In a prior post we saw that the Canaanite childhood was full of terror and loathing. How could it not be when some friends and siblings were burnt to death in the arms of the bull-headed god Molech, family members raped them, and animals were brought into the house for sexual entertainment? Then in my last post on the Canaanites we saw why Israel could not adopt these children without the Israelites, themselves, becoming corrupted
In this post we answer the last question specifically regarding Canaanite children: how could it in any sense be fair for God to order their deaths? There are several things to say about this.
First, it is not always wrong to kill those innocent of wrongdoing. Of course that seems counterintuitive but Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan in their book, Did God Really Command Genocide?, provide a timely illustration:
Consider the following example. Four civilian airliners have been hijacked by terrorists. The terrorists are using these planes as weapons against a civilian population. Two planes have been flown into tall skyscrapers, destroying both buildings and killings thousands of men, women, and children. A third has been crashed into a university stadium during a sporting event, again killing thousands of people. The final plane is still in the air and in transit to a fourth civilian target. F-16s have intercepted the plane and ordered it to deviate from its course. The terrorists who have commandeered the plane refuse to comply. Is it justifiable for the president of the United States to order the plane to be shot down?
Copan and Flanagan go on to point out that most people will respond affirmatively and do so “despite knowing that shooting down a civilian airliner undoubtedly involves killing innocent men, women, and children who are on the plane.” 1 Of course everyone will be terribly upset that such a loss of life had to occur but I doubt that few, if any, would say that shooting down the plane was immoral.
Second, if God knows that these children would grow up corrupted and corrupting (and He would be able to know that), then God does no wrong in taking their lives before they have the opportunity to do serious harm.
Third, all Christians agree that this life isn’t all there is, and there is Scriptural reason to believe that Canaanite children were transferred to a better place—Heaven. Although Christians differ about whether all children go to heaven, many Christians, including many apologists such as Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and Greg Koukl, have argued that all who die before the age of accountability (see Deut. 1:39) will be saved.2 They base this on verses such as Luke 18:16–17, where Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all” (Luke 18:16–17 NASB). As theologian Millard Erickson asks, “Could it be that Jesus was using as the object lesson in his plea for a certain quality, individuals who did not actually embody that quality? That would seem strange indeed. Thus, if Jesus was affirming that those who would enter into the kingdom must be like these children, he seems to be asserting, as a premise in his argument, that these children were in the kingdom.”3
Regarding infants, Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson point out, “Although their reasons may differ depending on other theological commitments, and although some of their reasons are better than others, evangelicals generally agree that [deceased infants] will be in heaven.”4
It’s true that no Scripture unambiguously guarantees that children will be saved, but if they are, God would have good reason for not unambiguously making that clear, for then abortion and infanticide would guarantee a child’s salvation! Imagine the abuses that would occur from that knowledge! Whatever the case, we can rest in God’s love and mercy regarding their fate.
But, as I’ve asked before, should we take seriously the skeptic’s advocacy for Canaanite children? After all, doesn’t the average atheist’s complaint ring hollow since they’re usually at the forefront of defending a woman’s right to engage in Canaanite promiscuity and then to suction, scrape, or scald to death her unborn baby at any time and for any reason that results from the promiscuity? And some atheists, like Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, even think that infanticide is sometimes justified. He has “admitted” that “the position I have taken on abortion also justifies infanticide.” 5 Of course, this is one of the few times that the pro-life movement will think Singer has spoken with utter clarity and leads naturally to his conclusion that “killing a disabled infant” is “very often not wrong at all.”6 But for Singer the child doesn’t even have to be disabled because “the intrinsic wrongness of killing the late fetus and the intrinsic wrongness of killing the newborn infant are not markedly different.” For Singer this doesn’t justify “randomly killing babies” because legitimate “infanticide can only be equated with abortion when those closest to the child do not want it to live.”7 I’m sure the Canaanites would applaud Singer as a kindred spirit.
God as Creator alone has the right to determine when each shall live and die. (Job 1:20-21).
- Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2014), 199. [↩]
- See Norman Geisler, “What about Those Who Die Before the Age of Accountability?” The John Ankerberg Show, 2003. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFEUUUgN9tA&list=PLhZsAfleY-EY03_t8elVPxY_FV09Hb-wi&index=6; William Lane Craig, “Q & A with William Lane Craig #23—Middle Knowledge,” Reasonable Faith, September 24, 2007, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/middle-knowledge; Greg Koukl, “The Canaanites: Genocide or Judgment?” Solid Ground, January/February 2013, 8; Ronald H. Nash, When a Baby Dies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999). [↩]
- Millard Erickson, How Shall They Be Saved? The Destiny of Those Who Do Not Hear of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 238. [↩]
- Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 243–44. [↩]
- Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 1993), 173. [↩]
- Singer, Practical Ethics, 191. [↩]
- Singer, Practical Ethics, 173. [↩]