“Would you kill your child if God told you to?”

“Would you kill your child if God told you to?”

This is an interesting question that I came across on the internet recently. It’s sometimes asked of Christians by those who believe there is no God, or question God’s existence. The question is based on two Old Testament accounts:

First, the account of Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac, at Moriah (Gen. 22:1-19).

Second, the accounts of the nation of Israel enacting the ban on those nations they defeated in their conquest of the Promised Land. The ban was God’s command to kill all the members of a defeated nation, men, women, children, and even their livestock (Deut. 20:16-18).

First, let me give what I think is the correct answer to this question, then I’ll discuss why.

Clearly, the answer to this question is, “No. I would not kill my child, or any child, if God told me to.”

But, the atheist might say, “Well, then either you don’t really believe in God, or you don’t believe that God has real moral authority.”

Of course, I know that God exists, and I certainly believe that God has moral authority. So, why wouldn’t I follow His command, even if His command was to kill my own child?

As a Catholic, I am not simply an individual believer. I am a member of a Church, a faith community. The Church is the instrument of God’s revelation in Christ (Eph. 3:8-12; 1 Tim. 3:15). My faith is not my own, having welled up from within me. My faith is a received faith, and I have received my faith from the Church. The faith of the Church is the faith of the apostles, which is the revelation Christ gave to His apostles, “all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:16-20), and which the apostles passed on to their disciples, even to today.

It is essential, not optional, but essential that my faith be aligned with the faith of the Church, and that everything that I believe that I receive by way of insight into the life of God and my obligations to God be considered within the context of the faith and discipline of the Church, the instrument of God’s revelation in Christ.

So, what is the faith of the Church on the matter of God commanding us to kill either our own children or other children?

First, the climax of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is God instructing Abraham to spare Isaac. God provides a ram for the sacrifice, in place of Isaac. In the time of ancient Israel, many nations that surrounded God’s people practiced human sacrifice. Moloch, for instance, was a pagan god that demanded the blood of children. In the story of Abraham’s sacrifice and God’s redemption of Isaac, the Israelites understood that their God would not demand human sacrifice. Their God was different from the gods of the other nations. Their God was LORD, who loved His people and called them to faithfulness. Human sacrifice was, in His eyes, an abomination.

So, the faith of the Church is that God has condemned human sacrifice.

What about killing other children, as in the ban? By the ban God did, indeed, command the slaughter of all survivors of the nations that Israel conquered. The purpose of the ban was to wipe out idolatry and other perverse practices of these nations, such as human sacrifice, so that Israel would not be tempted into adopting them. But, the ban was temporary, as God revealed through his prophets, Elisha (2 Kgs 6:21-23) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 18:21-23). To practice the ban today would be contrary to God’s law, just as the practice of slavery, once supported by the U. S. Constitution, is now unlawful. As well, the teachings of Jesus and the Church are consistent in their condemnation of murder.

So, the faith of the Church is that God has condemned the murder of innocents, and children are certainly innocent.

Finally, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the revelation of God for our salvation was closed. “The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13)” (Dei Verbum, para. 4). As for private revelation, while the Church has accepted some over the course of the centuries, a critical evaluation of their authenticity is their consistency with the public revelation of God to the entire Church. No revelation, public or private, can contradict the established, authoritative revelation embraced by the Church. Any supposed command by God to kill one’s own or any other child — to, in effect, practice human sacrifice and commit murder — is contrary to God’s revelation in Christ given through the Church and, therefore, no Catholic may place confidence in it or act upon it.

Given the above, how could I conceive that God would instruct me to kill my child, or any child? If the idea came into my mind that God was asking me to kill my child, or any other child, I can think of only two options to consider in how to act:

First, the thought is clearly not from God, for God has revealed to us His condemnation of human sacrifice and murder. These thoughts are from the devil. Get behind me, Satan!

Second, I am obviously having a mental breakdown, and need help. Please call 9-1-1.

Now, my atheist friend would likely not be satisfied with this. He or she might press me, “But, what if you were really convinced that God wanted you to kill your own child? What if you thought the Church was wrong about the matter? Or, that God had a new revelation that He was sharing with you?”

And, here we have it that the atheist has little understanding of what it means to be a Catholic, to be a member of the Church, the Body of Christ. Most contemporary atheists see all of Christianity as a variation of biblical literalism/fundamentalism. Biblical literalists and fundamentalists, for all their devotion to Scripture, are wanting in a strong ecclesiology. In these traditions, which are barely 200 years old but dominate much of the Christian culture of the United States, each individual believer is on his or her own when it comes to discerning God’s truth and ascertaining His will for each individual believer. This is why this want of a strong ecclesiology is so dangerous. It leads to individuals going off on their own sometimes very strange and peculiar theological and moral tangents. Sadly, many Catholics in the U. S. have adopted this weak ecclesiology and regard themselves, rather than the Church, as the instrument of God’s revelation for them. Given such, there is no safety or guard to protect them from their conviction that God may be calling on them to believe or act in a way contrary to His divine revelation.

But, for the Catholic who knows who he or she is before God and in the Church, there is no threat, no danger of going off on their own. He or she is committed to the faith of the apostles, the faith of the Church, the faith that was received by St. Paul and passed on to us. That faith has consistently over the centuries since Pentecost condemned human sacrifice and murder. She still does, which is why she will not compromise to the dominant culture on abortion or infanticide. Our God is the God of life!

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

* A previous version of this post said that Frank Turek, an Evangelical and apologist, answered “Yes” to the question of whether he would kill his child if God told him to. After reviewing the material, I realize that that was an unfair assessment of Mr. Turek’s statement. Mr. Turek did say he would kill his child if God told him to, but under the caveat that he was acting under the pre-Abraham dispensation, and that the question now is closed, and that God regards human sacrifice and murder as abominations.

6 thoughts on ““Would you kill your child if God told you to?”

  1. So, the faith of the Church is that God has condemned human sacrifice.
    —-
    It’s on days like today, Easter and when we teach biblical stories like genesis 22 and Jepthas daughter, that Christians celebrate the ‘human’ sacrifice of Jesus.
    You can’t truly say you are Christian and a god follower under the authority of the God of the bible without being willing to do as Abraham was prepared to do at God’s command. You’re playing fast and loose with what the bible says and with what it means to be under the authority and command of the God of the bible.
    Would you or I kill our children if God woke us in the middle of the night with such a command? Hell no. It’s simply insane to do so. It’s a very good thing Abraham is a myth only contained in the pages of the bible. He never existed. But the God you worship told this man, at least in the fictional account of genesis 22, to take his son and sacrifice him. Abe had no expectation or promise that God would intervene. Abe fully intended to kill Issac at the command of God. And your God told him to do it.
    If you wouldn’t kill your child at God’s command… That makes you more moral than Abraham and it makes you more moral than the God of the bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear KIA,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m afraid, however, that you’ve missed the point of my post. It’s helpful to remember that I write as a Catholic.

      You write, “You’re playing fast and loose with what the bible says and with what it means to be under the authority and command of the God of the bible.” But, of course, this is according to your personal understanding of what it means to be under the authority and command of the God of the bible. I addressed this matter precisely in my post. You’re approaching the question from the perspective of one with a weak ecclesiology and a misunderstanding of the relationship between God, the Church, and the Scriptures. The danger of that perspective, as I wrote, is that, “It leads to individuals going off on their own sometimes very strange and peculiar theological and moral tangents.” This is exactly what you do in your comment. Unhinged from the authority of the Church to interpret Scripture, you rely on your own interpretation and, thus, make the erroneous conclusion that I, and any other true Christian and God follower “under the authority of the God of the bible,” would be obliged to act as Abraham did if I believed that God was telling me to sacrifice my child.

      But, I would be under no obligation whatsoever. Instead, I would be under the obligation to reject that personal revelation. Why? Because, as a Christian, I am under the obligation to hold to that interpretation of the Scriptures given by the Church, because the Church is the instrument of God’s revelation in Christ (Eph 3:10; 1 Tim 3:15). As such, it is in rejecting the Church’s authority to interpret Scripture that I risk playing fast and loose with what the Bible says and with what it means to be under the authority and command of the God of the Bible. Christians, after all, are not a people of the book. Rather, the Bible is the book of the Church.

      It is the faith of the Church that God condemns human sacrifice, and Genesis 22 is the Scriptural basis of that faith (along with more direct condemnations elsewhere – Dt 18:10; Jer 19:5, etc…) As a Christian, I am bound to the faith of the Church because the faith of the Church is the revelation of God given to all. The authenticity of any private revelation I may receive, then, is judged according to its consistency with the faith of the Church. Since it is the faith of the Church that God condemns human sacrifice, any private revelation commanding me to sacrifice my child, by definition, could not be a genuine word or command of God, and I am obliged to reject it. God is Truth. He cannot contradict Himself, for then He would not be Truth, and would not be God. He cannot reveal one thing as true to the universal Church and the opposite thing as true to me, personally.

      As for being more moral than Abraham, well, I wouldn’t be too hard on him. Human sacrifice was the norm for ancient faiths of the Levant, so it might not have come as a surprise to him that God was asking this of him. What would come as a surprise is that God spared him the sacrifice of his son. As for being more moral than God, I’m afraid you’ve missed the point of Genesis 22, which is the condemnation of human sacrifice.

      I hope that makes it clear. I’m happy to consider any other questions or comments you might have.

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    2. Genesis 22 has long been understood by Jews and Christians as communicating God’s condemnation of human sacrifice. Isn’t it obvious? The chapter begins by explicitly identifying this as a test of Abraham. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son, then arranges to save Isaac at the last moment, providing a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.

      Nowhere in the many types of sacrifices to be offered by the people of Israel is human sacrifice listed or the instructions of how to offer a human sacrifice detailed. There are a number of places in the OT where God explicitly condemns human sacrifice, as I pointed out in my previous post. In fact, there is nowhere in the OT where human sacrifice is mentioned where it is not explicitly condemned except in Genesis 22, where the human sacrifice is not carried out, but halted by God.

      A reflection on Genesis 22 on the ascensioncatholic.net website reads that Genesis 22, “is a shocking and disturbing story because in it we read about God demanding that Abraham sacrifice his only son, the son on which future legacy rested in. The story could leave us with a very disturbing image of God. The story is a clever one in that it sets out in the opposite direction to that in which it hopes to leave the listener. It starts out by leading us to believe that God believes in human sacrifice, but in actual fact one key message of the story is that human sacrifice is abhorrent to God. When God asks Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him, we want to cry out: “stop”, “this is wrong.” But, Abraham lived amongst people who believed in offering human sacrifice to their gods. So what God asked of Abraham was not that unusual for the times he lived in. When the angel appeared and told Abraham not to kill Isaac, it was God saying to Abraham “The people around you may think their gods demand human sacrifice, but I don’t. In fact, I hate the idea and I do not want you nor your descendents to do this.” http://uploads.weconnect.com/mce/f90a34bcd66e597a5d391005bf1e14a7c70f1d2c/ReflectionsSundayReadings/CycleBReflections/Lent2B.pdf

      The article on “Sacrifice” in the “Dictionary of the Bible” by John L. McKenzie, SJ reads, “There are occasional references to the practice of human sacrifice by Israelites and other peoples. The story of Abraham and Isaac (Gn 22) is a theological statement of Yahweh’s rejection of this sacrifice in the form of a story.”

      The article on Genesis in “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary,” by Richard Clifford, SJ and Roland Murphy, O. Carm, says this about Genesis 22: “Infant sacrifice was widely practiced in Canaan and in the Phoenician colonies of N. Africa. It was even practiced in Israel, as the OT polemic against it shows (2 Kgs 16:3; Mic 6:7), in critical times as a means of averting divine wrath. Israel recognized that the firstborn belonged to Yahweh (Exod 13:11-16; 34:19-20) but ‘redeemed’ firstborn human beings by an alternative sacrifice. This story tells how the founder was directed by God to ‘redeem’ his firstborn by the sacrifice of an animal. How Israel differs from its neighbors in this regard is only one aspect of this rich story; it is not the chief point.”

      The main point of the story, of course, is that of the obedient servant who gives all to God at great cost, and is ultimately redeemed because of his unwavering obedience. This is, of course, the sacrifice Jesus Himself made, offering His life lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father in atonement for our sins, and ultimately being raised to glory because of His perfect obedience, even unto death.

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      1. No. In the world of biblical exegesis you have it completely backwards.
        The point of the Gen 22 narrative is not the condemnation or advocation of human sacrifice. But the willingness, in total obedience to gods command, to not withhold even your most precious thing… In this case your firstborn son and heir for the future… From sacrifice to God.
        The fact that God stops him at the last does not negate his telling Abram to do it in the first place as a test of his faithfulness.
        That is the point of it being used in John 3 as illustrative of what Jesus would do willingly in making himself a human sacrifice at God’s command.
        Either you haven’t read the Bible much or you’ve never read any bible commentaries. But your explanation isn’t exegesis. It’s eisegesis. Reading into the text what you want it to say.
        And it matters little what was customary for religious practices at the time. In Genesis 22 and John 3 God is seen as commanding human blood sacrifice. Only he stopped Abram at the last moment. That was not a condemnation of human sacrifice. That was just a test of being willing, if God so commanded.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. You write, “The point of the Gen 22 narrative is … the willingness, in total obedience to gods command, to not withhold even your most precious thing … In this case your firstborn son and heir for the future… From sacrifice to God.” This is, in different words, fairly precisely what I said was the main point of Gen 22 in the last paragraph of my most recent response. Did you miss that? In any case, on that much we agree.

      Where we disagree, of course, is your contention that, “The point of Gen 22 is not the condemnation or advocation [sic] of human sacrifice.” I’m curious that you claim here that Gen 22 does not advocate human sacrifice, since this seems to contradict what you say later, that “In Genesis 22 and John 3 God is seen as commanding human blood sacrifice.” Which is it?

      You then claim to speak with authority that, “In the world of biblical exegesis you have it completely backwards.” However, you offer no sources from “the world of biblical exegesis.” Am I to assume that you represent the world of biblical exegesis? I would be interested in your credentials. I don’t presume to be a biblical scholar, which is why I refer to those who are, providing sources to support the interpretation of Genesis 22 as a condemnation of human sacrifice, three of whom – McKenzie, Clifford, and Murphy – are of the highest order of biblical scholarship of the last 75 years. Their publications, the “Dictionary of the Bible,” and “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary,” are two of the most respected biblical commentaries available. Here is another, a Coptic Orthodox source, “The Book of Genesis: A Patristic Commentary” by Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty (forgive the somewhat broken English translation):

      “The heathens used to offer their firstborns as sacrifices to their idols. Yet these practices were not done out of love, as much as out of despair in the hearts of those who offered them, wishing for forgiveness of their sins, for whatever price. Besides wishing to please their bloodthirsty gods! But God requested from his friend Abraham that offer, in order to reveal to believers how much Abraham loves Him, being ready to offer Him the dearest thing he possess. At the same time, as God presented a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac, He proclaimed His refusal of human sacrifices, not because of any lack of love for God on the part of believers, but in appreciation of man. God does not stand human sacrifices, as He is a lover of mankind, (1 In Gen. hom 8:1. 182) wishing for their life and not for their doom, presenting His Only-Begotten Son to redeem them, He who, even though becoming Man, yet He is the Only One on whom death cannot reign, nor corruption can approach!”

      As I said in my original post and in my response to your first comment, this is what happens when someone attempts to interpret Scripture with no consideration for the faith of the Church: he or she tends to go off on their own path, which leads to erroneous theological and moral conclusions. Your conclusion that Gen 22 does not represent a condemnation of human sacrifice doesn’t make sense, given the text itself (where, in fact, there is no human sacrifice), and given the consistent condemnation of human sacrifice elsewhere in the Scriptures, and in both Jewish and Christian moral theology.

      It’s not lost on me that you offer no support whatsoever for your notion that Gen 22 is no condemnation of human sacrifice. You simply supply your personal take on the matter and leave it at that, as if your personal take is sufficient to discount the centuries-old understanding of the text supported by the Patristics, as well as some of the most respected contemporary biblical scholars. If you have the credentials to contend with McKenzie, Clifford, and Murphy, please cite them. If you have sources supporting your understanding of Gen 22, please cite those. Otherwise, all you have is your personal opinion. Your welcome to that, of course, but, it hardly provides anything on which to interpret the text with confidence.

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