Whenever dealing with deep theological and philosophical issues, all wise persons tend to let their minds wander toward Star Wars, especially the original trilogy, Episodes IV, V, and VI (that’s 4, 5 and 6 for those of you who don’t speak ancient Greek).
I recently heard a question which comes up frequently when people are pondering the existence, character, and nature of God, which is “How do you reconcile the peace and love talk of Jesus with the war and genocide actions of God in the Old Testament?”
Sometimes people will just frame this question about the “slaughter of the Canaanites” which always makes me want to ask them, “Why are you so concerned with the killing of the Canaanites? Do you even KNOW any Canaanites? OF COURSE NOT! They’re all DEAD! For all you know they were the biggest jerks in the universe which YOU would have killed given half a chance!”
But it is a fair question. In the New Testament Jesus says “Love your neighbor” and in the Old Testament He apparently told the Israelites to kill all of the Canaanites. Seems like a sticky wicket doesn’t it?
You know, a lot of people got killed in Star Wars. In fact, there were THOUSANDS on the Death Star when Luke Skywalker blew the whole thing up. This means Luke Skywalker has killed THOUSANDS of people all by himself!
IS LUKE SKYWALKER A MORAL MONSTER?!?!?
Of course we all know he is not. And we know this because we know WHY Luke blew up the Death Star. He did it because the Death Star was itself an evil engine of death which brought an end to millions of lives, and threatened the entire galaxy. It was too evil to leave alone. In fact, if he COULD have blown it up and refused to, we could rightly call him a moral monster for refusing to do good when he could, and instead allowing millions of more innocents to die at the hands of the evil empire! So because the Storm Troopers worked for the evil Empire, they had no one to blame but themselves when they died. Let us also remember that they died in a huge and awesome explosion, where as many of us will die from over consumption of french fries.
And of course we all know that Storm Troopers were modeled on the Nazis. A lot of Nazis got killed too.
When President Franklin D Roosevelt sent American troops to Europe to kill Nazis and stop Hitler, surely he knew that this action would result in THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of German troops being killed- perhaps even German women and children. Why would he DO that? Was he a MORAL MONSTER?
Of course not. The Nazi’s were an evil bunch of jerks that you would have killed yourself given half the chance. When President Roosevelt send troops to kill them, it wasn’t because he was some kind of German hating racist, it was because the Nazis were evil and it was his responsibility to do what was within his power to stop them, just as it was Luke’s duty to stop the Death Star.
Getting back to the original question- WHY did God command the Israelite army to kill all of the Canaanites? Because they were evil jerks and it would have been wrong to let them go on forever. Just one point we’ve learned about these guys- they would sacrifice their own babies and children on pagan alters in ways which frankly are too horrific for me to tell you about. But it was horrible.
God tells the people in Genesis 15:16, he was patient with them until they became as evil as they were going to, and once they hit that whole “Murder Your Babies” thing, He decided that enough was enough and he had those evil jerks taken care of.
No, God is not a “Moral Monster” because of the killing of the Canaanites, or for any other reason. In fact, there are lots of reasons why the answer is and must be No. He was just as right to call for their end as Roosevelt was to send troops to Germany and Luke Skywalker was to blow up the Death Star. It is right to love our enemies, but sometimes they go too far and you MUST drop a torpedo down their ventilation shaft- metaphorically speaking.
Now I suggest you all go watch your copy of Star Wars, a New Hope, and remember #JesusLovesYou
If you want to read a more detailed and smarter explanation of the “Slaughter of the Canaanites” read this article by William Lane Craig.