True…Michael Vick and others get punished for what we consider to be cruelty to animals. From our human perspective some things that we do to other living creatures is overlooked as perfectly okay while others result in punishment. Fishing is not considered to be cruel, even when it is done for sport. One could argue, however, that sport fishing is not much different than Vick’s adventures in cruelty.
Now, if you could talk to bacteria, fish, and dogs and ask them what they thought about the painful and deadly things inflicted upon them by human beings, I’m afraid that the bacteria and fish would be just as upset as the dogs that were mistreated by Michael Vick. Once again, it is all based upon perspective. We think that the bacteria should be destroyed and we have many justifications that we can use for making that decision. In God’s judgment and from his perspective, the evil done by man may very well justify annihilation and severe punishments. The bacteria and fish don’t like what happens to them from their perspective anymore than human beings like what happens to them for their sins.
When we destroy bacteria we do so even though bacteria have not actually sinned. When we fish we go after fish even though they have not sinned. When man is punished, it is because man has sinned and his transgressions are against the Creator. The difference is enormous. Bacteria, fish, dogs, and men are all finite. God is infinite and the difference is immeasurably greater than that between man and other creatures.
Man’s sins against man often make these examples look like child’s play. Likewise, some modern examples make some of the pagan OT activities look less heinous even though we don’t seem to think so. For example, most people in the U.S. feel that dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was necessary. Naturally, the Japanese don’t see it that way. Likewise, the fire bombings of Tokyo in WWII are considered war crimes by the Japanese, but Americans hardly consider the issue at all. Our perspectives are what they are and they are often shaped by our sensibilities and experience. We have to be extremely careful in all of this. We justify, and perhaps rightly, many different human actions. Nevertheless, we have nothing in the way of rights as compared to the Creator.
The goodness of God and his mercy are that of an infinite being and are perfect. I have not suggested that God stoops to our level of morality. Instead, one must always consider God’s perfect justice as well as his goodness and mercy. Our examination of OT events needs to keep that perfect justice in mind. That is why I gave the examples such as that of Pharaoh. God gave Pharaoh every chance, but it took extremely stern measures to make him yield. Such was typical of pagans in ancient times. From the standpoint of sin, self idolatry, and the appropriate justice, Pharaoh is lucky to have come out of all this alive.
If you are referring to Abraham sacrificing Isaac then you are only supporting my point. God tested Abraham, and it is appropriate that Abraham should be willing to obey at all costs. God tested Abraham, but did not let Abraham kill Isaac. It is important to see that God has “all” of the rights over his creation and this is clearly understood by Abraham. God could have exercised that right, but did not. God only “tested” the man that scripture declares to be our father in faith. We need to think and believe as did Abraham.
When a culture/people lives in a fashion that is cruel, evil, and in most ways highly uncivilized, that culture/people will reap what they sow. Does that make the savage people or their savage children feel better when it comes back to haunt them? Well, of course not, but that is what happens. If you live by the sword you die by the sword.
The OT Jews spoke almost exclusively in terms of primary causes. They normally did not speak in terms of secondary causes and attributed everything to God. There are real possibilities in the interpretation of scripture that would explain the point you’ve raised as actually being a function of a secondary cause as opposed to a primary cause attributable to God. That may be the kind of explanation that you are looking for.
I did not mean to suggest that dialogue about hard issues leads to pride. It is fine and profitable to examine everything, but it is prideful for us to assume in any way that God is somehow cruel even on the surface. Instead, we have to assume the exact opposite and then look for the logical, scriptural, cultural, and historical explanations that give us the insight we need. So all in all, I think we agree on this last one.