I found this letter from “Wally” to be particularly sad and typically disturbing. It hurt to read. “Wally” raised his family in the church, but now, later in his life, has left the faith. While his entire family passionately moves forward in the faith, he is a “closet unbeliever.” Reason: Because of the horrific acts of God in the Old Testament. As he describes it:
“I found the reading of the Hebrew text to be offensive to every ounce of humanity, and humaneness, that I possess. We now look at things such as genocide as the worst sort of crimes against humanity. Yet, in order to accept the bible as the holy word of God, we must accept the genocidal activities of the Israelites as a good and necessary thing, since it was commanded by God himself. I will no longer be a part of defending such cruel acts. The Hebrew bible is full of all sorts of cruelty and crimes against humanity. I abhor and reject cruelty at all levels. I have a higher opinion of a Creator God than this tribal deity of the Hebrews. The idea that an awesome Creator would have such a bloodlust and command and sanction such cruelty is ludicrous to me now.”
As I read through this, I immediately put on my apologist’s hat and responded to his criticism in my mind. This turned into an emotional struggle not because I don’t have an answer, but because I first attempted to give the answer without understanding Wally’s heart. Typical of me. Once again, the formal and theologically astute answer, “He was never a true believer to begin with” does not really help. It may be true, but from a human perspective, we have to deal with such things more carefully and thoughtfully.
It is ironic that from a Christian worldview, Wally’s problem may be the fault of the very imago dei (image of God) which his current direction is leading him to reject. He has a love and compassion in his heart for people. This is a good thing. Compassion is something that reflects God’s character and image. To read about God’s actions as He violently kills men, women, and children causes Wally to allow his heart to call the shots on truth. This is not uncommon. In fact, it is a typical response to the “God of the Old Testament” in our postmodern world. There is a great book out there called “Show them No Mercy” which attempts to deal with this issue. You might think about picking this up.
I understand where this guy is coming from although I do not follow his path. At this fork in the road, he and I would have to shake hands and go our separate directions. My direction must be compelled not only by compassion, but also righteousness, the authority of God’s word, the love expressed in the cross of Christ, and the broad perspective of redemptive history (there was something bigger going on during the conquest of Canaan–much bigger!).
Wally’s trouble comes from the narrative of the Old Testament where the Israelites are commanded to utterly destroy all the people in the lands which they were to possess. The explicit command is given here:
Deuteronomy 7:1-6 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations– the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you– 2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
See also Deut. 20:16
We see the command being carried out through the records of Joshua (Joshua 6:21; Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:11-12; Joshua 11:14).
If I were to respond to Wally, the first thing that I would do is put this issue into perspective. Not the perspective of redemptive history that I spoke of above (this would come later if I was able to keep an audience), but the perspective of the idea of judgment in particular. While the conquest of Canaan was indeed gruesome and while it is shocking to believe that these acts were commissioned by a God of grace who would use the hands of the sinful, stubborn, and possibly equally deserving Israelites to accomplish this, this is not the worst of it. I think it is because of the narrative details that are given that makes this account stand out. But we must remember that something much worse than this already has had happened. God destroyed not a country of men, women, and children, but the entire population save five through the flood. Now the account details are not given, but your imagination can certainly fill in some of the details of young couples fighting for their lives as they no longer find solid footing and sink underwater together, children crying asking mom and dad what was going to happen, and newborns floating in the water all dead. This came directly from the hands of our loving God. Didn’t Wally ever hear about the flood? I am sure he was taught about it in Sunday School.
But there is still something much worse. The reality of hell makes both of these events look like a Saturday morning family trip to IHOP. At least these people had the mercy of a quick death. But the reality is that the Christian worldview teaches that since they were pagan and outside of God’s mercy, they went from the frying pan into the fire (pardon the pun). There is no mercy in hell. There is no quick death. There is no hope of having your conscious lost through a slit throat or a sword in the heart. The merciless suffering goes on for eternity. “Wally, pardon my insensitivity here, but put that in your pipe and smoke it! Now we can start dealing with the real issue-the righteousness of God.” God is loving, merciful, and compassionate, but he is also righteous and holy. Sin is really bad. Rebellion is a choice. God cannot lay aside His righteousness in favor of His love. It does not work that way. That is why the cross was so necessary. God had to maintain His righteousness in order to offer grace. I know that we would like to have a God who simply sweeps disobedience and rebellion under the rug, but this is not possible. “Wally, the God that you believed in does not exist. You created Him in the image that you desired, and when this God was not represented in Scripture, you left to search for him elsewhere.”
Let’s lay all the cards on the table. Let’s deal with these issues early on. Theology must be taught if the big picture must be seen in these type of issues. We must move forward not because we like the way God does everything (I sure don’t), but because He is God and we are not.
How would you respond to Wally?