We will be looking at some of the ways Jesus followers have handled the genocidal Canaan conquest passages we looked at last time. But before we do go on, you may be wondering what a blog about the Father’s love has to do with going into these dark places.
I do so for the same reason that I’ve been critical of our popular Western view of the atonement. I believe it misrepresents God’s true nature and actually drives people away from God who would otherwise come to Him.
Like with Penal Substitutionary Atonement, a theory that paints the picture of an angry Zeus-like deity who must kill His own son in order to be able to forgive us, these genocidal directives in the Canaan conquest, to me, are untenable and very much unlike the Father I’ve personally encountered in my own life, or Jesus’ own description of Him. It was this very thing that started me on a journey of faithful questioning in both of these areas of theology.
The second reason I’m covering such a difficult subject is precisely because it’s either ignored and glossed over by most evangelical teachers, or these passages are defended in such a way that actually makes it worse! (I will explain that when we get to the various explanations.) And because we haven’t thought these troubling passages through, bringing them into the interpretative light of Jesus Christ, our faith can be shaken by those who don’t ignore them, like the skeptics who have an agenda to dislodge us from our faith in a “good, good Father.”
So, up front, let me say that we can believe that God IS great, and always good, in spite of what people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins might’ve concluded!
The key to all truth about God is that He IS love, and to actually know God is to know love (1 John 4:7-21).
I also want to reiterate that I firmly believe Bible Scripture to be inspired of God (2 Tim. 3:16), but I don’t believe the text was dictated verbatim from God to the writers. That’s a claim of the Qur’an, not the Bible.
Actually, we find that Scripture has within itself an internal dispute going on over its own testimony. Some historic events were re-interpreted and changed by later narratives. Then, we have the cross-examination of this testimony by the prophets, as eminent Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggermann points out. I’ve already alluded to this with Amos in my post, “Was Ezra xenophobic?” If we don’t understand these things, we can end up with a very conflicted view of God.
Rather, we can understand the “inspiration” of Scripture as men and women being moved by God where they were at, in their understanding, time, and place. And certain stories were told and re-told to serve a particular purpose in Israel’s history. We’ll have to talk more about that in another post. Let me say now that when we get this, the Old Testament Scripture takes on a much more textured meaning for us, becoming deeply relational. God, in His divine wisdom and inspiration, invites us into the internal debate over how we are to see Him, and each other, as we grapple with the texts!
The New Testament writers reveal that it’s only Jesus Christ who gives us the exact representation of God (Matt.11:27; John 1:18; Heb.1:3). Jesus interprets the Bible for us, from Genesis to Revelation. Which, for me, means that to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible text would be to hold untenable contradictions in my understanding of the true nature of God.
As Bible scholar, Peter Enns puts it in his book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It…
“Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual—follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force.” (loc. 104 Kindle version)
“The Bible is not a Christian owner’s manual but a story—a diverse story of God and how his people have connected with him over the centuries, in changing circumstances and situations.” (loc. 2261 Kindle version)
With that said, we’re ready to explore various explanations for the Canaan “holy ban” (Deut. 7:1-2; 20:16-17) that I introduced in part one. We’ll look at how the earliest church fathers dealt with this tomorrow.