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The God of the Bible is not merciful

Published:Sunday | September 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMMichael Abrahams

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the word ‘merciful’ is: treating people with kindness and forgiveness, not cruel or harsh, having or showing mercy, giving relief from suffering. Christians are in the habit of saying that God is merciful, a mantra repeated with much zeal and conviction.
Perusal of scriptural texts, however, will reveal an entity that is clearly anything but merciful. If biblical accounts are to be believed, God killed at least two and a half million people as punishment for various infractions, and tortured many others. Apologists will tell you that these people had it coming to them as they had disobeyed God. But even if this were so, ‘merciful’ would not be an apt description to ascribe to the biblical deity.
The omnipotence and omniscience of God are acknowledged by those embracing Christianity. God knew what He was doing when He created us. He empowered us with complex brains capable of a vast variety of emotions, ranging from happiness and contentment to anger and jealousy.
With these emotions come varying behavioural responses, including compliance, acceptance, defiance and disobedience. So it is rather surprising that after creating man, God would regret doing so, and being upset with our bad behaviour, choose to drown everyone on the planet, with the exception of eight people in one family (Genesis 6 and 7).
The incineration of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) is justified by believers, as they were very wicked people who disobeyed God, but turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, for merely looking back, seems a bit harsh. Interestingly, Lot had offered his virgin daughters to a mob of would-be angel rapists, and later had drunken sex with them (after they gave him wine) and impregnated them, but they were all spared God’s wrath.
The incineration of Sodom and Gomorrah exemplifies God’s penchant for the use of fire. When Aaron’s sons offered a ‘strange fire’ to God, they were burnt to death (Leviticus 10:1-2), as were 250 who offered incense (Numbers 16:35), and 102 for asking Elijah to come down from his hill (2 Kings 1).
He also burnt people to death for complaining (Numbers 11:1), and when the Israelites lamented the lack of food and water in the wilderness, God sent fiery serpents on them, killing many (Numbers 21:4-6).
So much killing. He killed Er for being wicked (Genesis 38:7), and his brother Onan for not ejaculating inside the vagina of Er’s widow when he had sex with her (Genesis 38:9-10). He killed 70,000 people after David completed a census (2 Samuel 24:15), and more than 50,000 Bethshemeshites for looking into the ark (Samuel 6:19), as well as Uzzah for touching it (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
King Herod was killed after he gave an awesome speech, but did not glorify God when praised for it (Acts 12:21-23), and King Ahaziah was killed for asking for the wrong god (2 Kings 1:16-17).

Sometimes God did not do the killing himself, but instructed others to do it for Him. He ordered Moses to tell people to stone a blasphemer to death (Leviticus 24:14), as well as a man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), in addition to telling him to hang people up before Him against the Sun (Numbers 25:3-4).
He also ordered that all the Amalekites be destroyed, ‘man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’ (1 Samuel 15:1-3), and when Saul took their king alive, God was not pleased. So Samuel chopped him to pieces in His presence (1 Samuel 15:33). God would also kill a person for not killing, as he did with King Ahab when he did not kill a captured king (1 Kings 20:42).
God employed some cruel and sadistic methods to torment and kill. He let the earth open up and swallow people (Numbers 16:32), destroyed people in Ashod and afflicted them with haemorrhoids (emerods) (1 Samuel 5:9), sent two bears to tear apart 42 children who laughed at a prophet’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24), and sent a lion to kill a man who refused to smite a prophet (1 Kings 20:35-16).
He once fed people quail until it ‘came out of their nostrils’ (Numbers 11:20), and while the flesh was still ‘between their teet’, smote them with a plague (Numbers 11:33). God seemed to have a thing for plagues, and sent several to torture and kill people. The Book of Exodus (Chapters 7 to 12) describes 10, ranging from turning water to blood, to sending thunderstorms of hail and fire, to the killing of firstborn humans and animals.
God apparently had no issue with slavery, as there is nowhere in the Bible where He condemned the practice. He also, on several occasions, ‘delivered’ people into the hands of others to be killed.
For example, He delivered half a million of the children of Israel into the hands of Abijah and his people, who killed them (2 Chronicles 13:15-17), and when the Syrians said that God was ‘God of the hills, but not God of the valleys’, He delivered them into Ahab’s hand and 100,000 were killed (1 Kings 20:23-28).
It was also not uncommon for God to kill entire groups of people, such as the Zamzummims, the Horims, the Avims, and the Caphtorims (Deuteronomy 2:20-23). He also killed one million Ethiopians (2 Chronicles 14:9-13).
God would also punish people by killing their children. To punish Jeroboam, He killed his sons, including a sick child (1 Kings 14:10-17). To punish David for impregnating Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and having him killed, God struck the baby with illness, and the child suffered for seven days before dying (2 Samuel 12:14-19).
Job was an ‘upright’ man, but God allowed Satan to kill all of his children, in addition to his servants and animals, not as punishment, but just to prove a point (Job 1:8-19). God also prescribes punishment for people because of the sins of others thousands of years before them, such as pain in labour for women because Eve sinned (Genesis 3:16). In Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9 He clearly speaks of ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth (generations)’.
And, of course, we all know the story of God orchestrating the murder of His own son, Jesus Christ, to prevent us from being torturing forever after death, something I never did quite understand, but accepted as a child because I was told that if I didn’t, I would burn in Hell.
I am unable to understand how literate and intelligent people of sound mind can read the Bible and proclaim that the deity described in its pages is merciful. Powerful, awesome and mighty, yes, but not merciful. Describing Him as being merciful smacks of dishonesty, ignorance or denial, and the blind repetition of this claim leads me to conclude that organised religion, in this case, Christianity, is driven by brainwashing, fear and the discouragement of critical and rational thinking and reasoning.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.