Some find it extremely hard to reconcile how the God of love can also be a God who kills. Yet we must understand how these two aspects mesh together.
“Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:5-6).
Human life is sacred and precious, and God promises to exact a heavy penalty from anyone who spills the blood of another without cause.
So why did God kill so many people in the Old Testament?
The Hebrew Scriptures attribute hundreds of thousands of deaths—maybe even millions—to the direct intervention of God. If human lives are so precious, why is the Old Testament full of examples where God seems to end those lives almost arbitrarily?
Reconciling two views of God
Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark of the Covenant on its journey to Jerusalem, and God kills him (2 Samuel 6:6-7). Ezekiel has a prophetic message to convey to Judah, and as part of that message, God kills Ezekiel’s wife (Ezekiel 24:16-19). Job is the most righteous man on earth, and God allows Satan to destroy his possessions and kill his children (Job 1:8-20).
These are difficult stories to grapple with.
This is a difficult question to grapple with.
It’s easy to see why so many people draw a distinction between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ. But the Bible tells us that Jesus was the God who interacted with people in the Old Testament (read “Jesus in the Old Testament” for more). We’re not talking about two different entities.
The Savior who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29) is the God who said, “I will make My arrows drunk with blood, and My sword shall devour flesh” (Deuteronomy 32:42). This same God is going to destroy an army that attacks Him when He returns to earth to rule (Revelation 19:11-21).
If we believe that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8)—and if we believe that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)—then we must grapple with these stories. We must grapple with this question.
How can the God who is love also be a God who kills?
God’s perspective versus our own
I’ll be honest. The stories about Uzzah, Ezekiel’s wife and Job’s children make me uncomfortable. From my human perspective, they feel undeserved. Unfair. Unjust. It’s hard for me to justify God’s actions in these stories.
But that’s just it.
I can’t see. My perspective—my human perspective—doesn’t allow me to see.
This is a critical first step in our quest to understand how God operates—that is, understanding that we can’t understand.
We are humans. We have limitations. We view time and space and cause and effect through the very narrow lens of our very short lives. At any given moment, we’re capable of observing only the smallest fraction of the tiniest sliver of the most infinitesimal portion of our shared existence. Add together every scrap of wisdom and perspective we could possibly acquire over multiple decades of life, and the end result will still be nothing more than the briefest blip on the grand cosmic scale of what has been and what will be.
God, on the other hand, sees it all.
All of it, multiplied across billions of lives, stretching backward into time immemorial. He is intimately and infinitely aware of everything in all of creation, all at once.
When He tells us, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9), He isn’t exaggerating. Even when we are connected with the Spirit of God, which gives us access to the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-16), our human limitations persist.
We cannot see what God sees, we cannot hear what He hears, and we cannot fully understand what He understands. Even Job, who “justified himself rather than God” (Job 32:2), ultimately admitted, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).
Does God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, owe us an explanation for the way He chooses to run that universe? No—not any more than the potter owes an explanation to the clay he molds (Isaiah 45:9-10). And even if He did share His reasoning for every decision—what makes us think we’d be capable of comprehending all of the factors and understanding His infinite wisdom?
How God views death
From a human perspective, death has such a heavy finality to it. It’s within our power to end a life—but after that, we have no power at all to bring it back.
God is different.
In the same passage where God threatens to make His arrows drunk with blood, He also reminds us, “There is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal” (Deuteronomy 32:39, emphasis added).
God can (and will) restore the lives He has ended—and what’s more, He never ends them lightly. He told Ezekiel, “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies” (Ezekiel 18:32). God doesn’t enjoy death—but sometimes, death is necessary.
The Bible tells us all the billions upon billions who died, including all those who died at God’s hand, will live again and experience a peaceful world.Sometimes individuals or entire nations become so wicked and corrupt that God chooses to end their physical existence now instead of allowing them to continue producing the miserable outcomes that stem from a lifestyle of sin. This is an act of justice, but also an act of love—God will resurrect them in a time and in an environment more conducive to learning and living His perfect way of life (Ezekiel 38:11-14; compare Matthew 11:21-24).
Sometimes people fail to treat God as the sacred and holy Being that He is—and that public display of irreverence results in a public consequence. God warns us, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3).
Moses failed to hallow God before the Israelites, and so he was sentenced to die outside the borders of the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12). Uzzah had good intentions when he reached out to steady the ark, but it was ultimately an act of irreverence, ignoring God’s commands about how the ark was supposed to travel (1 Chronicles 15:12-13).
And sometimes—sometimes we just don’t know the reason behind the deaths. We don’t know why God chose to kill Ezekiel’s wife for the sake of a prophetic statement. We don’t know why he allowed Satan to kill Job’s children as part of God’s bigger plan to help Job grow.
We all face examples like these in the Bible: stories with moments that don’t seem right—don’t seem fair. We might not have all the information. We might not be capable of understanding the reason even if God spelled it out for us.
Trusting God’s perspective instead of our own
As Christians in progress, here’s what we need to keep in mind:
God knows things we don’t know.
He sees things we can’t see.
He exists on a level we can’t comprehend.
So even though we may not always understand it—even though we might not always like it—God always has the right to kill and to make alive, and He is always right for doing so. As Job learned, God doesn’t owe any of us an explanation, and our own inability to see through His eyes never invalidates His actions.
Still, we can take comfort in knowing that there is a reason—a good reason—for all of it. Even when we don’t understand that reason today, we have a promise: although right now we only see “in a mirror dimly” and only “know in part,” one day, we “shall know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12, English Standard Version).
What we don’t understand now, we will understand one day.
In the meantime, we have another ironclad promise from the God who kills and who makes alive—the God who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God promises that one day, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9).
The Bible tells us all the billions upon billions who died, including all those who died at God’s hand, will live again and experience a peaceful world. The God who ended their temporary physical life in a hopelessly flawed world will give them a new life in a much better world.
Understanding the hope of God’s plan impacts our entire perspective on this difficult question.
And even that world is just a stepping stone to a far greater future—one where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Ultimately, God is growing a family—offering His creation the opportunity to become like Him both in likeness and character.
And then—when God has wiped away every tear from our eyes, when we are fully and completely remade in His image and when death is removed from the picture forever—then we will look back with the perspective and the mind of God, and we will know that every single moment happened for a reason.
The right reason.