“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.