So what do you think? How would you answer this question: “If God is Love, how could He have all of those people in the Old Testament killed?”
We associate “Love God, Kill Your Neighbor” with religious wars, fundamentalist thinking, and fanaticism. These are people who build bombs in their basement, shoot people in public, carry “God Hates You” signs…or maybe they just call you names, shut you out, bully you. This is difficult for me to understand. Most of us would agree we don’t love God by killing our neighbor, but what about God’s commandment here?
You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 20:17-18 (NRSV)
Honestly this perplexes me at times, but I have been trying to view things differently. It’s sort of what artists (or want-to-be artists) do. I’m unable to just simply say, “We can’t understand God’s thoughts and ways.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) I have to have some idea to consider, something to try to sketch out, whether I find it valid or not in the end.
So what if we try to view everything in the Old Testament as being about God’s plan to become flesh and dwelling among us? What if all of God’s actions, covenants, and laws are viewed through the lens of “I must send My Son into the world to be born as Son of God and Son of Man”?
For the Incarnation to happen, God needed a holy nation and a holy family to bring a holy child into the world. This was likely the most important thing to God. In fact it was so important that when the Israelites had disappointed God so much, He told Moses that He would wipe them all off of the earth and start His plan again with just Moses to build a holy nation. (Deuteronomy 9:13-14) Without the Incarnation, all would be lost. God could not give up His plan.
God was very concerned, I believe, about what kind of people would be surrounding His Holy Child, His Son. This is why He needed a holy nation. He couldn’t tolerate any pagan beliefs because of what could possibly happen. Some pagan worship involved child sacrifice, burning children alive, so God commanded against this. (Leviticus 18:21) Even with all of God’s warnings, this still happened. (Honestly, if people are going to do that to little children, what else might they do?)
They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons,and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood. Psalm 106:34-38 (NRSV)
So what if this was part of the reason, maybe not all of the reason, for what seems to be a contradiction? God had to protect His Son who was to be born a baby into a frightening and violent Roman-occupied country in a very violent world.
Yet I do wonder, “Well, God could just protect Jesus as a child. He could send an angel if someone was going to do any harm to Jesus.” But even though He could have, I have a hard time imagining that He would have. This, I believe, has something to do with how Jesus never took any miraculous actions to save Himself, even when people wanted to stone Him. (John 8:59 and 10:31)
So then I wonder, “Well, surely God could have outsmarted people and prevented any harm from occurring.” But really, haven’t we seen the evil that people can do? Even Jesus as an adult did not trust people. (John 2:24-25) And could we really worship God from our hearts if His plan of redemption rested on being able to outsmart us?
What if God wanted Jesus to be just like you and me? What if God wanted Jesus to walk by faith? That meant with no “safety net” of angels or superior outsmarting, just faith in His Father built upon knowing the holy scriptures, prayer, and meditation. These are the same tools that you and I have.
The people of the Old Testament didn’t understand everything perfectly because they were right in the middle of God working out His plan for the Incarnation. Maybe we as people of the New Testament don’t understand everything because we are right in the middle,of God working out His plan for the the Parousia, Christ’s Second Coming.
And so finally…
What if we can’t understand everything now because God’s love is bigger than our minds can comprehend? What if the “New And Improved For Everybody” must come to pass first?
Is there anything profound here? Doubtful. Does this explain everything? No. It may not explain anything at all or only scratch the surface, but it does help me to imagine and ask questions.
I’m learning, very slowly, that knowing the answers is not the same as knowing God. Perhaps that is the best response to the question that started all of this.