I don’t have definitive answers for all of my questions about God. I hope to have them some day, when I can sit at His feet and ask questions. Until then, I need faith. It’s not blind faith though. It’s ok to struggle with God and about God. He actually welcomes it: “Come, let us reason together, says the Lord” Isaiah 1:8a. The name Israel literally means “Struggles with God”. On some level I believe God welcomes our struggles with Him, because if we are struggling with Him we are reaching out to Him.
One topic that I’ve struggled with is this: Is the God of the Old Testament a monster? Humanly, anyone who orders the complete destruction of all men, women, children, and livestock would appear to be a genocidal maniac. Yet, God does this over and over again when he leads the Israelite’s into the land of Canaan. He directly orders that the people in the land be wiped out to make room for his “chosen people”. How do we reconcile this with the God of love that we read about in the New Testament?
I’ve seen this go several ways, among many different people that I’ve known over the years. One way I’ve seen it go, is to believe the Old Testament is the time of the “Father”, who happens to be wrathful and vengeful, the New Testament is the time of the “Son” who is loving and caring, and that we are currently living in the time of the “Spirit” who is….well we really don’t know except He might make you speak in weird tongues and roll around on the floor. Another way I’ve seen it go, is to start discounting the Old Testament. We attempt to make the validity of it less, maybe the people were delusional or there were errors in copying it, or for some reason it just doesn’t apply to me anymore. I’m a new covenant guy after all, I don’t need all that ancient mesopotamian garbage in my modern enlightened life. I’ve also seen it go where you just start doubting the whole thing, and throw God away entirely. I mean, if God’s not consistent and rational, what do I want to have to do with Him?
Each of these paths ultimately lead us away from God. The first splits God into pieces and makes us choose which piece we like, and which piece we don’t. We end up with a partial god, a lesser god, one that we’ve made, not who is revealed to us. The second loses the story of the God who strives for His people from creation through all of human history. I don’t want to believe in a God who showed up in 33 AD. I want the God who has been with us from day 1. Ultimately, I don’t want to pick and choose which scripture is right for me. I don’t want a self help book, I want to know the God of the universe, and I want to know what He wants me to know. And lastly, I want to be found a good and faithful servant. I’ve already figured out in my life that if I live solely for myself, then my life isn’t worth living. I need the big picture. I need hope and a future.
So how do I reconcile these things? How should you? I won’t give you the answer, because as the old saying goes, if I give you a fish you’ll eat for a day. If I teach you to fish you’ll eat for a lifetime. Here’s a path I suggest for dealing with these difficult Old Testament passages:
- Pray for wisdom and understanding. Pray for it with everything you have in you. Don’t read the Bible unless you first ask God to enlighten your understanding.
- Be very careful ascribing evil to God. This is like handling dynamite. It may explode all over you. There are times listed in scripture when God does apparently evil things. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart. He orders the genocide of whole people groups. He uses the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. And yes, even in the New Testament He will fling everyone who doesn’t follow Him into a lake of fire to be forever destroyed. These actions of God must be weighed against everything else you also know about God.
- Jesus treated the Old Testament as sacred scripture, so if I care about Jesus I should do no less.
- Ask yourself: Is God sovereign? Is God just? Is God merciful? Is God loving? Is He all-knowing? Is He all powerful? Can He see the end from the beginning?
- Ask yourself: Is God qualified to judge me, and you, and everyone?
There are a few things I keep in mind when I try to understand these passages. First, God’s not wrong. Second, the Bible’s not wrong. Third, if something’s wrong, it’s probably my understanding. When it comes to the Canaanites being utterly destroyed, it has helped me to know that God did not destroy them without first reaching out to them and trying to work with them. He first extended mercy to them. Did you know that? Before Abraham even had children of his own, God told him what would happen to them, and this includes the Canaanites:
Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 13:13-16
Did you catch it at the end? God gave the Canaanites (or Amorites) 400 years of mercy, in an attempt for them to repent and return to God. Much like He sent Jonah to preach forgiveness to the Assyrians. It’s only after they utterly rejected Him that He judged them and destroyed them. Yet even in the midst of the destruction, we know that a prostitute named Rahab was saved because of her faith, and is listed as an ancestor of Jesus. So much of the Old Testament is a shadow of what will come in the future. At the end of the New Testament we are told that Jesus will return in glory to judge the living and the dead, and that he will separate His people from those who are not, and that evil will be forever destroyed. Unfortunately, there will be many dead bodies left on that terrible and dreadful day. He delays his coming now out of mercy so that none may be lost, just as He delayed his judgement of the Amorites 400 years so that hopefully they wouldn’t be lost. God is the only righteous judge and the only one able to perform this duty. Only He can perfectly balance love, mercy, justice, and righteousness. May we turn to Him and be saved. Struggle, but struggle towards God. He wants you saved.