How could God command a person to commit murder and genocide, which must have caused moral, psychological, and emotional trauma?
Lately I have been wondering about the atrocities of murder, genocide,
etc. today. I do not have a problem understanding the existence of evil or
human suffering. But throughout the OT God told the Israelites to conduct
genocide; including the murder of women and children. I can accept
instances like Sodom and Gomorrah were God himself did the destruction.
But recently I have considered the depravity that is required to kill
viciously. How could God command a person to commit such acts which must
have caused moral, psychological, and emotional trauma? An illustration of
this question is to consider the lack of compassion required for an
Israelite to kill a young child or pregnant mother because God instructed
him to, even if they were evil in God’s eyes. I am not sure if it is the
same as Abraham’s test. However, an answer you gave on your website
required me to clarify my question. I understand that as humans we
sometimes dread the 1st death more than the 2nd death. But the effect of
vicious murder on the killer is what I am concerned with; not the death
You ask a question which does not avail itself of an easy
answer. In a sense, it is an irrelevant question for us, as none of us are
asked by God in any to do such a thing under the New Covenant. Therefore,
to some extent this is really an academic question.
Nevertheless, because such a thing is in the Bible, we cannot
just blow it off. I certainly cannot ignore it personally. You are being
quite reasonable to assume that there were terrible consequences, not just
for the conquered peoples, but for those Israelites who were involved in
the various wars and the post-conquering destruction of certain
populations. Psychologists today recognize Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
to have devastating effects on people. While I can understand why God
chose to remove these people from his sight theologically, due to the
horrible sin and its inevitable effects on Israel, I cannot understand the
idea emotionally. I wish I had an easy answer for you. I can tell that you
are thinking clearly enough for yourself that there is probably little I
can say you have not already thought of.
Bottom line, terrible things happen in this world because of
sin and, indirectly, because God left his creation with the freedom of
choice to do evil. I could say that God had Israel eliminate these people
(rather than eliminating them some other, less violent way) in order to
teach them the seriousness and consequences of the blatant form of
idolatry and sexually-oriented worship which were endemic amongst their
neighbors. Intellectually, this answer works, but emotionally it does not.
I could say that God’s people had the support, based on God’s blessing to
recover from such a thing better than their neighbors might have–that as
terrible as such violent destruction was, the Jews were more able to
handle it emotionally because God had commanded them to do it. That still
does not eliminate the difficulty, even if it explains it. In the end, I
am forced to trust in the wisdom and inscrutable nature of the God who
created us. I do not have to agree with what he did, but I need to trust
that God loves me and that he wants the best for his creation–that as
terrible as the judgment was, it was best, in the long run, for God’s
Sorry to not have an easy answer.