“Ask a Priest: Why Does God Seem to Condone Murder?”

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Q: I am a young Catholic. In the past couple of years I’ve been learning more about my faith and become more aware of God and his power. I really realized one day that God, the God we pray to daily, the God I put my faith in, is a murderer. In Genesis 6-8 God destroys everyone in the world — all the children, unborn babies, all people except for Noah and his family. In 2 Kings 2:23-25 God orders bears to kill 42 children because they made fun of a bald guy. These are just a few of the killings ordered/approved of by God. How can we as Christians have our commandment “You shall not kill” and say we are pro-life while our God has done this? – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good for a person not to presume to stand in judgment of God. He is our Creator. Without him we would never have existed.

If there is something that seems odd to us in Scripture, the least we can do is give God the benefit of the doubt. He deserves at least that much from us.

First, it is good to remember that there would be no murder if there were no life. And all life comes from God. He can certainly take away what he gives. So by definition God cannot be guilty of murder.

As for the Old Testament, it needs to be read within the whole context of Scripture and within our faith. Scripture uses a variety of styles of writing — some symbolic, some allegorical, some a mixture of these and historical events. It’s not always easy to say right away what style is being used.

The part in Genesis you mention can be seen as an act of God’s patience with the world. Given the wickedness of the world, the story underlines not God’s vindictiveness but his sense of justice and his desire to salvage something of mankind and to try to rebuild society.

As for the passage in 2 Kings, it doesn’t explicitly state that God ordered the killings. In any case, it might be that the story was simply symbolic. The footnote in the New American Bible says, “This story probably was told to warn children of the importance of respect for prophets.” In other words, it functioned as kind of a bogeyman tale to instill a healthy fear in children to respect people who were called by God to do special works.

If you want to “judge” God, you would do well to judge him by the fullest expression of what he revealed to us. He did this in the person of Jesus Christ, his Son. So the Gospels are the pivotal texts for us as Christians.

Also, it is worth noting the serpent’s first question to Eve in Genesis 3:1 — “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” Implicit in the serpent’s question is that God intended Adam and Eve to starve to death — that God was some kind of sadist. The serpent’s trick worked, unfortunately. Adam and Eve were led to believe God was holding back on them. They fell, and mankind has suffered from their fall ever since.

Unfortunately, the serpent, Satan, still goes around tempting people about God’s goodness.

For more reading about Scripture, see “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.” For more on understanding the Old Testament, a good introductory book is The Consuming Fire.

I hope some of this restores your belief in God as a loving Father.

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