As I spoke with an atheist one day who struggled to comprehend the possibility of the existence of God, he posed a few questions. He did not pose these questions in order to “stump” me, but out of a genuine curiosity and difficulty on wrapping his head around the idea of a divine being.
As we spoke, he referenced a few evil things that were taking place around the world and asked, “If God is all-powerful and all good as the Bible teaches, then why does evil still exist? Why doesn’t He do away with all evil?” Later, he asked another question, “Why does God command the genocide of entire nations in the Old Testament? Is that not unloving?” I am not sure how he felt walking away after I attempted to answer these questions. Yet there is one thing I learned that day, we must be prepared to answer the questions and objections that are brought against the faith (1 Peter 3:15)!
These questions sum up the two common accusations typically made against God by atheists or skeptics:
- If God is good and all-powerful, then why does evil exist?
- If God is good, then why does He command the annihilation of a people in the Old Testament?
Good and All-Powerful
As the question of God being good and all-powerful is posed by atheists, we can counter with another question, “How do you know what good is?” You see, “good” has to be defined by something. If we are defining good by our own standards, what would Hitler or Stalin define it as? The question then lies, if you are attempting to define good by your own standards, what makes you moral arbiter of the universe?
We cannot say good is defined as “being nice to one another” because the bulk of society wants to be nice to people and people to be nice to them. Why? Because, who said so? Here I refer you to the moral argument for God’s existence. Without an objective standard for morality, morality is simply conjecture rather than concrete truth.
Old Testament Command
Again, we can answer a question with a question. As Frank Turek would respond, “By what standard are you judging the God of the Bible?” To understand why God commanded the extermination of the Canaanites, we must understand the backstory leading up to why He did so.
In the preparation of taking the promised land–Canaan–God told the Israelites that it was not because of their own righteousness that they would be taking the land, but because of the wickedness of the nations inhabiting Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:4–5). What specifically is this wickedness that was taking place? Well, one example was child sacrifice. The Canaanites worshiped a statue idol by the name of Molech. As offerings to Molech, they would place their infants in the idol’s arms while burning a fire underneath (Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 12:31). The tribal people would play drums so that they wouldn’t have to hear the screams of their son or daughter burning to death. This was the kind of evil God was dealing with! He was simply protecting His people from falling into the same evil that they were in (Deuteronomy 20:16–18). He was showing that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)!
Thus, God has a justification for what He does in the Old Testament in taking the land of Canaan. He is actually answering the atheists objection of God being good and all-powerful, by dealing with the problem of evil!
So, what is the problem with the two questions taken together? Let us note that God is all-powerful as well as good. When God deals with the problem evil in the Old Testament, by doing away the evil people amongst the earth, atheists accuse Him of evil Himself. But, God is being good by getting rid of evil. Thus, the two questions, taken together, are actually self-refuting when taken in context of the Bible.
As I look back on answering the questions posed by my atheist friend, I would point out the incompatibility of these questions when taken together. If an atheist is going to attempt to refute Scripture or the God of Scripture, then they must actually read Scripture to know what they are refuting. Let us point them to the all-loving, all-powerful God of the Bible!