Monday, June 20, 2022

Anonymous Asks (202)

“How could a good God drown babies in the Flood?”

Many terrible things happen to babies in this world: war, starvation, disease, domestic violence and abortion, just to mention a few. People often ask why God would allow men and women to do such things to one another. It’s an oversimplification, but the usual Christian answer is something like “free will”. People make choices, and choices have consequences. Take away choice, and you remove every opportunity for evil to occur. You also remove all possibility of voluntary good.

Today’s question bypasses altogether the things God allows and singles out a historical event for which the Bible assigns God direct responsibility. That’s more interesting, I think, and maybe less easy to answer.

Still, let’s take a crack at it.

The Right to Life

Let’s start with the basis for questioning God’s goodness.

Baked into our modern thinking is the idea of rights. Barring the commission of some horrible sin, we conclude we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That may make for a great and memorable line in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but it is not precisely biblical. None of us has a right to anything. We are created beings, and the life we have is a derived life. We do not grant it to ourselves, and we cannot determine when it will end. Moreover, we are all sinners. In one way or another, we have all forfeited any right to life we might have. Every human being ever born in all of history is in this position. The wages of sin is death, and “none is righteous, no not one.”

That includes babies, even when they have yet to commit a single rebellious act. Their fallen nature makes sin inevitable. As a result, they have no rights before God and no reason to call him unjust if they are not permitted to live out their days. “Every mouth may be stopped,” says the apostle Paul.

In short, the right to life is a human fiction. God does not owe us anything. He certainly did not owe the wicked people of the Flood era anything.

The Circumstances of the Flood

The circumstances of the Flood were unusual to say the least. Genesis records that apart from Noah, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and … every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Part of this precipitous spiritual decline probably had to do with the events described in Genesis 6:1-4, where the “sons of God” took wives from the “daughters of men”. These offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men were exceptional, not least in that they were giants, and not giants of the friendly sort.

Commentators differ as to what the phrase “sons of God” signifies, and we won’t get into that question here. Let’s just say the author of Genesis implies a cause-and-effect relationship between the proliferation of the Nephilim and the wickedness on the earth. Something had interfered with God’s creation and produced a new sort of being that may or may not have been fully human. Was it even possible for these entities to enter into the same sort of relationship with God that Noah had? Would we be able to attribute the same sort of innocence to them that we attribute to newly born babies? We cannot say with any certainty.

Moreover, even if the children of the Nephilim were fully human and had the potential for a relationship with God, the wickedness of their parents would have made that very difficult indeed. With rare exceptions, children become like their parents. A culture that is rotten to the core does not produce large quantities of good fruit, if any at all. Had God spared the babies of Noah’s day and simply judged their parents, it is reasonable to ask how Noah and his family might be expected to raise all these newly-orphaned children.

Death as the Worst Possible Outcome

There is another factor here that it might be hard for us to get our heads around, as most human beings tend to think of death as the worst possible punishment and the end of everything. That is not how God looks at it. Death is indeed the last enemy, a great wrong, and Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. It is also a great mercy. In a fallen world the only thing worse than death would be immortality, as God recognized when he barred man from Eden “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”. Eternal evil would have been an even worse outcome than death.

There are even times when God has granted death to men as a favor. When the child of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, became sick and his mother inquired of a prophet about him, she was told her son would certainly die: “All Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.” The circumstances in which this child was born were so horrendous that he was taken out of them early, not as an act of judgment but because God did not want him to experience what would otherwise have happened to him. We have difficulty processing such things, but that is because we don’t think about death the way God does. It is not always the worst possible outcome.

Able to Raise Him

Abraham certainly grasped God’s view of death as a temporary but necessary evil. The writer of Hebrews tells us that when tested, he offered up Isaac because “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead.” Doubtless he still had great difficulty with the idea of sacrificing his son, but Abraham thought differently about death. He knew death only has temporary dominion, that God can remedy it at any time if he chooses to, and that ultimately decisions about who lives and who dies must be left to God, where they belong.

I think Abraham had the right idea here. He knew that the Judge of all the earth always does what is just. Certainly Abraham is commended for his exceptional trust in God, not critiqued for his lack of love to Isaac.

We are wise to follow his example.

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