God's Morality and Justice

I am new here and was not able to get in on the topic that is very similar to this one. So, I hope to give my ideas with clarity and grace…

I believe the original writings of scripture were without error… but with all the many translations and versions out there, I don’t know that I could say that about most of them. That said, of course there are stories and wordings that have been translated incorrectly… due to the beliefs and biases of the translators. Biases that can’t help but be present in the process.

Therefore I believe we have to have a strong and close relationship with God… the Author of the original writings… in order to know His character and His love… so we have the ability to see through all the mistranslations.

That said I believe God is God. Therefore He has the right to dictate morality among His creation. I also believe that He is completely good… so His judgements are always good and just too… along with His love, and His ability to see into hearts.

—That said, if any story I’m reading leads me to believe that God is unjust and is not all good and all loving, then I need to remember that the problem is not with God. The problem is that there’s either something wrong with the translation or with my relationship with God (knowing Him and His character) or with my sense of morality and justice or my understanding of what is really going on in the story.

To start out with I think of when God gave the Canaanites 400 years to stop their practices… which included rampant incest and beastiality… to the point where they would tie an animal down to their beds to perform their acts. But the worst was sacrificing babies and children up to 4 yrs old. They would lay them onto the bronze arms of the statue of their god Molek… the arms stretched out over fire. Then to muffle the screams they’d loudly play drums and flutes.

A number of years ago I lead a support group for women who experienced abuse as children. One women grew up in a household where everyone on the outside saw them as a nice, regular, church going family… but on the inside she and her siblings were not only abused, but also regularly heard her parents talk about having another baby to have s*x with if it was a girl. She even remembers the details of what they would do to that baby. It haunted her. Her recollections still haunt me. So, babies are still being sacrificed today to satisfy the lusts and practices of the adults.

Then, I knew another woman that was an ER nurse, and she said the most heart breaking cases that would be rushed in to the ER would be female infants that had been torn from their private areas almost all the way up to their belly buttons.

So, would it be unfair to harshly judge the people who commit these atrocities??

All these babies and children, then and now, of course deserved life. They deserved to live well into adulthood. However, we do have to remember, that we are mortals, so no one escapes death. SO when God, who sees hearts and motives, decides to take certain people, He is not doing something that would not happen otherwise. So in these horrific situations, then and now, God allowing death to occur early in a person’s life, so they would not have to live a life with savage abuse and then an agonizing death would not be unfair.

God, being just, could have wiped out only the Canaanite adults in the biblical account. But, because He is also love, then who would truly care for the children? Who?? Therefore God chose to quickly take the children to be with Himself… and experience no more pain and abuse… and growing up, if they even got the chance, in that horrific society.


Thank you for your post. It highlights a certain aspect of life and suffering that most people, Christian or not, find hard to come to terms with.
We cannot judge God. He is beyond our comprehension and has more knowledge than us. We view things from a human perspective and with human values.
Child abuse is intolerable. As I understand it, most child abusers have to be isolated in prisons because of the feelings of other inmates. It is one area that evokes anger and disgust. That God would use death as an answer seems a little naive…
The “traditi0nal” answer is that God “allows” abhorrent behaviour, not because he approves but because He allows full freedom of choice. The belief is also that He offers full and unconditional forgiveness regardless of the offense. And, that God does not grade or distinguish the offense unlike the human judicial system.
I do not think that we can use Scripture, or Newsreels, or even personal experience to identify or judge God’s Morality and justice.
There are those who take comfort in the thought that all suffering on earth is compensated by Heaven. You might remember a Chris Rea song called" Tell me there’s a Heaven" that wrestles with such thinking. In truth, we just do not know.
We know God grieves over the actions He sees, but holds His hand out of respect for human freedom. We are also certain that He does not condone any abuse be it child or adult.
The result is unsatisfactory. Suffering is one of those areas where Christianity seems to be unable to act The only thing we can be certain from Scripture, specifically Job, is that we cannot link suffering directly to God’s influence. Neither can we link prosperity with righteousness. The world turns despite injustice and suffering not because of it.
I apologise if this is not the answer you wanted


Richard, I appreciate your thoughts. Just because I don’t agree with everything you say doesn’t mean I appreciate it less. As you were gracious and explained your opinions well.

I do believe that God is more proactive than we think and tolerates sin only so much. Along with that I also believe that He sees death differently than we do. Which is why He says to live is Christ, and to die is gain. We only see this side of heaven, so I can understand people’s reactions to God taking out a whole group of people… including infants & children. But, with that, it is interesting how MUCH suffering we as humans will allow until we finally do something… but then when it appears God has done something, we cry foul! So, I think it is our numbness to sin and suffering that causes us to question God’s morality and justice.

God is God afterall. He sees how far a dictator, or a people would go if He didn’t intervene for instance. So, yes, we have a free will… but the horrible things humans have done prove that if God’s grace and interventions weren’t present then I doubt there would be any world left at this point in time. God will only let evil go so far… as it is His world afterall.

You could use this way of thinking to justify eugenics or euthanasia.

I’m sorry, but your thinking makes no sense. Altho, there are people who do think they’re God, and have the right to act as such, like dictators (but the problem is, they’re not God). And then there are those, who are the opposite, who think they have no right or willingness to defend or protect anyone, like pacifists. - It is people that sound like you that live in one of the extremes and propagate such… and end up getting absolutely nothing done to protect the innocent.

I am against Capital punishment, because I don’t know the heart or know what really happened in any given case, like God does. But I am also not a pacifist… so I believe sometimes action is warranted. But, one thing I do know is that I am not God, so my actions should only go so far.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jennifer.

Certainly, the idea that the Canaanites were so wicked, it was mercy and grace to kill them is an idea that some theologians have proposed. I don’t personally think it deals with the interpretation issues for that text though. I’ve appreciated more the scholars who have looked at the symbolic role the Canaanites played as a foil for Israel as they established their identity as God’s covenant people. Like some of the other texts of the Old Testament (Eden, Noah, Jonah, Job), I think the Canaanite conquest is probably best understood as a theological narrative than as an account of history the way we understand history. Only whereas the other narratives were primarily establishing the character of God and his relationship to humanity, I think the conquest is really more a theological exploration of Israel’s self-conception.

Matt Lynch has a new book out that I hear deals with the Canaanite conquest really insightfully. Here is an OnScript podcast that many people have found helpful:


One aspect that may be good to remember is that God has accommodated His message to the ancient people in the sense that the message has been told within the worldview and practices of the listeners, not according to modern knowledge and ethics. The world of the ancient Near East (ANE) was cruel, full of unjustice and violence. In this context, the commands in the Torah were relatively advanced and ‘humane’, although these laws and commands may seem to be harsh or even barbaric when looked through our modern worldview.

Another point was already told by @Christy. Narratives in the OT were theological texts, not modern-style documentation of history, and hyperbolic expressions were part of ‘normal’ telling of narratives. That can be easily seen by comparing what was written in the books of Joshua and Judges. In the book of Joshua, the story is told without much details, telling that all area was taken and people killed. When the story continues in the book of Judges, we start to see details. Many Canaanites lived among Israelites and some Canaanites ruled their territory so that Israel could not take the area immediately. Is there a conflict between the books of Joshua and Judges? My answer is no. The books look from different perspectives and with different messages. In Joshua, it is the big picture without details - we took the land with the help of JHVH (victory). In Judges, the perspective changes to details and the message is different - you let the Canaanites live among you and you will suffer because of that and all the other wrong decisions made by you (why the blessing and victory changed to a curse and repeated defeats).


I am not convinced that God ever does stop suffering Himself. He might inspire someone or some people but my reading of the New Testament would stop short of direct intervention (answer to prayer excepted)


I know God intervenes, because He has done it in my life countless times. I know there are those who believe God is a hands-off God, but I don’t at all. His whole reason for creating us was for relationship. Father-child relationship, which would not be hands-off.

What I find interesting about the responses, and about many other views of God I’ve read about, is that people want to bring God down to their level. They really do not like the idea that He is God and acts like God. Religion does the same thing. They try and box God up, make Him smaller - make Him manageable, less powerful and more like us. They would prefer to deal with God on their terms instead of God’s.

I shared this same response with Richard… “What I find interesting about the responses, and about many other views of God I’ve read about, is that people want to bring God down to their level. They really do not like the idea that He is God and acts like God. Religion does the same thing. They try and box God up, make Him smaller - make Him manageable, less powerful and more like us. They would prefer to deal with God on their terms instead of God’s”.

I have read and know of countless writings through the years that discount or try to change or minimize the stories of God showing His power and responses to evil. It is a human trait to want to make God more controllable… and less-God. It is threatening to those who view God through the lense of their own biases, fears and pride. The biggest reason I believe people do these things is because they do not know Him. They have not truly gotten to know Him personally. Because if they had there would be no reason to be scared of His power and might.

I do not always, as I said in my starting post, believe every word of every bible translation. But I would not try and take away or minimize the stories of how He handled barbaric and evil societies. He IS God. Every other “god” that is worshipped out there has human lusts or other human traits or proclivities… which comes from humans trying to bring God down to our level.

We still have those evil societies and associations today, but they are very covert. God has not changed, but after His incarnation - Jesus - He wants to change hearts. ----> The OT showed us important things. It showed us Gods power and how He has handled evil, and that rules (the law) are but a temporary fix because they cannot change hearts, and so forth… all pointing ahead to our need for a Savior… and what He would prefer to do and has had in mind all along. To deal with people on a personal level and change hearts.

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Hello, Jennifer. I’m also a Jennifer. Welcome to BioLogos.

I hope you won’t mind if I say I sense something of a contradiction between your belief that members here are trying to bring God down to their level while at the same time you profess that the original biblical writings are without error.

I’ve read what you say about incorrect translations and so on, but really, when efforts are made to squeeze all that God is into just one set of texts (some of which are mutually exclusive in terms of what they say about God), aren’t you doing the same thing?

I do agree with you when you say we’re not God (though some people in the world certainly do think they’re God) and I agree with you that God does intervene in our lives. But I think you’ll find that if you patiently read the posts made here by longstanding members, nobody is claiming to be God or to want God to be smaller than God really is. We’re all just stumbling along and trying to help each other better hear God’s voice in our daily lives.



Greetings, and welcome. I’ve wondered these same questions. I really like @Christy 's link to Matt Lynch’s thoughtful discussion, which helps a lot. I really like Randal Rauser’s books on this, too–he is exceptionally compassionate and thoughtful.

In my own opinion, if God could provide manna and water in the wilderness, He could have taken care of the kids. However, it is far from clear to me that all the adults deserved death–they were brought up in a crazy culture, and only practiced what they knew, in some cases. Most people, in order to having a functional society, really cared for their children.

I just finished reading the “Anne of Green Gables” series with my wife and kids. In “Rilla of Ingleside,” the final book, an 8 year old, little boy, Bruce, who is very devout, kills his beloved, innocent kitten in the hopes that God would bring back Jem, a young man who was wounded and missing at the World War 1 battle front. We could not finish reading the story aloud to my 10 year old daughter (and it was hard to discuss it aloud with my wife and 16 and 13-year old boys). It is an illustration, to me, of how even tender hearted children get the impression that we have to give up our best loved and most innocent members in order to pacify a harsh God. In the book, it was accepted, and the parents did not so much sicken at the killing of the kitten, as at whether the boy, Bruce, would be disappointed if God did not, in response, bring the young man, Jem, back alive.

In the Ancient Near East, children were the greatest treasures they had. Sacrificing them, as with Abraham and the (involuntary) sacrifice of Job; and killing of the family of Korah; and the first born sons of the Egyptians; was the greatest suffering you could inflict. I think, in the same way, the Canaanites who did sacrifice their children likely did that in order to get the best leverage on the gods–those that did so–and I am sure it was not even the majority-- gave up their greatest treasure.

It shows how the harshness of the environment changes our understanding of God and justice.

Is it the fact that we live in an easier environment that has allowed us to look at things differently? We have our own failings, too.

Thank you for the great discussion.


That is not the same thing.

We look at the written word and we have to understand it within our own framework. I feel you have read me wrong.

When God intervenes into our lives as Christians He does so with out full permission. That is very different from imposing Himself on the ignorant or those who have rejected Him.

It is not about bringing God down to our size it is about God bringing Himself down to our size. Jesus was a man, as much human as it was possible to be. As Paul wrote, he dd not consider his greatness, but lowered Himself down. I have no illusions about the grandeur and position of God. I am reluctant even to consider His make up and presence, although being trinity Sunday I was forced to. However, to have a meaningful relationship with God I have to dismiss all notions of hierarchy or status. It is no longer about fear and awe. God has come down to us and we disrespect Him by trying to make it otherwise.


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I was really impacted by an idea I first heard communicated by Kenton Sparks that the reason the Canaanite genocide strikes people as inconsistent with God’s character and the reason they feel compelled to “deal with it” somehow isn’t really because they are trying to “bring God down to their level” though. It’s because their morality and vision of who God is has been shaped by God’s revelation in Jesus and by their own encounters with God’s love and grace through the Holy Spirit and they are trying to resolve a disconnect between who God has revealed himself to be in the very same Bible and who they know God to be from their own experience with that particular description of God in Joshua. God does act like God, but who God has revealed himself to be is loving and compassionate, full of mercy, abounding in patience, and faithful to every generation. That’s who he says he is in the Bible. So to try to figure out how all that fits with the conquest isn’t trying to bring God down to our human level, it’s trying to bring the text (which humans wrote) up to God’s level.


I never said everyone here is doing that. (Btw, I haven’t read all the responses, so I dont know what everyone said yet). If anything, some… which means just 2 or maybe 3… of the wording I am reading reminds me of what I see happening around me. I just started here, so I do not know all of the beliefs of your “long standing members”. I came in here thinking that maybe I could talk about my beliefs without strong debate or criticism. Richard has been very blunt about his views, but at the same time gracious… which is something I strive for, altho don’t always hit the mark. I don’t know, maybe this is not the place for me.


Hello Jennifer, welcome to the forum! And thank you for your question.

There are several responses to the killing of the Canaanites:

  1. Seeing it as a theological story and not as history.
  2. Arguing that it is historical, but that the text uses hyperbole (i.e., in reality not everyone was killed).
  3. Viewing it as history.

My own position is 3. (with the caveat that the Israelites did not carry out the command as they should have).

I’ll explain why I think so.

Response 2. is not supported by the text. In Deuteronomy 20, herem (translated as “completely destroy”) is equated with the killing of everything that breathes.

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

(Deuteronomy 20:16-18, NIV)

The contrast with what is to be done with non-Canaanite cities (kill the adult men but leave alive the women, children and livestock to take as plunder) a few verses earlier suggests “anything that breathes” is indeed every human and animal. (Just as even Achan’s animals were killed.)

Response 1. has several problems. In 1 Samuel 15 Saul is ordered to herem the Amalekites.

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy [herem] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

(1 Samuel 15:3, NIV)

Saul is even rejected as king because he did not execute this as ordered. So even if you can explain away the Conquest as ahistorical, there is still this (much later) story.

And if the Israelites started to behave as the former inhabitants, the command to “not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18) would be applied to them:

you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands.

(Deuteronomy 13:15-17, NIV)

Besides, herem warfare was not unheard of in these times. King Mesha wrote on his stele:

And the men of Gad dwelled in the country of Ataroth from ancient times, and the king of Israel fortified Ataroth. I assaulted the wall and captured it, and killed all the warriors of the city for the well-pleasing of Chemosh and Moab, and I removed from it all the spoil, and offered it before Chemosh in Kirjath; and I placed therein the men of Siran, and the men of Mochrath. And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men…women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh.

Mesha Stele - Wikipedia

Of course the 7.000 figure is not realistic. But it shows that herem meant devoting everything - humans, livestock and other loot - to your god.

This sounds very, very harsh to our modern ears (including my own). But as John and Harvey Walton write in their book The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest:

in the logic of the cognitive environment of ancient Israel, God was not commanding Joshua to do a thing that should never be done. Those parallels are therefore an example of bad cultural translation. Joshua is conducting a war in a generally similar manner to the way wars were conducted in the ancient world.

(p. 11)

For the Israelites it would have made sense: “This is Yahweh’s war, not ours. So we are not allowed to profit from it. There will be no spoils of war: no slaves, no livestock.”

So, the Conquest was not for personal enrichment. That’s why everything had to be destroyed. That the Israelites were allowed to take loot at Ai was probably a concession by Yahweh, to make sure what Achan had done wouldn’t happen again.

I suppose it is also hard for us modern individualistic people to understand that the decisions of one affect everyone who he or she is responsible for, either in a good way (Rahab) or a bad way (Achan).

Killing everyone would also have the effect of preventing idolatry. To get to Christ, the Israelites needed a country. And to become a people who obeyed God’s laws, every negative influence had to be removed.

If the little Canaanite children were left alive, you would also have to spare their mother. There was no infant formula in those times. And, as far as we know, children were breastfed for at least around three years (2 Chronicles 31:16, 2 Maccabees 7:27).

Also, something like adoption (as we know it today) wouldn’t have come to their minds. Those children would have become slaves. The girls could possibly be married into the (Israelite) family. But boys could never own land and would always remain slaves. And with some of them old enough to remember you killed their parents… That would be quite a risk for the Israelites.

Nonetheless, I think a case can be made that Canaanites were spared if they converted. The Gibeonites were still under the (herem) ban, yet they could not be killed because of the covenant Joshua had made with them (under false pretences). They were still removed from human use though by being made servants of the sanctuary. (Herem literally means "to remove from human use”.) 2 Samuel 21:2 explains the Gibeonites still were a different ethnicity at the time of Saul, so that means they did not convert to Yahwism.

Rahab did though. She shed her Canaanite identity and was spared. (In a certain sense her Canaanite identity was indeed “removed from human use”.) Perhaps Rahab was the exception (because of the spies’ oath). But it could have been the case that other Canaanites would have been allowed to join if they converted.

All in all, I think a strong case can be made that Yahweh did indeed order the killing of every man, woman and child in Canaan. (Whether the Israelites actually did this does not change the initial command.)


If you are interested in interacting with other thoughtful people, many of them Christians of varied sorts, and can have just thick enough skin to put up with pushback, which everyone here will get, sometimes even productive pushback as in iron sharpening iron, then this is definitely the place for you! And I hope you will stay. But those who are here only to platform their own views with no real intent of seriously engaging any others … They usually find this isn’t the place for them.


I am sorry, but platforms like this seem to encourage or at least attract those who think there job is to teach or convert. The knack is to read but not take offence or see it as an attack on your own beliefs. It can be very helpful to understand what people believe and why, but we are all individuals whose experiences vary. At the end of the day your faith is between you and God (or not if that is your viewpoint)



The modern experience of God is that he is indistinct and reticent to communicate directly. The further back in Scripture (history) you go the more forthright God appears. There are those today who claim God gives them specific task and jails are full of religious fanatics who think God is above human law. We have to take Scripture in the context of its setting.
There is also the maxim that history is written by the victors.


What do you mean with forthright? I think Jesus’ life on earth was the most forthright appearance of God. And that was centuries after the last book of the Hebrew Bible was written. (Or almost two centuries, if you date [certain parts of] Daniel to the Maccabean period.)

So what should God have ordered the Israelites to do when conquering Canaan?

Yet this doesn’t seem to be such a case. Rather, the Book of Judges tells us that the Israelites forced the Canaanites to do forced labour for them, instead of driving the Canaanites away or putting them to the sword. Which, to no surprise, causes the the Israelites to commit idolatry.

Why make up a story that God (or from a more secular point of view, Moses) commanded you to destroy the Canaanites, but you did not obey the order and even joined them in their idolatry and immoral behaviour?