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There seems to be instances when God tolerates sin, since it is an improvement over the cultural conditions of the time. For instance, the laws regarding the treatment of slaves some have argued were encouraging people to treat slaves as human, and thereby eventually leading to the world we have today, in large part, which sees slavery as a great moral crime. Or requiring a rapist to marry the woman he raped is progressive. The argument goes that during this time in history, if a woman was raped she was essentially soiled for life; no one would want to marry her afterwards. This law is essentially forcing the rapist to take responsibility for his crime, and see that the woman is taken care of (materially at least, or in some sense, though it is hard to imagine today).

There are other times where God is incapable of tolerating sin, there are examples of the death penalty being used in punishment of transgression of the Sabbath, keeping spoils of war, striking your parents, etc.

How then can God be seen as a consistent moral law giver given these seeming contradictions?

Edit For context, this is a question that I hear a lot from atheists as to why it is not rational to believe Christianity (or Judaism) in a particular. It is one I have a hard time answering. I am wondering what the Christian reply is.

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<Obsolete comments removed.> –  El'endia Starman Oct 10 '11 at 3:50
    
Related question on philosophy.stackexchange.com: Are there non-divine objective standards of good/evil –  Sven Oct 10 '11 at 6:58
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2 Answers

This question has been burning in my mind for days now, and I'm sad to see that nobody gave another answer. I have another one that I think may be true, even though it contradicts my other one.

In thinking back about how I got saved, one of the things that happened was a breaking down of my preconceptions. One of those preconceptions was this one - that the God of the Bible is inconsistent and amoral.

My mind was changed on this subject before I did finally give in and turn to Christ. My mind had to have been changed, or I wouldn't have turned to Christ at all.

For me, personally, the breakdown became as I looked at children and their parents. Parents often give their children restrictions that the children think are "mean".

Example: My son, Joseph, once called me a big meanie because I spanked him for running out into the highway. He'd snuck out of the house and I saw him just as he was walking up the ditch to the highway and by the time I got the four feet from the window out to the door, he was actually in the road. I was terrified.

Now, say what you will about spanking, he got one because I would rather have him afraid of another spanking than to have him not remember the lesson that he is not to go onto the road. That may be mean, and plenty of people may think that spanking is cruel, but I love him and I would rather be cruel and save his life than be gentle and lose him.

I also teach my kids not to fight, to turn the other cheek, and all of the things we are supposed to teach our kids.

However, I also tell my children that if they are being attacked, and they have to fight to defend themselves, that they need to fight back, and fights as hard and as dirty as necessary to protect themselves. They're young, but they understand the difference between punching someone because they said "Star Wars is for babies" and fighting back when retreat isn't an option, or if you're facing a bully that must not be submitted to.

Some might say that this is inconsistent. I'm teaching them not to fight in one situation, and I'm teaching them to fight in another.

I don't see it as inconsistent at all. I see it as teaching my kids to be kind, patient, forgiving, and loving, while not expecting them to risk serious harm to themselves. In other words, it's about protecting them while ensuring they are not someone the world needs to be protected from.

Looking at God's "inconsistency" and "cruelty" in the Bible (as defined by these people) I see a God who sees the nation of Israel the same way I see my children. When God told them to kill each and every person (in my other answer) He was aware of the fact that the people from these other nations would corrupt His chosen people. He was acting out of love for His children.

He, unlike me, is omniscient. He did what was necessary to protect not only Israel, but everyone who would later be saved through Israel. And He acts towards them (and us) the way a loving father does to his children.

So as an amendment to my original answer, if you can get past some basic objections, and you have someone whose heart is not dead-set against the God of the Bible, then it probably is possible to show that God is a consistent moral lawgiver. (Because He is.)

And you'll have a easier time doing it if that person has children. It's so easy to show how God's love (and anger) is similar to the love and anger a parent feels for a child. It's something any parent can relate to.

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I wouldn't have answered this had you not added the context. However, with the context added....

It sounds like what you're looking for is an answer that will sound reasonable to an atheist that's asking this question. As a former atheist and anti-theist, who thought that the Christian God was not only made-up, but that the (Please forgive me, Lord) "God that these Christians made up" was cruel, evil, and unjust, I'm sorry to say that there is no argument that can be given to someone with this mindset.

There are some things that God has commanded that are very hard to understand without the proper understanding of God's nature. Understanding God's nature, and his view of sin is necessary to answer questions, such as "How could a moral God command the Israelites to kill all of the inhabitants of the various lands they took in Deuteronomy?".

To answer these questions alone sound hollow. The answers are completely unsatisfying to an atheist that doesn't even believe that God exists, much less is wiser than us.

For samples question and Christian answer, see this link: http://www.rationalchristianity.net/genocide.html

The first question and answer:

Why were the cities destroyed?

The primary reason was punishment for wrongdoing. The populations of the destroyed cities had long histories of grievous sins (Gen 15:16, Dt 25:17-19), which often included sacrificing their children to false gods (Dt 12:29-31). Their consciences should have told these people they were doing wrong. Had they listened and changed their ways, they would not have been destroyed. God has said that if any nation is about to be destroyed as punishment but repents, he will forgive them and not destroy them (Jer 18:7-8). In fact, this occurred in the city of Ninevah (Jonah 3:4-10).

In the cities that were given to the Israelites as their inheritance, there was a secondary reason: totally depraved cultures were destroyed so that they would not corrupt the Israelites into committing the same evil acts (Dt 7:1-4, 20:16-18). This did in fact occur: when the Israelites didn't obey God and destroy cities, they too began practicing child sacrifice (Ps 106:34-40).

Additionally, the destruction of wicked nations served as an instructive warning to contemporaries (Josh 2:1-11) and future generations (1 Cor 10:1-11).

The above answer is completely unsatisfying to an atheist, who believes that the God of the Bible is made up. In order for the explanation to sound reasonable, we ahve to first accept that

  • God exists
  • He is the God described in the Bible
  • He knows better than us
  • He is righteous and incapable of doing wrong, therefore his actions were righteous.

An atheist, particularly, and anti-theist believes none of that. Pretty much every answer to the questions about God's apparent "immorality" are based on an initial assumption. That God exists and is good. That becomes circular reasoning, and an atheist can recognize it. To satisfy an atheist, you would have to first convince them that God exists and that He is the God of the Bible.

Personally, when confronted with this type of question while witnessing, I answer honestly and say, "If you can accept that God might exist, I can answer this question, and it probably won't satisfy you. If you believe firmly that He doesn't exist, then nothing I can say will answer this for you..." and move on to something else.

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By the way, I don't like this answer, but I still believe it to be the true. –  David Stratton Oct 5 '11 at 3:52
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+1, it's true ;) –  Sven Oct 5 '11 at 9:42
    
+1 Excellent answer. I particularly like how you describe your past and what you answer when confronted with this question. –  dcreight Sep 20 '12 at 16:13
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