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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Would a Good God Command the Murder of Children?

BOYCE: How can God command his followers to kill children (1 Samuel) and still be the moral authority?

FATHER JOE:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will punish what Amalek did to the Israelites when he barred their way as they came up from Egypt. Go, now, attack Amalek, and put under the ban everything he has. Do not spare him; kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).

The Amalekites (descendants of Esau) had long been a dreaded enemy of God’s people. The curse of God against them in Exodus 17:14 was not unlike other biblical condemnations; i.e., the primordial Flood or the curse against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The judgment of God targets not merely individuals, but as with divine favor, the larger community. Catholicism has retained this appreciation in regard to faith; it is both personal and corporate. We are all connected. The Amalekites resented the favor that God had shown Israel.

Some critics make a modified utilitarian argument, arguing that God orders or permits such taking of human life for a greater good. In this case, it would be the survival of his Chosen People. Less convincing but not discounted is the argument that the destruction of a people is for their own good, saving the souls of children by having them die before being corrupted by sin.

What are my thoughts about this? First, all life belongs to God since he is its author. This is the pervading truth that we must understand. It is on this account that God’s taking of our life is not reckoned as evil. Second, God meets us where we are. In other words, God does not reveal himself to us all at once but in a progressive fashion, over time, and culminating in Jesus Christ. The early Jews were little different from their blood-thirsty neighbors, and yet they were the people that God had chosen for himself and from which the Messiah or Christ would emerge.

The Egyptians had employed infanticide against the Jews and Moses was spared. Herod ordered the execution of the first born of Israel, and both Jesus and John the Baptist were spared. Just as in the argument about divorce and remarriage, our Lord tries to correct that which in their “hardness of hearts” they failed to understand. When God intervenes, he does so upon the side of life and justice.

The genuine Christian sensibility, and that of most post-Holocaust Jews, will never be comfortable with certain Old Testament scenes where the Chosen People interpret their own bloodlust as part of the divine will. The psalms used in the breviary and liturgy are edited so that we might not have to bless the one who bashes children to death against the rock (Psalm 137:9). We find this attitude abhorrent, and yet, rationalizations and modern deceits based upon human selfishness and not fidelity to God would tolerate and promote the murder of millions of children annually through abortion. Here is where many of the atheistic critics of religion on this point show their hypocrisy. Catholic teaching has developed over the centuries so as to emphasize that all human life is incommensurate and that innocent life must be protected.