This is another in a series of questions that have been posed by skeptics, atheists, and critics.
Question: In the Bible, God strikes down some people but does not do so today. For example, He struck down the tower of Babel. However, there are plenty of other religious objects larger than a tower that have not been struck down. Were not these other peoples’ reaching toward heaven? Why would God not strike them down also?
Answer: Actually, in the story of the tower at Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, God never destroys the tower, but He does scatter the people and confuse the languages. The passage implies they had not yet finished building, since in v.8 “they ceased building the city.” But of course this is not the point of the passage nor the question. However, it does show a common mistake that is used by critics, namely that the point of the passage seems to be ignored and a lesser issue is elevated in importance.
A key point in the story is found in v.4, where the people pridefully say “Let us build ourselves . . .” and “let us make a name for ourselves . . .” This was apparently a time where the people’s pride got in the way of their focus on God, so God scattered them. The point was not so much the tower nor the city, but the fact that they built it as a monument to themselves. God did to them exactly what they were pridefully determined to prevent, their scattering across the earth (v.4).
This is not the only time that God punishes disobedience. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church and God struck them dead. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 some were sick and dying for taking the Lord’s supper in a flippant manner. So the essence of the question above might be: Why would God punish some, as in these examples, yet ignore many today that are doing the same things? After all, people in the church lie today like Ananias but are not killed, surely some take the Lord’s supper unworthily but are not sick, and many pagan efforts were done over the centuries but were not punished like the people at Babel. Why?
First, as we have said before, this is another “why?” question that may not have an answer. As finite humans, we do not even know why we do things ourselves, so why would we know why God does things?
Second, a question like this is another example of a paradox that critics put God into. If He is consistent and punishes all people equally, He is blamed for not showing mercy. If He were to ignore sin and not punish it at all, He would be accused of not being a righteous God who is worthy of worship. If He shows mercy and longsuffering, as these examples show, He is accused of being inconsistent.
Third, even if we do not know why God would punish some sin and not others, such situations do not prove anything against God or the Bible. Is this supposed to show that God does not exist or the Bible untrue? Surely the critic does not believe such conclusions follow logically. The most we could reasonably conclude is that we do not know why God would punish some sin and not others. A more likely conclusion is that God is loving and merciful in most cases, but the critic does not mention these positive aspects.
Fourth, there is a logical conclusion. Such instances as the tower of Babel and Ananias and Sapphira happened near transition points in God’s dispensational plans, and God may have been trying to emphasize a point to the people at the time: Follow My commands and follow Me. When Ananias was the first to introduce sin into the newly formed church, God emphasized to them that the church should be kept pure and holy.
Fifth, just because God does not immediately punish sin does not mean He will not do it eventually. We do not know everything God has in store for the future or the afterlife, but we can be sure that He will right every wrong and be fair and just.
Lastly, as sinful people, we do not understand God’s holiness and mercy. He has every right to punish all sin immediately, but He lovingly gives people a second chance. God has every right to punish pride and disobedience at Babel and today. He lovingly does not. Rather, He gives us the examples of others’ disobedience, and gives us a second chance, so that we can know the importance of following a loving God.