Question: Was the God of the old testament a failure? Time and time again he sent war, famine, disease, etc. to punish and judge mankind for their sins. And yet mankind stills continues to sin big time, no matter what God does. Seems to me when trying to keep mankind from sinning , God is a failure.
Answer: Your point is well taken. If God’s objective is to keep us humans from sinning, a quick look around the world would make a guy wonder if he were on the job at all! But take heart: God is indeed on the job — and I have three reasons to believe so.
First, God plays of the long game… and it’s not “game over” yet. Therefore, let us give God the same kind of break that we would give a carpenter.
When I pass by a construction site and see a house that is merely framed, I do not call the carpenter a failure. I consider a house that is merely framed to be in appropriate condition in a progressive project. God, too, is “building a house” — the kingdom of God — and this, too, is a work in progress. The project began before the foundations of the world (1 Pet. 1:20), its preparations populated the Old Testament (Heb. 1:1-2) and Jesus’ earthly ministry was the official groundbreaking (Mk. 1:15). But note this well: The project is not scheduled for completion until the end of this age. Therefore, when you evaluate God’s “project” for the remediation of sin and it seems to come up short, remember that he’s not done yet. Do not confound incompleteness with failure.
Second, God created humans as free moral agents, and such agents will sin as part of their natures. We were not created to sin… but we were created with the ability to sin. So when we sin, we are acting against our design purposes. This manifests itself in evil — and God must address evil. But you are assuming that an action which is purposed for correction should have a perfect result. How does that work for you?
If you have children or some kind of subordinates, do your corrective actions achieve perfect results? Mine do not… and God’s do not for the same reason: the objects of our correction are sinners — not planetary bodies that respond to morality as with Newtonian physics. The fact that every human being is a free moral agent is a virtual guarantee of ongoing moral failures until Christ comes back. Is this a design problem? Should God rethink this free will business?
I ponder that a lot — and I always come up with the same conclusion: why would God bother to create humans who had no free will — or humans who thought that they had free will but whose actions were predetermined? How could creating such beings ever redound to his glory? God might as well create fire hydrants as to create human beings like that! So, to get the “real stuff” — worship from a volitional creature — he must take the risk of creating creatures that will likely rebel… and here we are! Full of sin, but worth the risk (Psalm 51).
The sin that you are observing in the world is just part of the price we all pay for the nearly unimaginable privilege of having a life. Therefore, sin remains an issue because there are no logical alternatives for God to receive true worship except from beings who will likely sin.
Third, God’s responses to evil are not only corrective; they are also (and always) the right thing to do. They announce to the world that sin must be judged. True, he doesn’t respond with overt judgments every time something happens, but he does so often enough to make his point. Sin will be addressed because sin must be addressed (Jude 14-15) — and God’s biblically obvious responses to sin are mere previews of things to come.
People argue against capital punishment by saying that it does not deter crime. — and that may be true, but that’s not the point. Capital punishment is the right thing to do. It’s a terrible thing to do, surely — and we should never take it lightly. But this grave act is about responding to an individual’s sin in kind — to remove him from the earth… but also to demonstrate that the society will not tolerate murder.
That’s where God is in dealing with sin: his actions affect certain individuals at certain points in time, but they are demonstrations for all time. God had no expectations that these actions would prevent humankind (en masse) from sinning, but God must show his displeasure at sin (Prov. 6:16-19). That’s the job. God’s actions were more about communication than about remediation.