#3 Post of 2013 – If God Can Kill, Why Can’t We?

Critics of Christianity sometimes point to passages in the Bible where God takes human life, and they ask, “Isn’t God breaking his own commandment to not kill?” If God can ignore the sixth commandment, then isn’t it hypocritical for him to expect us to obey it?

Does this argument really work, though? No. It fails in multiple ways.

First, the sixth commandment is not a blanket command to never take human life. It is a command to not take human life without proper justification. This can be clearly seen by reading the commandment in context with the rest of the Bible. God allows human life to be taken in self-defense and he upholds the right of the state to administer capital punishment. Clearly, then, the sixth commandment does not simply mean, “Never kill for any reason whatsoever.”

Second, the ten commandments were God’s commands to mankind, so they are not to be applied to God in the same way they are applied to us. God is infinite in being; we are not. God is the first cause of everything that exists; we are not. God is the creator (efficient cause) of human life; we are not. God is all-knowing; we are not. God is all-wise; we are not.

Third, since God possesses divine attributes that we do not possess, it is a gross error to compare God’s taking human life with our taking human life. As the guarantor of life after death, philosopher Paul Copan reminds us that “any harm caused [by God] due to specific purposes in a specific context would be overshadowed by divine benefits in the afterlife.”

This is a crucial point: God promises an afterlife for everyone. Only he can do that, as no human has that power. As the all-wise, all-knowing guarantor of the afterlife, he is uniquely justified in taking human life.

Analogously, we grant judges the power to send people to prison because they are in a unique position to know the facts of the case, and they are uniquely trained to know and administer the law. We don’t allow random citizens to sentence criminals, as they lack the knowledge and experience to imprison people in a just way. Power over human life is granted depending on the knowledge and wisdom of the one who would be in power.

Why can’t we kill? Because we lack God’s knowledge, his wisdom, and his creative power. We are finite beings who see through a glass darkly. That is why we leave life and death decisions to God.

  • Bill Pratt,

    I am curious. Is it possible there is any moral precept whereby a situation would exist where it would be immoral for God to kill a human?

    Or can God kill any human at any time for any reason without moral impingement?

  • Because of who God is, he may take human life at any time without moral impingement, as you put it. He will only take life in order to further the ultimate goodness of his creation.

  • Ann

    The way I’ve always understood it is that killing is absolutely permissible. It is murder that is not permissible. I do not understand why some translations translate Deuteronomy 5:17 as “kill” instead of the more correct word “murder.” Even in the Hebrew, the two words are different. “Râtsach” is the word that should be translated to “murder” and if anyone does a word search, they will see how it is used in context. There are several other Hebrew words that we translate to “kill” which is not a sin.

    I can see absolutely no reason why the translators used the word “kill” when “murder” should have been used as it is more accurate. It’s not like we did not have the word “murder” when the Scriptures were being translated in the KJV. That same Hebrew word was translated as “murder” in Jeremiah 7:9 but for some odd reason, the translators decided not to use “murder” in the 10 commandments and used “kill” which really changes the whole meaning of the commandment.

  • Doug

    As far as our earthly life is concerned, the death rate for humans is 100% (except for Elijah and Enoch) – God has written death into the script of life. God even repented of making man. Then used a flood to start anew. God takes human life as He sees fit, and it not for us to decide the good or evil of it. Ravi Zacharia makes a good point in his book “The Grand Weaver” – God gave man authority to name all of creation, but man was not to define or name good and evil – that was to remain God domain – but man rebelled. Now man tries to make God subject to a morality defined by man – which ends up causing problems for man

  • staircaseghost

    And because of who God is, may he delegate specific implementations of this executive power to a duly authorized agent?

  • He did that in the past at specific times under specific conditions (e.g., national Israel entering the Promised Land).

  • staircaseghost

    So the 9/11 hijackers’ only real failing was epistemic, not moral. They simply lacked intellectual access to the correct scriptural commands regarding who can be killed.

    Given their genuine and sincere belief that they had been granted this authority you say exists to murder indiscriminately, surely you will say they deserve some leeway for acting just as any reasonable person would, given the circumstances.

    Tell us all again how it is gay marriage and access to contraception are the great moral threats of our age, and not the notion in the year two thousand and flippin’ thirteen that mass killing in the name of God is A-OK?

  • I’ve re-read my comment several times and I fail to see anything about 9/11 hijackers being justified in their murder. Perhaps you would like to put together a coherent argument that gets from my comment to your bizarre conclusions.

  • decathelite

    Thought experiment here: What if someone grew up under what we would think of as a totalitarian government – where said government routinely executed seemingly random people, every time calling its own actions “good”. If you were brought up in such a society, you would grow up learning (through continual weekly reinforcement) that this government was good. You might learn arguments to use against outsiders who told you this government was corrupt.

    I think you’ve been brought up under a totalitarian celestial government, one that commits moral atrocities but continually tells you that its actions are justified, because they are allowed to do whatever they want for their own purposes, albeit mysterious.

    We look at North Korea today and see this exact thing happening. But if you were brought up in North Korea, you would have been brought up to love the government, even though they kill and torture their own people. I think it’s time to realize that North Korea is not at all different than a celestial one, and that there’s really no good reason to think that this celestial government exists at all.

  • decathelite

    The problem is that God doesn’t actually show up to dictate whose lives may be taken; it’s only people claiming to know God’s will and thus claiming to have a divine mandate for killing. By claiming that killing such and such a group is part of God’s plan, followers will go out and kill even though it was really a part of the human leader’s plan.

  • From Ed Braytons Blog

    But wait. The usual excuse for the God-demanded slaughtering of the Midianites, Amelikites, and others is that those were very bad people so God was justified in killing them. So God is “promising” them that they’ll burn in hell for eternity, so that somehow becomes a justification for killing them now? Was he just too impatient to wait to send them to the lake of fire?

    All of these are post hoc rationalizations, of course. And none of them make any sense. Anyone who claims that God tells them to commit genocide is a barbaric madman. And any God that might exist that would order genocide is also a barbaric madman.

  • “This can be clearly seen by reading the commandment in context with the rest of the Bible. God allows human life to be taken in self-defense and he upholds the right of the state to administer capital punishment.”

    Or, to put it differently, the rest of the Bible contradicts the 6th Commandment. So much for inerrancy.

  • “Why can’t we kill? Because we lack God’s knowledge,” “God allows human life to be taken in self-defense and he upholds the right of the state to administer capital punishment. ”

    Contradiction right there. And when does Jesus say killing in self-defense is alright?

    If the afterlife compliments the suffering you endure here on earth, that god willed upon you, why is that not provided to animals who can consciously suffer, apperceptively like chimps and gorillas? And why not for in Neanderthals? Why no mercy for them? I struggle to find this compatible with an all-loving, morally perfect god incapable of unwarranted cruelty.

  • Yet he kills millions of babies every year because he wants to ” further the ultimate goodness of his creation” and yet he allowed Adolph Hitler and Stalin to live.

  • sean

    It’s funny, I was about to suggest you cover this topic, though specifically with respect to Hitler, but then I saw the front page.

    With respect to your first point, I agree the sixth commandment is highly limited in scope, as demonstrated by God’s many commandments to put people to death for breaking various rules he creates. Like collecting wood on the wrong day of the week, clearly deserving of the death penalty. While your post is specifically with regard to violating the sixth commandment, I’ll point out that we violate a lot of other ones too.

    With regard to your second point, it would stand to reason that in certain instances it is justified for a person to kill a person without God’s permission if in that scenario we know beyond a shadow of a doubt the guilt of the alleged criminal. You agree, making a later analogy to human appointed Judges. It does beg the question though, as to why we don’t appoint people to pray to God to determine if a person is guilty or not. Surely God wants proper justice to be administered, no?

    To your third point, this seems the weakest by far. Additionally, it seems the most necessary if in addition to consistency the sixth commandment, you also wish to use attributes like perfectly moral and all-loving to describe God. Now, are you saying that the millions of people God killed or had killed in the Bible were all guaranteed a spot in heaven? What is the point of killing them as a punishment then? That’s just a reward for disobeying God! How on Earth is that a punishment? Or is it enough to promise that they’ll go to either Heaven or Hell? Your wording was rather vague. To the point though, that’s going to be true even if we kill a person. Hitler could promise that. I’d be willing to bet he probably did promise that by openly stating somewhere that the people he killed were going to Hell and deserved it. Is Nazi Germany now acceptable? Certainly it could’ve been if we replaced Hitler with God. I’ll bet you almost every single person Hitler killed did some form of work on the sabbath, which is an acceptable reason to kill people according to God.

    Your final paragraph completely disagrees with the one before it about human judges. It says we should leave it to God, which again calls up my question of why not pray to god for verdicts, or better yet, convict no one to the death sentence? If God knows they are guilty he can kill them himself, and he’ll never accidentally get an innocent man like we might. Moreover, this idea that we should leave killing to God disagrees with the fact that God demands that we kill over certain actions. To not kill is to disobey God. I’m reminded of the man who was killed for refusing to hit God’s prophet.

    There is simply no way to justify these killings. Certainly, you can say they are consistant with the sixth commandment. On that much I agree, but really not much else, and I feel like you’re implying much else despite the limited scope of the title. At the very least you believe this ‘much else.’

  • Sean,
    No offense meant, but your comment rambles on without any point that I can see to respond to. Is it possible for you to make one point you’d like me to address? I honestly don’t know what to make of your comment.

  • sean

    I can see where that might be the case. It was mostly a general response with my thoughts.

    I think the most pressing point here would be to clear up what you mean by your third point. Is it meant to say that god will save everyone he kills by guaranteeing them a path to heaven or just an afterlife in general? I don’t understand how someone who believes in the truth of Christianity, or Islam, cannot make equal claims. Certainly all adherents to those religions believe strongly enough in an afterlife that they will dedicate a heavy amount of their time here on Earth to the religion. And if God guarantees a path specifically to heaven for those he kills, well then I fail to see where god killing people serves as justice for sins.