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Does God kill?

Among the many strange, and in some cases, new doctrines which have appeared on the horizon of Seventh-day Adventism during its short history, is a doctrine which has been referred to as "the character of God" message by those who embrace it. Most others know it better as the doctrine which teaches that God does not kill. Those who have accepted it declare that this message is the end-time message and is the ultimate understanding of God's character. Others see it as a dangerous doctrine which undermines the very basis of Christian faith, the trustworthiness of the Scriptures.

Specifically, this teaching says that God Himself never ever, under any circumstances, personally takes or removes the life of any creature. It says He may allow others to do it, He may accept the blame for it, but He Himself never is the agent or the cause which removes life. What this means is that every place in the Bible where it says that God killed or destroyed or took a life, is not to be believed the way it reads, but must be reinterpreted to fit this doctrine. So then we would have to accept that God never caused the great flood in Noah's day, never destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah, never slew Korah, Dathan and Abiram, never destroyed Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea, etc. etc.

The reasoning behind this belief is that God cannot break His own laws. The Sixth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill.” These laws are not simply a set of rules, but are actually a revelation of God's character; a description of what God is really like. Therefore, the reasoning goes, God cannot deny His own character. Since, “Thou shalt not kill,” describes what He is like and reveals His nature, then we must accept that it is contrary to God's character and nature to kill. Thus, we end up with the doctrine, “God Does Not Kill.”

This doctrine compels us to focus on the issue of whether or not the Bible is the dependable word of God. It has been made out to be an issue concerning the character of God, but before we get anywhere near that issue, there is another issue to be settled first and it is the issue of whether or not the Bible is the word of God.

Who inspired those men who made all those statements in the Bible about God killing, or destroying? Did holy men of God speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost? (2 Pet. 1:21). Did the holy ghost inspire these men to make statements which were not true? This is the dilemma we end up in when we deny the truth that God does kill. We must either deny this doctrine or we must deny the Scriptures!

In order to accept this teaching, we must, like the Trinitarian and the Sunday worshipper now declare, “this doctrine is not explicitly taught in the Bible (in fact the very opposite is explicitly taught!) but we believe it anyway.” But if our concept of God requires us to twist or disbelieve the plainest statements of God's own word, then our concept of God is wrong!! Let us immediately abandon the false concept for there is no safety in an idol. If our concept of God is based on error, where are we any better off than the Trinitarian? God gave us His word for our learning. Let us then learn as we read. It is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Let us then learn doctrine from it, be reproved and instructed by it. Let our ideas of God be based on it, but God forbid that we should come to the place where we are wiser that the Scriptures. Where, “thus saith my opinion,” is of more weight than “thus saith the word of God.”

What do we do with all the clear, unmistakable passages which say that God not only killed, but ordered the killing of people? Here is one striking example:

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Sam 15:2,3)

Here we have plain unmistakable statements. Samuel says to Saul, “Thus saith the Lord.” Who was it that gave Samuel that message? Was it God? Was it the devil? Who spoke the words to Samuel which he claimed was coming from God? I have asked this question of some of my friends who believe this doctrine. I have asked it over and over but I have been unable to get an answer. They have talked about principles and character, but I cannot get a plain simple, “God said it,” or, “Satan said it.” You see, if God said it, then we have the problem of a God who cannot kill, who will not kill Himself, but who does order His servants to kill. A God who asks others to do what He Himself will not do. But if Satan gave this command to Samuel, then what do we have? We have a prophet who says, “Thus saith the Lord,” when it is really, “thus saith Satan.” This would make Samuel a prophet of Satan rather than a prophet of God.

Let us consider also the destruction of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. Somebody performed a miracle and opened up the sea for the children of Israel. This happened when Moses stretched out his rod over the waters. Who was it that opened the sea, held back the waters and delivered Israel? Was it God, or was it Satan? A little later, Moses stretched out his rod again and the waters came sweeping in and destroyed the armies of Pharaoh. Who was it that now released the waters? Was it God or was it Satan? The same person who held back the waters is the same one who released them. If Satan was the one who released the waters, destroying the armies of Pharaoh, then it must have been he who delivered the Israelites and took them through the Red Sea by holding back the waters. But if God was the one who parted the waters and held them in place, then it must have been he who released them, thus wiping out Pharaoh's army. One person performed both actions. We cannot have it both ways.

How do we understand these, and a hundred other similar Scriptures? There is not a single verse in Scripture which says, “God does not kill.” There are on the other hand, dozens of verses which say that God not only killed people, but also commanded people to kill other people. Do not these verses carry any weight with us? Having formulated our ideal of what love should be and what mercy means, shall we come to the Bible with our minds already made up and make strenuous efforts to bend the Scriptures to fit this doctrine? Note carefully that the doctrine is not taught by the Bible. The belief is first implanted in the mind: “God is too good to kill anyone. True love means never ever taking life.” This is a false concept of love. However when once this idea has been accepted, the next step is that the Bible must be bent to fit this idea. It matters not how many verses must be twisted, chopped or ignored. “Thus saith the Lord,” must be overruled by, “does it fit my doctrine?” In all honesty, is this the way to study the Bible?

No. The proper way is to read the Bible, hear what it has to say and base our beliefs upon its teachings. Thus we may discover what is truth. When we find things which are hard to understand let us seek for understanding through prayer and careful study, but never resort to denial of the plainest teaching of the word of God. Why was it necessary for God to order the death of women, children, sheep, oxen etc? This is hard to understand but there was a reason why God had to do it. It did not make Him happy to do it but there is something to be learned here and we cannot learn it by denying the Scriptures. Let us accept what the word of God says as our starting point, and then we can move on from there.

When we examine this doctrine carefully we find a dangerous principle at work. What is it? It is simply this: Even if the Bible says it, I wont believe it if it doesn't fit in with my ideas. This is surely a dangerous approach to take in studying the Bible.

Let us note that there are certain passages in the Bible where it says that God did a certain thing, while another passage clearly indicates that it was Satan who was responsible. One example of this is where David was tempted to number Israel (2 Samuel 24:1). In this particular reference it says:

And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. (2 Sam 24:1)

However, when the same story is told in 1 Chronicles it says:

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. (1 Chr 21:1)

Here we see plainly that in a sense, God did the thing, because He allowed it to happen. He had a purpose in allowing it. Nevertheless, the active agent in the temptation was actually Satan. So we know that there are times when God does take the blame, or accept responsibility, even though He does not personally perform the action. The question, though is not whether it happens SOMETIMES. Of course it happens at times, but the question is, is it true in every single case? The evidence is very clear. This happens sometimes, but is not true in ALL cases. Some of the Bible records are so plain and unmistakable that there is no way that an honest person can interpret them to be saying that God was only taking the blame while somebody else was actually at fault.

The Character of God

It has been said that the issue in the understanding of this doctrine is the character of God. I agree. The greatest fault of this doctrine is that it distorts the character of God. It presents God in a light which is not the truth. This means that we end up worshipping a false philosophical God. A God of our own imagination. Is this not idolatry?

We do not want a false concept of love. We do not want a false concept of God!! Many parents today will not punish their children. Why? They “love” them too much to cause them pain! Is this love? A sentiment which is too weak to do what is necessary is not true love but is rather an imposter which results in the uncontrollable, dangerous society in which we live today.

Surely, if we are required to have a character like God's and God never ever destroys life, what shall we do when plagued by rats, cockroaches, flies, or mosquitoes? Surely there must be something wrong with a doctrine which creates a moral dilemma for me every time I am forced to kill a mosquito! We may destroy a wasps' nest, not because of feelings of vengeance or vindictiveness. Feelings are not the issue. But it may be built in a place where its very existence is a threat to the safety of my children. It does not matter how I feel. If I care for the welfare of my family I must do something about it. If I am too weak or squeamish or busy or have a moral conflict about it, then I must get somebody else to destroy the nest. This is the simple fact.

Those who believe in this doctrine state that God does not kill those who are continually suffering as the slaves of sin. Instead He leaves them to the tender mercies of Satan who tortures them at will. Which is the greater mercy, the more loving thing to do? To kill irredeemable sinners or to leave them to the “mercy” of Satan?

Thou Shalt Not Kill

What is it to kill? Killing is basically the performance of any action which results in the death of another. If I perform an action which causes someone to die, then I may be said to have killed that person. I may shoot somebody myself, pay somebody to strangle him, or remove all access to food so that he eventually starves to death. It does not matter how I do it. If my action results in the death of another person, then it is I who have killed that person. I am the responsible party. Therefore, the judge who passes the death sentence on a murderer is responsible for killing him. The man who hangs him is also responsible. They have both killed him.

The sixth commandment says, “thou shalt not kill.” We find this command in Exodus chapter 20. Did God mean what He said when He gave this command? Did He intend that the Israelites should take it seriously? Did He expect them to obey? Certainly He did! Why then did He, a few verses later in the very next chapter seemingly order them to disobey this command?

He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. (Exo 21:12)
And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. (Exo 21:17)
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Exo 22:18)
Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death. (Exo 22:19)

Did God contradict Himself? Not at all. The fact of the matter is that when God said, “thou shalt not kill,” He clearly was not referring to just and judicial acts of killing and execution. He was referring to acts of murder. Deliberate, unjust, premeditated killing. This, you shall not do because God NEVER does this. God's character is that He never murders anyone; He never is the reason why a person is destroyed.

Ellen White wrote in one place:

“God destroys no man. Everyone who is destroyed will have destroyed himself.” {COL 84.}

If this statement is taken out of context it may seem to support the view that God never takes the life of any person. However, The word of God can never contradict itself. Once we understand this, the meaning of this quote from Ellen White is simple. God never ever predestines any man to be destroyed. God never ever arranges circumstances so that a soul may be lost. Every man chooses his own way, charts his own course and in this sense destroys himself. He chooses the way which leads to death. Notice that in this sense, even Satan, the great destroyer, may be said to “destroy no man.” In the above quotation, even he is not given the credit for destroying men, but, “every man destroys himself.” It is clear that this, and similar quotes should not be used as a basis for claiming that God never removes a person's life. This is talking about destruction in the sense of choosing it, and not in the sense of executing it. Here is another quote from Ellen White which teaches in the clearest possible way that God does commission His angels to destroy, or kill men:

The same angel who had come from the royal courts to rescue Peter, had been the messenger of wrath and judgment to Herod. The angel smote Peter to arouse him from slumber; it was with a different stroke that he smote the wicked king, laying low his pride and bringing upon him the punishment of the Almighty. Herod died in great agony of mind and body, under the retributive judgment of God. {AA 152}

Men choose their own course, decide their own actions, but when they come to the place where they have so perverted themselves that they are no longer fit to live, then God Himself may remove their lives or commission His agents to do it. There is nothing in this which is contrary to God's character of love. God who is strong enough and loving enough to give life, is also strong enough to take that life when it is clear that it has been perverted beyond hope of recovery. If all killing is evil, and God never does it, because it is evil, then it means that He has ordered His servants to do what is evil MANY, MANY times. Could He then be a good person?


Actions are nothing. Motives are everything. At least this is true when it comes to questions of guilt. If I sprinkle poison in a bowl of soup thinking it is salt, and accidentally kill all the people who drink that soup, then I have killed several people. Am I then guilty of murder? The answer is no. If, however, I knowingly sprinkle the poison in the soup, then I am guilty of murder. The action itself is not the critical issue where guilt is concerned. The critical question is “what motive prompts the action?” In the same way, killing may be an innocent act or it may be a murderous deed. It is the motive which counts.

The point is that, removing a life is just an action. It can be accomplished in a thousand ways. What really is important is the question of what prompts that killing. What is the motive, the reason behind it? Is it hatred? Malice? Retaliation? Or is it mercy or justice? God may send an angel to execute those who are unfit to live, He may send a flood of waters, or He may send fire and brimstone from heaven. He may send His servants as He sent the Israelites against the Canaanites; He may permit the evil person to be destroyed by Satan or his angels. However, the result is ultimately the same. God has carried out righteous judgment and has executed those who were no longer fit to live. God has performed it, God has ordained it, God has commissioned it, therefore it is He who destroys the wicked. This is justice and is not contradictory to a true concept of love.

And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. (Rev 16:5,6)

Let us acknowledge something: God is never cruel, never vindictive, never causes unnecessary pain. Yet sometimes an action may seem cruel or vindictive to us, only because we do not understand all the factors. Let us bow in humility and accept what the Scripture says! Who are we to judge the words of God? When God told Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael, was this an act of cruelty? On the surface it seems so. Hagar and Ishmael suffered a great deal as a result of what seemed like a harsh command. This does not seem like the work of a God of love, so what shall we do? Shall we conclude that Satan gave this command to Abraham? If we follow the principle of interpretation of those who say that God does not kill, then we will have to conclude that this must have been the work of Satan! However, as humble, finite, foolish mortals, the correct thing to do is to accept the word of God. God did give this command. Let us now seek to understand why. Let us see if we can discover what terrible factors were at work in this situation which forced a God of love and mercy to make such a seemingly harsh decree. With this attitude we may possibly learn God's lessons, but not if we decide that the Bible must be wrong!

(Source: Restoration Ministry)

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