Is God a War Criminal? January 30, 2012Posted by Matt in EfM.
Tags: Bob Dylan, conquering Canaan, EFM, evil, genocide, God's favor, Israel, Joshua, war crimes
I’ve written before on more than one occasion that I’m going through the EfM (Education for Ministry) program at our church and that it has been quite interesting and enlightening. In case you don’t recall what it is, EfM is a four year program from the Sewanee School of Theology that takes participants through the Old Testament (year 1), the New Testament (year 2), Church History (year 3), and Theology (year 4). Each week we work through in depth readings from the Bible and the materials from Sewanee, then we meet on Sunday evenings to discuss the things we learned and talk our way through various issues. Every time we meet I’m struck by the level of intelligence and insight from my fellow parishioners and it has quickly become something I greatly look forward to each week.
Last week’s reading was a troubling one for me, though, as I read through the book of Joshua, the account of Israel’s conquering of Canaan. In this book, you read time and again where, according to the writer, God tells Israel to completely wipe out cities, killing every man, woman, and child, in order to take possession of it. In essence, God is telling Israel to commit genocide.
It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around a God characterized by love, who later in the manifestation of Jesus is known as the prince of peace, that then demands these sorts of atrocities be carried out. It’s certainly not a God I would want to follow. So the question must be asked, should God be automatically absolved of these acts? Should God be held accountable? Is our sense of morality today better than God’s? We would surely not hesitate to condemn actions like these if taken today.
It’s a difficult situation, and one that I can only reconcile by looking beyond the actual text. In reading the accompanying materials, you learn that these accounts were most likely written much later, centuries after the actual conquest took place. I wonder if, when looking back, the writers felt the need to justify these actions and in doing so, bolster their claim to be the chosen people of God. Is there a better way to legitimize unconscionable acts than to proclaim it the will of God?
This of course led me to reference the great Bob Dylan song, “With God on Our Side,” and its lyrics describing the dangerous American myth of divine predilection. It’s a dangerous thing to believe that deity can be claimed and contained, yet the idea continues to perpetuate itself around the world, whether in followers of radical Islam, the fundamentalist churches of America, or untold numbers of other ways.
The farther away I’ve gotten from a belief that the Bible is inerrant and perfect, the better my understanding has become. There’s still a long way to go and a lot of questions to ask, but this look at things has done wonders to soothe my soul.
P.S. In succeeding meetings I’ve name dropped Derrida and Dylan. This is my kind of program.