I don’t know how many times during my years as a Christian I heard, “Nobody is beyond salvation. No matter how bad you are, you are not beyond God’s forgiveness.”
Recently I attended a Christian gathering and saw this poster on the wall:
Although some might question the particulars of those characters’ stories, the sentiment pervades the evangelical church.
How about you? Do you believe that nobody is beyond God’s reach?
If so, then you might be surprised at this description of the Canaanites:
…a people who were morally and spiritually corrupt–beyond redemption. The Canaanites had sunk below the hope of moral return…
That’s part of Paul Copan’s justification of the genocidal conquest of Canaan in his book Is God a Moral Monster?. It’s a claim that I’ve heard many times, but I never realized until today how flatly it contradicts the idea of God’s unlimited power to save.
Yes, this quickly gets into debates about free will versus election, and foreknowledge versus predestination. Let’s skip those complications because I’d like to repeat a story I told in my series on biblical slavery. I had asked a missionary friend for his take on the Canaanites.
His mission field had been in the jungles of Venezuela, among people whose evil practices paralleled the Canaanites’ child sacrifices that are always held up as proof of their evil-beyond-the-pale. When a woman of the tribe bore twins, the witch doctor would tell the parents which twin was good and which was evil. The parents then had to let the evil one die of exposure in the jungle. Horrible, right?
I asked my friend whether he thought these people were evil, or just lost. He said they were just lost. “They love their kids,” he said, “but they are in bondage to their superstitions.”
They were certainly not “beyond the hope of moral return,” for when the tribe became acquainted with the twin children of another missionary couple and saw that both were good, the tribe abandoned their evil custom!
“How did the Canaanites compare to the Venezuelan tribe?” I asked. He thought they were probably similar “All people are pretty much alike,” he said. “We all have the same hopes, fears and needs.”
Although neither of us could prove his statement, it rang true to me.
I no longer believe in the God of the Bible, but if I did I would believe that the omnipotent creator of the universe could easily turn the hearts of the Canaanites toward himself if he chose.
The excuse that the Canaanites were “beyond the point of moral return” cannot be true if God is omnipotent. It does not justify God’s command to commit genocide.