Scripture often presents us with uncomfortable events. Some, like the flood, involve incidents we naturally find gut-wrenching, such as infants and children drowning along with adults. Other examples include Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Korah’s rebellion. It’s important to realize that the Bible does not shy away from these events—but it does present them in a clear context. To properly understand how God’s goodness fits with His actions in those cases, we need to keep that context firmly in mind.
Of course, that context is within the Christian worldview, but that is the only context that matters. A critic cannot attack the Bible for something it contains while ignoring the rest of its contents. That would be like criticizing a science fiction novel for being “unrealistic” when the hero is saved by a teleporter, on the grounds that teleporters don’t really exist. Whether a person believes God exists is an entirely separate question from whether the God of the Bible is consistent with the Bible’s teaching on goodness.
It’s useful to consider the Christian answer to generic versions of this question, as well. Those include issues such as “why do bad things happen to good people?” and “why does God allow the innocent to suffer?”
It’s necessary to realize that God is not just like us. Many—if not all—attacks on God’s actions presume He can be judged like any other person. But even in human contexts, not all authority figures are the same. God is not a flawed, limited human acting among other humans. He is the Creator and the ultimate source of existence. His transcendent position and perfect nature create a drastic difference between what He is morally “allowed” to do to His creations, and what His creations are morally “allowed” to do to each other.
That’s not an emotionally satisfying concept. Whether one is a believer or a skeptic, no one is entirely comfortable with the idea that God is God and we are not. However, if we’re going to examine issues such as this with fairness and integrity, we must start with that observation. That starting point leads to several valid points to consider in response to the issue of God drowning children in the flood.
First, human death and suffering are the result of human sin. That’s true both on a personal level and a corporate level; whether it’s death by “natural” means or at the hands of other people, the ultimate source of that destruction is mankind’s rejection of God. Unpalatable though this truth may be, human beings can’t escape collective responsibility for suffering, even that of “the innocent.” We’re all complicit.
Second, there is the issue of the “greater good.” Humans sometimes use the “greater good” excuse to cloak their own evil, but it makes more sense when applied by an omnipotent, omniscient Creator. One purpose of the flood was to prevent even worse evil or the perpetuation of certain evils. It’s reasonable to think that many, many times more children might have suffered even worse experiences had God not intervened with the flood.
Third, there is a strong argument to be made that God’s act of taking those children’s lives was divine mercy. Given what the Bible seems to teach about the age of accountability, children who were killed in the flood escaped damnation in hell. Those who grew up to hate and defy God would have been eternally lost. While not certain, it’s at least possible that the flood was an act of mercy on the young, for that reason. To be abundantly clear, this is not an argument that can be applied to human beings making such choices.
Fourth, we need to realize the flood was part of preparing the world for Jesus, the means of human salvation. This does not negate the emotional impact of drowning children, but it does provide perspective. The God of the flood is the same God who came, in human form, to be brutalized and humiliated as a sacrifice. That same God provided a way for all people to be redeemed and rescued from an eternal hell. Once again, this advances the possibility that God had entirely valid reasons for allowing children to drown in the flood, even if we cannot entirely understand those reasons.