that category.
Eleven: [Also, see #7. ] This very brief smidgen of truth about the subject is from Bonnie Morris; she and her husband, John, are dear friends. Bonnie relies a great deal upon God’s personal revelation to her to support the Bible’s teachings about many matters; in other words, unless and until God gives her a “revelation” about something she reads or studies in the Bible, it really doesn’t become a vital part of her belief system about God and the Bible. This is Bonnie’s smidgen of truth she recently furnished me: “I am totally satisfied with an answer [revelation] Father gave me years ago concerning why He killed people. He simply said, ‘I do not look at the flesh the way you do’! He is our God of Love; He has a right to do as He wills, as everything He does is motivated by love to complete humanity in His image.”
Twelve: [by Bill Boylan] A few years ago my only sister—my best friend] was murdered at a relatively young age; at the time, she was a single mother with 4 small children. Not long after she was killed, my firstborn child, a beautiful daughter, died shortly after being born. Those two losses bothered me for years because I had no clear idea of their place in the afterlife.
Not long ago, God told me this: “Bill, of course you know I did not kill your sister or your newborn daughter…or have them killed. There is sin, death, and evil in the world, and they both died as a result of those conditions. But I did allow them to die. I allowed your sister to die because had she lived, she would have lived a life of chaos, poverty, failed relationships, abuse, pain, and suffering. Of course, I also knew that your firstborn daughter would die prematurely; another reason I allowed your sister to die is so that when your newborn daughter arrived here, your sister could be a mother and mentor to her. I want you to know that where they are now [in Heaven], they are the very best of friends full of joy and are awaiting your coming Here to join them.”
There you have it, 12 attempts at partial, incomplete explanations for why in the Bible God ordered people killed or killed them Himself. Do these explanations fully answer questions about such matters? Decidedly not! But as hinted at earlier, such explanations at least make it a little easier for me to accept God’s unconditional love for me—and love Him in return—even though I certainly don’t understand even a smidgen of his ways and works among humanity. I can at least believe the Bible’s declaration that “God is love” (1 John 4: 8) with fewer reservations than I’ve had in the past before offering these partial explanations.
It is now a little easier for me to accept that in numerous inscrutable and inexplicable ways God is lovingly drawing all humanity (living and dead) into his warm embrace through the finished work of Jesus! (John 6: 44 and 12: 32)
[NOTE: I hope that over time Holy Spirit will give me more enlightenment and understanding about this matter; if and when He does, I will update this teaching. Or, perhaps you might have some more pertinent information for me; if so, please furnish it to me, and if I feel it’s appropriate, I will include it in my updates, along with your name.]
Finally, I invite you to read another related teaching on this website titled: The Wrath of God: Is God Really Mad at Me?
Revised and Updated February 2023