My last dealt with the varying translations of the 6th Commandment. Does it prohibit “murder” as the newer texts indicate, or more generally “killing” as is listed in the King James version? I concluded that “murder” is what is meant and that Christians are not hypocrites when they accept some killing as justified, such as in the cases of self-defense, some forms of capital punishment and just war.
The skeptic may then shift his challenge. Whether it prohibits killing or murder, how does the God of the Bible, the God of the Old Testament, justify the destruction of human life, either directly by his own hand or by ordering the ancient Israelites to wipe out certain enemies? Doesn’t that make God a hypocrite, or worse?
No, it doesn’t. There is no hypocrisy or contradiction in this setting because the rule-giver is not subject to the rules he creates. There is an unspoken premise in the challenge. We are all used to the notion that “no one is above the law.” The skeptic assumes that God occupies a position like that of a legislator. The legislator cannot commit crimes and then claim to be above the law because he wrote the law. This is so because the legislator is part of the class to whom the law is addressed and is controlling.
But God occupies a different position, because he stands above his creation. He is not one of many, who just happened to be entrusted with the power to write law. He created the power to make law, at least as far as we are concerned. As the creator of life, he has absolute authority over his creation. Common analogies to help make this point range from the classic pot maker that Paul the Apostle referred to (in Romans 9:21) to the more modern example from the world of robotics.
Imagine that I am able to master the field of artificial intelligence and place it in a series of robots. Like the character Data on Star Trek, or the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica, these creations appear human, have an active intellect and the capacity to learn and adapt. What would prevent me from assigning them to “work the mines”? If I can turn them on – give them power and “life” – by what rationale would I be prohibited from using them as I see fit, or for that matter, turning them off?
They, by contrast, would have no claim on me that I am being “hypocritical” if I order them not to turn off their fellow machines, or if I refuse to do the work I created them to do. Simply put: they are not my equal; they are instead subject to me and my creative power. Because of that power, I retain the authority, and the right, to exercise my will as it concerns them. Consequently, I can also delegate that authority by, for example, ordering Robot 1 to turn off Robots 2 through 10. Nor would this order constitute a contradiction, for the underlying rule is not “no one, including the creator, should ever turn off a robot.” The underlying rule is that “no robot shall ever turn off another robot,” at least without adequate justification. When the creator orders that robots be turned off, he is not contradicting himself.
Now, this may lead the skeptic to accuse God of unfairness, or cruelty. This challenge is more difficult, in that God gave us more capacities than the robots of my analogy. Specifically, he gave us the ability to feel, to love, to experience emotion. But these are not deficits; no rational person would prefer to lose these capacities and opt to be a heartless machine. True, people often misuse these capacities and suffer harm, and pain, as a consequence. And sometimes bad things happen that are beyond our control, and which cause us pain. But the pain need not last forever. In the end, the offer to experience love and fellowship and endless joy in the company of perfection is our to accept – or to reject.
The skeptic who calls God a hypocrite is refusing to acknowledge the actual position of the creator, and instead assuming that the creator is subject to the rules he sets for his creation.
But the skeptic refuses to answer the most basic question: just why should that be so?
Posted by Al Serrato