If you have been patient enough to read the previous series, you have read several key insights that help us understand God as he is revealed in the Old Testament:
- God implemented justice on a particularly evil culture. In doing so, God was not forcing His law onto every other nation; He was showing He was a God cared about the victims of evil.
- God waited hundreds of years before implementing His justice; he carefully warned the targeted cultures; and he drove out most of the people ahead of time.
- The language of destruction in the war texts primarily contain language of displacement: God was destroying a horrific cultural system, even while the individuals within it were embraced by the Israelite community.
- The people involved in the wars were the cultural gatekeepers (priests and military), not the civilians.
- The rules of war reflected the principle of lex talionis, the command that the punishment should not exceed the crime.
- This is not a history of genocide, but of the salvation of an area of the world from specific cultures that were some of the most brutal on record in human history.
So why does all of this matter to us today?
God is offended by evil, as we should be. Actions have consequences. For the sake of the world, at some point someone must step in and stop evil and promote good. When we read or see the atrocities of the Holocaust, do we not cheer that someone intervened to stop that? When we read about genocide in Rwanda, or Saddam’s torture rooms, of Kony’s enslavement of children, isn’t there a part of us that rises up and says, “Won’t someone do something?”
If we were to find out that God ordered the defeat of Nazi Germany, or ordered intervention into the genocide in Rwanda, or had a plan for how to intervene in nations the commit atrocious human rights violations against their own people, would we suddenly become critical of God and say, “I thought you were a God of love?” I think we would be glad to know that Justice is part of God’s nature too, and that He was also offended by what was going on.
We read in the book of Micah that by approximately 700 B.C., Israel had thoroughly absorbed the worship and the lifestyle of the very Canaanites they dispossesed: they were deceitful, violent, greedy, unjust liars; they had become like both the cultures and the rulers they had previously deposed. Micah warned them that they needed to repent (Micah 6), but not, perhaps in the way they expected:
What can we bring the Lord? What kind of offerings can we bring Him ? Shall I bring him an offering of young calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall we offer our firstborn children to pay for our sins?
No! The Lord has told you what is good, and what He requires of you: Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
Act justly and love mercy. Is it possible that a God of Wrath and the God of Grace have more similarities than differences? Can God not hold the attributes of love and justice simultaneously? For that matter, can they even exist apart from each other? In an interview with Lee Strobel, Paul Copan quoted Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who lived through unspeakable violence during ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia:
“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them.
My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?
Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”
This is one of the messages of the anger of God in the Old Testament: God is not indifferent with respect to those who suffer human cruelty. Is it possible to conceive of a being who embodies love but does not become outraged at injustice? And while not every injustice in this life is addressed immediately, God’s plan offers at least a hope that justice will have its day, if not in this life then the life to come.
“Human anger at injustice will carry less weight and seriousness if divine anger at injustice in the service of life is not given its proper place. If our God is not angry, why should we be? That God would stoop to become involved in such human cruelties as violence is…. not a matter for despair, but of hope. God does not simply give people up to experience violence. God chooses to become involved…so that evil will not have the last word.” – Terence Fretheim