I was having doubts (and still struggle with them on a regular basis) about the holiness and justness of God concerning the fact that in OT times under Mosaic Law, God not only allowed, but truly ordained into the actual law itself with NO prompting from men whatsoever, that sinners should be stoned and burned to death under certain circumstances. In the outer forum a while ago, a post called "Verses" by "MoslemGentleman" (http://www.worthychr.../147416-verses/) also touches upon this issue somewhat. These issues may seem a little macabre to some, but I believe apologetic's questions like these should be dealt with head on, rather than avoiding the issue by simply saying "That's the OT! We as Christians live under the NT covenant of grace now, so what happened back then simply doesn't matter today!" or simply repeating a rendition of the gospel to them, hoping that by putting them in fear, the doubts they are having with God's character will simply vanish.
Let me say this bluntly about what I think about this approach to handling people's questions: WRONG! When dealing with doubters, whenever you are able to (since you cannot have an answer to every single question someone may throw at you), you should deal with the question they are asking spot on without deviating from the subject matter at hand and tap dancing around the issue. BIG mistake! The reason many atheists claimed to have felt just from leaving the faith is because of "pat answers" and deviation tactics like these. If you don't know an answer, maybe more of you should do some actual research on the internet and particularly on apologetic's websites for real answers to real questions. Because of my doubts, I have done research myself on a few apologetic's topics like these and I have gotten some very solid and great answers that have served to assure my own heart greatly.
Going back to the original topic, I remember reading about the way people are stoned in Islamic nations. I am not sure how painful a death by stoning actually is, but it seems pretty bad from the descriptions given in writing (I have never watched an actual video of one). But since I thought a death by burning would surely be worse, I thought upon that topic first. I would think the pain in that one would be so bad, that a person would only scream, and not really talk or think about too much else. However, it was said that Michael Servetus in 16th Century Geneva was able to cry out for Jesus to have mercy on him before dying while in the flames (http://www.godglorif...of_servetus.htm). Roman Catholics also burned many "heretics" at the stake, which they argued is approved by God Himself.
This method of death could be used to say that God is unjust about hell, too, but even Jesus' account of what I believe to be the temporary hell (as opposed to the final lake of fire) involving a rich man in "tormenting flames," didn't seem like the fire itself could have been too excruciating (although definitely bad enough for him to complain about it!). This is because the rich man was able to talk coherently to Jesus, seemly without simply screaming since the text itself gives no such impression, asking Him that since he couldn't be let go, that the man he had oppressed in life, Lazarus, be allowed to come back to Earth to warn the rich man's brothers of "this place" so that they would not join him in hell also. If the flames were precisely like ordinary flames, I would think the rich man would have a hard time thinking (let alone articulating) such complex thoughts back to Jesus. The phrase that Michael Servetus gave as he was dying seemed much simpler than the whole conversation given by the rich man.
Disclaimer, though: I am a female, and females in the Bible are NOT allowed to teach men with authority on spiritual topics, so be careful of what I have to say here also. The flames really could be like ordinary flames; I don't want to downgrade the doctrine of hell. It's just that these facts with the rich man seem to make me question the exact nature of those flames. Then again, maybe I am overstepping my bounds here, so be careful. If any man wants to contend with me on this issue, please feel free to do so.
Nevertheless, the fact God appeared to have wanted some sinners to die an excruciating death by fire (thinking of potentially vivid details in mind though I have never witnessed an actual death by this method) made me question His character. If these kinds of methods could really deter crime, (not arguing against death penalty itself as a deterrent to crime, just whether an extreme method like this is actually necessary) why then didn't righteous come by the law? Why was Jesus even necessary? What good purpose could such a method of killing possibly serve then? Wouldn't that be making God sink to level of His sinful enemies, instituting an extreme punishment He knew wouldn't ultimately even work to save sinners? Isn't God Holier than any sinful man (or even angel)? Couldn't some people even seeing this be permanently traumatized rather than moralized, or even fully reject God because of what they saw and experienced, rather than be fearful and return to Him?
I did some searching on the internet to see if any Christian (or even others like Jews or even Muslims) had a good apologetic for these issues. I found quite a few websites where Christians indeed skirted these very important issues, even engaging in ad hominem attacks against any who would dare ask such questions, and I was getting disappointed rather quickly. However, I found some commentaries on the verses in question that commanded people be burned by fire (Leviticus 20:14, Leviticus 21:9, etc.). I have personally found verse commentaries to be an excellent source for apologetics, even better than some apologetics websites!
I believe that the key to truly understanding these verses is to pay careful attention to the actual words contained in verse, even if we are tempted to insert our own ideas as authority.
The verses in question read:
Leviticus 20:14 (And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.)
Leviticus 21:9 (And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.)
Observation: What phrase here do you suppose that is simply missing from the text that could alter the intent of these passages profoundly?
Answer: burnt to death!
The people here may never have been meant to die from an actual burning! They may have simply been put to death by stoning or strangling before dying, so it would only be their dead corpses that would have been burned! Potentially no death from fire here! If true, that would make anyone, anytime, anywhere a transgressor for ever using fire as an actual execution method! The Roman Catholics would be transgressors by that fact alone! The execution method would be rendered UN-Biblical, so any unbeliever (or even Christian doubter) using this to say God is unjust would be wrong by default! I did NOT come up with this idea on my own, but I got it from the following verse commentaries on Bible Hub:
In fact, another Biblical account can be utilized to support this notion: the death of Achan in Joshua 7:25! He and his family were stoned first until dead, and only then were they burned! Therefore, I felt I had a satisfactory answer on God justifying people killing other people by burning: Perhaps He NEVER did!
However, in spite of this potential victory, the other problem still remained completely unanswered: the problem of stoning. This kind of death has been described by sources as torturous and pretty slow. These sources were in reference to the executions taking place in Islamic nations, not Christian or Jewish ones (as almost no professing Christians or Jews stone people to death as a punishment in the modern world but Muslims still do). First, I found some Jewish sources saying their method of stoning back in early Biblical times was more humane than the methods used by Muslim nations today, and barely anyone was ever executed this way (or even given the death penalty at all). I know these sources are probably not trustworthy, but I feel it is necessary to mention that Jews view proper methods of stoning differently than Muslims. The Jewish method was meant to be much more quick and less excruciating in killing someone than the methods employed by today's Islamic nations.
I feel it is important to mention this since it is possible that the way in which people were stoned in Israel may have been much more quick and humane (even if still very graphic) than what is seen today in Islamic countries. The Jewish method may actually reflect the first Biblical method (however it was actually done as the Bible doesn't provide much details).
Another article I found was really helpful to this question too. It is called "Christians should just reject their religion's history of stoning" (http://www.debate.or...y-of-stoning/1/). It really puts things into perspective, and I think people should take a good look at. A Muslim makes a very good sounding argument that if God justified stoning people in the times of OT, then Muslims aren't so bad for stoning people today since there was a time in history in which God Himself did actually approve of (and instituted!) stoning once (even if Christians no longer allow it today or God dissolved that command for the Christian era of grace). However, with some of the reasoning I have provided from others, this argument alone shouldn't hold any water since the Biblical and Islamic methods of stoning likely aren't even the same! Also, the "Con" debater does a pretty good job of refuting the Muslim's argument and that of the "Pro" debater against the Bible's OT mandate for stoning. He/she uses very similar arguments like those that I just provided.
In addition, the killing of Achan and his family may been extremely quick. Here is the account of the execution: Joshua 7:25 "And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day." The whole congregation stone him and his family all at once! That would have been many, many stones pelted at them all at once! The number of people in the Israelite camp was huge, so I am making an educated guess that the deaths were rather quick due to this fact, and probably would definitely have been less than a few minutes. (Average Islamic stonings take at least 10-20 minutes, and sometimes even last 2 whole hours - http://civilliberty....by-Stoning.htm)
I hope I have helped someone who may be having doubts, and also for apologetics with doubters (both Christian and non-Christian) in the future concerning these issues. Any other feedback would be greatly appreciated.