I Won’t Justify Violence
About a week ago I shared a pretty vulnerable yet also self-absorbed post about my insecurities and my need for validation. Well, this is going to be another one of those sorts of posts. I’m frustrated, and I need to know I’m not the only one. I need to know there are others out there who are like me who are shamelessly committed to Jesus and this Christian faith, yet who also find some stories in the Bible to be terribly unsettling.
This morning in Sunday school we talked about the story of Joshua and the wall of Jericho. You know, the one in which the Israelites are finally on the brink of claiming their promised land, and the Canaanites are all terribly vile sinners who all deserve death. So God kills two birds with one stone, sends the Israelites on a hike around the walls of Jericho seven times, and there you have it. The walls fall, and the Israelites swarm in and slaughter every man, woman, and child within the walls of Jericho—all in the name of God. Such a fanstastic story.
I kept my lips pursed, fighting to stay quiet during the discussion because I knew the minute I opened my mouth I’d voice my dissent and my conscience’s rebellion against the image of God that we see in the story of Jericho. I feel as though I’ve become so hostile and argumentative in church every week, and this week I just wanted to stay quiet and not stir up the pot.
Eh. Who am I kidding. I’ve never been one to stay quiet and not stir up the pot.
So I blurted out my question: “What does our lesson’s curriculum have to say about God? Why would He ordain mass murder—isn’t that inconsistent with the character of God that we see in the New Testament?”
And of course everyone patiently and courteously explained to me in very rational terms that God is a God of love, yes, but He is also holy, and He must judge the sinful. And the Canaanites were terrible, dreadful, awful evildoers just like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. And so God, being the omniscient deity that He is, knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single man, woman, and child within the walls of Jericho was a hell-bound fiend, so it was no big deal to fulfill His promise to the Israelites at the expense of their lives.
This was all explained to me so calmly, so rationally, as if it made perfect sense. And of course they didn’t stop there…people used this same argument to explain the decimation of Sodom and Gomorrah. And deaths of the firstborn of Egypt. And hell, why not throw in the entire population of the world drowning in the sea of God’s wrath, save one man and his family?
After all…during the time period of the flood, it’s downright indisputable that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING ON THE EARTH WAS WRATHFUL AND DEPRAVED AND COMPLETELY HARDENED AGAINST SALVATION!
And in my head I wanted to scream. Because really, let’s think about this. It doesn’t make sense—at all. This world is a world full of shades of gray, full of people with good hearts and bad hearts, those who behave selflessly some days and selfishly another. Hearts that are full of compassion and depravity, good and evil. You’ll never be able to convince me that the human heart is black and white—that some human beings are damned from birth and some are predestined for salvation. To claim that is to deny our free will, and to deny the very nature of humanity. You will never be able to convince me that there was ever a time in our history when ALL of humanity was utterly depraved and irredeemable. A time when ALL the Canaanites were utterly depraved and irredeemable.
And what’s more, I don’t care how justified it is theologically; I don’t think I will ever be able reconcile a God who would ordain and even commit mass murder with the God of the Gospels who commanded us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. A God who would say that all who live by the sword die by the sword. A God who healed and restored and convicted the hearts of men. A God who came down blazing in all His glory to a man on the side of the road, a man who was a mass murderer, who was surely depraved beyond redemption and as deserving of death as any Canaanite.
And God redeemed that man, and that man became Paul, one of the most influential early Christians and the writer of over half of the New Testament.
I brought up Paul this morning, and of course everyone chimed in with the obvious: God knew Saul’s heart. God knew Saul would repent and become Paul and change the world. And God knew the Canaanites…and every firstborn son in Egypt…and every single living human being except seven at one time…were utterly vile and wicked and depraved beyond redemption. They were beyond God’s grasp, and had rejected Him outright.
And apparently, mass murder is the only way God can deal with hearts that are so far gone.
Well, I choose not to believe in that God. I can’t explain Jericho or the Flood or the tenth plague in Egypt. When it gets right down to it, I don’t think I have to, because I’m no longer convinced that these are accurate historical accounts any more than I am convinced that Genesis 1-3 is a historical account.
But I can listen to Jesus, the incarnation of the living God, the most tangible glimpse we will ever have of our Creator. And I can’t explain how or why or any of it, but I can say…that God is irreconcilable with the murderous, cruel, vile god that Christians try so hard to justify.
‘Kay. Stepping down off my soapbox now. Is there anyone out there who understands? Who reads these stories and feels as though they could never accept that God would ordain mass murder? (Marlia, if you read this, I know you get it…and thank you!)