I’ll get right to the point. I think President Obama would have bombed the Canaanites way before God annihilated them. Why am I even bringing up this hypothetical situation? Are statements like this even helpful for us today in our walk with God? For those questions I need to back up a little bit.
I sat at the Credo House, in Heretics Corner, having a very important conversation. A young man who had been a strong believer the last time we met had grown shaky in many of his beliefs. This guy, whom I’ll call Jake, grew up in a very liberal part of the country and was born to liberal parents. His parents are intellectual people who view Christianity to be the opium of the masses.
Jake, slowly but surely, had been worn down by many conversations with atheist family members. Jake and I sat down to discuss many aspects of Christianity he was struggling to believe. After more than an hour and a half of great conversation he finally dropped the bomb. He said, “Alright, this is it, here’s the big one. My family and friends bring this up all the time and I’ve never heard a convincing response. Why is God so unjust in the Old Testament? How can God be loving when he does things like kill the Canaanites?”
It’s a wonderful moment in any serious conversation to get to the real heart of an issue. Jake and I had been discussing issues in the periphery and now we were in the center of what was really bothering him. How does an intellectually honest Christian live with a God who called for the annihilation of the Canaanites? I know some of you reading this will think there is no such thing as an intellectually honest Christian, but please humor me for a bit while I talk nonsense.
Whenever we move into the issue of some of God’s actions in the Old Testament I typically have an image pop into my head. For some strange reason I go back to Thanksgiving. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving many years ago when I finally was able to move from the little kids table to the adult table. At least at my house growing up we had a big table reserved for just the kids at Thanksgiving. We had another big table for all the grownups. Some cultures have elaborate ceremonies marking the passage from childhood to adulthood. The great ceremony, for me at least, was moving from the kids to the adult table.
I was so excited to move from the little kids table but it did have a distinct drawback. The conversations at the adult table were all about adult topics. If I wanted to sit at the adult table I needed to be willing to have an adult conversation. If you’re willing to criticize God for His actions in the Old Testament, you need to be willing to have adult level conversations.
If you are not willing to have an adult level conversation about God, please do not continue reading this post. Additionally, if you are under the age of 18, please stop reading this post. I’m going to get into some topics I want your parents to preview before you read. Seriously, stop reading if you have a weak stomach or are young.
Okay, I’m assuming everyone reading right now is consciously sitting at the adult table ready for an adult conversation. Here we go.
Before jumping directly into dealing with the Canaanites, let’s take a step back from that particular time and place and observe our world.
Let’s not pretend we live in a white-washed world. We live in a world where terms like Holocaust; Rwandan Genocide; and Darfur, Sudan have meaning. These atrocities were not committed by precocious little kids stealing candy from their sisters. These events were horrific. If my 6 year-old son asks me what happened during World War II, I can only provide a sugar-coated answer. I can only use simple words like good guys fought bad guys. I must hold back my more detailed adult knowledge.
Just last week I heard about an evil causing me to take a few shallow breathes. The details of this dreadful evil are difficult to even swallow at the adult table. Several men in New Delhi, India boarded a public transit bus and started gang raping a young girl. After raping her repeatedly they eventually rammed a metal rod up into her body which brutally ended her life. Four men were arrested and tried as adults. Some additional boys involved in the rape were so young they couldn’t be tried as adults.
Now, New Delhi is known as the rape capitol of India. Rape is common there and the men are usually given the benefit of the doubt. It is quite possible these men could have received a slap on the wrist. How could they get less than the full wrath of India?
I could probably make a case that none of these men would have done this terrible crime on their own. They were overcome by a mob mentality. The power of the group took over and each person lost their head. Yes, these young men should definitely be sentenced to prison but since they experienced a mob mentality there should be some leniency, perhaps.
Based on the knowledge the Indian society gained regarding the details of the crime, however, the young men were sentenced last week to death by hanging. The collective response throughout India was a recognition that justice had been served. When we put God on the stand and try him for being unjust, we need to remember there are terrible deeds happening in 2013 requiring extreme justice.
Let’s start going back in time a few thousand years and analyze the morality of the Ancient Near East. You may have heard of Baal worship. Baal is frequently symbolized in the form of a bull. Why? Because the people recognized the large testicles of bulls. Why did this matter? Well, people who worshiped Baal were many times looking for it to rain. In an agricultural society rain is of utmost importance. Baal worshipers thought they could force the hand of their god and make it rain.
Baal worshipers would get together and have massive orgies. Their hope was to turn on their god and force him to have an orgasm. His semen would fall to earth as rain. Yes, that’s a hard thing for a pastor to preach on Sunday morning to a mixed-age congregation. Remember, we’re at the adult table discussing the morality of God. Here’s an ancient Ugaritic poem:
To the earth Baal rained,
To the field rained ʿAliy.
Sweet to the earth was Baal’s rain
To the field the rain of ʿAliy.
[Side note: I’m not trying to be shocking or overly emotional. I’m just trying to be honest with reality while sitting at the adult table.]
You can see why Moses was so upset coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments when the people were “celebrating” after forming a golden calf.
In addition to Baal worship, the Canaanites worshiped a god named Molech. How do you worship Molech? You heat a large statue of Molech up to an insanely hot temperature. You then take a living baby and place it in the hands of the Molech statue until the baby burns to death. Of all the world religions I have studied, the Canaanite worship of Molech is the most frightening. The Canaanites were not innocent people. If that’s how they worshiped their god, you can only imagine how they treated one another.
Do you think the continual burning of children alive, coupled with many other proven “crimes against humanity”, is much better than Syria utilizing chemical weapons in 2013? Many of the proven atrocities from Canaan, Babylon and Assyria would certainly have caught the attention of President Obama if these were countries today. President Obama, interestingly, was elected in 2008 with an anti-war platform.
In no way is my intention to debate if President Obama should bomb Damascus. I simply want to point out that an intellectual lawyer and community organizer was elected in 2008 partly on his insistence that he was clearly against the Iraq war. No one, Republicans and Democrats together, would have accused President Obama as being a war mongering leader. He already, however, bombed Lybia in 2011 and tried to make a case for bombing Syria.
President Obama has come to recognize when an individual is in charge and has reliable information of wrongdoing, it may be necessary in the pursuit of doing good to destroy people. This is adult table conversation. I don’t think President Obama is a moral monster for wanting to bomb a country that is willing to use chemical weapons. I don’t think President Truman is a moral monster for dropping atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 responsible for killing more than 230,000 men, women and children. For some reason Jake’s parents voted twice for President Obama, possibly support the actions of President Truman, but mock God as a moral monster.
There are, however, some incredible difference between President Obama and God. The one difference most applicable in this conversation is that God is all-knowing. He is fully aware of every tragedy. He is fully aware of every horrific event. God does not need to wait for an investigation to be done. He does not need to send in inspectors, he already intimately knows the situation.
India was aware of that horrible gang rape, but God knew every rape that day throughout the world. It is amazing, I believe, that God allows any country to flourish. If any president had full knowledge of every thought and action, he would probably be seeking congress to bomb all countries of the world.
Our observation of the Old Testament, however, seems to paint the opposite picture of God. Yes, God did pull the trigger a couple times throughout history and dropped atomic bombs. Many more times, however, His mercy and patience far outpaced that of humans.
Jonah is an excellent example. God sent Jonah to tell Nineveh that they would be destroyed. The Assyrians were bastards. That’s the easiest way to explain them. They invented ways to torture people. Crucifixion was first developed by them. They are known for conquering countries and then putting giant fish hooks through the cheeks of conquered people and marching them all the way back to Assyria. The Assyrians would have violated the Geneva Convention every day.
Jonah, famously, goes in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. Why? He knows the type of God he serves. A war mongering moral monster? No. He knows his God is quick to forgive people. He is slow to punish. He is slow to avenge. Jonah doesn’t want Nineveh to have any chance of forgiveness. Jonah wants to fly the Enola Gay over Nineveh. God, however, is more restrained than Jonah. He wants to give Nineveh a chance to repent. The book of Jonah is an adult table book. God forces Jonah, kicking and screaming, to Nineveh and the people repent. The book ends with Jonah wanting to commit suicide because God forgives people who don’t deserve it.
I am convinced, using only evidence from the Old Testament and the news today, that President Obama would have called for the destruction of Canaan long before God gave his assent.