Saturday, 1 March 2014

Everybody was killed - but why the children?


Genesis 19: 24 Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. 


Nathaniel Givens talks about a discussion of why presumably innocent children died when the city of Sodom was destroyed -

The assumption behind such discussions is that God could have destroyed the city while saving the children, if He had wanted to - but He chose not to.

Thus (it is being assumed) God chose to kill the children of Sodom when He did not need to.

And this was what the discussants were apparently trying either to justify or to critique - either to explain why God needed to kill the children, or else saying that God should not have killed the children.


However, I see a lot of scriptural evidence against the apparent background assumption that God can do anything He wants, so that things just become the way He wants. Like waving a magic wand and then - whoosh! everything is the way it should be...

In contrast, to me it looks as if - throughout the Bible - God usually accomplishes things in imperfect and roundabout ways, much as things are done in our mortal life. 


For example, just before the above passage from Genesis, two angels arrive to rescue Lot and his family, and they do so by a combination of good advice, persuasion and supernatural - but limited - power (making Lot's attackers blind so they couldn't find the door to where Lots family were hidden). It all sound very roundabout - not to say clunky and probabilistic.

Why not just wave that wand and in a trice Lot and Co. would instantly be somewhere safe?

The best example is, of course, the single greatest event of history:  the incarnation, life, teachings, joys and sufferings, atonement, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ - at a particular time and place of history; this is apparently an extraordinarily roundabout and seemingly contingent way of accomplishing the salvation of Man.


My point is that I find it conceivable that - given Sodom needed to be destroyed - the way it was destroyed was the best that could be managed. 

In any war, the same dilemma is found. If the war must be won, innocents will die. Even with perfect knowledge, even with steps taken to inflict the minimum of innocent death - there is necessarily a very heavy cost.

This kind of thing is a terrible tragedy - terrible for us, terrible for God. 

But - since neither we nor, apparently, God can 'wave a magic wand' and makes things just be the way we would want them to be - it seems unavoidable. 



George Goerlich said...

Ah, so the real question is "why is not the world already perfect." Then of course we wouldn't be here asking, for the wand would have sent us all in Heaven purified.

Certainly it is beyond my grasp, though intuitively it feels wrong to say God is limited by forces external or prior to Himself. Perhaps to intervene too overtly would destroy the world or otherwise bring the end times, and somehow abort-too-soon the ultimate purpose of this life?

Bookslinger said...

Excuse me if I'm repeating points made at the other blog.

Maybe the inhabitants had already sacrificed the children, and there were none. Child sacrifice seems to be a recurring theme in the OT, a sin which warranted destruction of a nation or society.

This also was not a unique situation of innocent children dying. It was, and is, a common occurance. Children and other innocents die all the time, every day. Would one prefer that children die in some catastrophe that is _not_ a direct action of God?

There has been a common speculation among LDS prophets (I don't know if it can be put forth as official doctrine) since the days of Joseph Smith. That the spirits (souls) of people who die before the age of accountability had already progressed in the pre-mortal existance to such a degree that they did not need the trials of a mortal life. Their only "need" was to gain a physical body, a tabernacle, for their spirit; a body into which they would later be resurrected for a glorious eternity. In other words, they got a 'bye', due to some condition or event from the pre-mortal existence. It's the rest of us who are deficient in some way and need to learn lessons via a mortal life.

God the Father knew those spirits, and chose them to be born or sent to earth at the time and place, and to the specific parents, where He knew, through His foreknowledge, what would befall them. I think this is a logical assumption, once the concept of the pre-mortal existance of spirits (souls) is taken as a given. Even if individual spirits had a degree of choice of where/when/to whom they were to be born, that choice would still have to be ratified somehow by He who is the giver of life.

To quote Epictetus from his Enchiridion:

"But what is it to you, by whose hands the giver demanded it back?"

Bruce B. said...

When we say God “can’t” do something, I imagine “can’t” not in terms of ability but rather as a statement that something is inconsistent with God’s nature or his relationship to his creation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - Yes, I know that is the usual way of expressing it - but for me this kind of can't reduces to 'does not want to' - since an omnipotent God can set things up in any way He wishes.

For me it really is a can't - these things always seem to be done via intermediaries such as men, angels or even animals (the Gadarene swine, Baalam's donkey etc) and the obvious reason is that this is the only way that God can work in this world.

Perhaps direct working is too crude and imprecise for earthly situations, like using a pneumatic jackhammer to crack a walnut - the nut would be obliterated, not cracked. So it may be God could obliterate the whole of Sodom by direct divine action (with fire from Heaven etc), but saving specific people from among the crowds required intermediary angels.

Bruce B. said...

Yes, but such a deterministic way of doing things (“an omnipotent God can set things up in any way He wishes”) wouldn’t be consistent with endowing his creation with the radical free will that you talk about.

ajb said...

Consider the parable of the wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30).

It seems pretty clear there that the farmer could remove the weeds, but only at a cost of some of the wheat (i.e., he cannot wave a magic wand and disentangle the wheat and weeds, but rather must act in a certain way to do so).