By Phares Gilchrist
A whole lotta preparation has gone on to get us to this point, and I don’t just mean Moses, Joshua and the children of Israel. Our western culture has been grooming us to accept or reject the events to come in the next few chapters of Joshua. We are faced with binary choices that look like this:
Is God just? Am I more just?
Is God loving? Am I more loving?
Is He gracious? Am I more gracious?
We weren’t given many specifics when God eradicated Sodom and Gomorrah. It was His doing. My fellow man was not dashing heads on rocks. We accept this as what God’s judgment looks like when a culture utterly fails in every category of decency.
Now, faced with the choice between successful implantation of Israel, upon whom rests the future redemption of all who will believe, or complete assimilation into a culture who sacrifices children and practices the use of temple prostitution as a form of worship — it was worse than even this, but it would have to be when it practices these rituals — the goal is clear. The culture will not give up its evil practices and threatens to corrupt Israel.
To be sure, Canaan had embraced and cultivated evil. When tempted to think I would handle the situation differently, I need only mull this over — would I march my children into a society that will sodomize and rape them, and sacrifice them to their lust?
The temptation is to say the women and children could have been saved. That is to misunderstand the depth of the depravity. It wasn’t just the men. It was a sociopathy and psychopathy that had corrupted the entire culture.
These harsh truths are at the base of the progressive Christian movement and its desire to delegitimize the authority of these events. Those who struggle with Joshua’s mandate feel like co-conspirators in a cruel war on innocents. They don’t want to be presented to a secular world as condoning these actions.
The real struggle is with the questions above. They have not reconciled who is the most just, loving, and gracious in all matters concerning man. In other words, God’s character is on trial.
Here are some things that might seem counterintuitive:
- Those I love, family and friends and especially children, need to see me struggle with Scripture and come out of the struggle able to articulate why I believe God is just, loving and gracious. No one needs us to go around making declarative statements that don’t show our work. If I tell my math teacher a + b = c without showing him, I get no credit. They need to see our thinking processes and how we come to our conclusion. Otherwise, we are setting them up for possible failure when they have to “give an answer for the hope that is within them.” That failure, discouraging and sometimes humiliating, opens them up to what non-believers believe.
- I also need to recognize that pride and arrogance are at work on both sides of any issue. I need to check mine, and I need to name it in others. Those who reject Scripture as literal or inerrant have just placed themselves in the position as ones who consider themselves as not only more just, loving and gracious, but more wise.
When I look at the players in the progressive movement, so many got on the Christian bandwagon as young believers, gained leadership and followings very young, and had to process at a rate that was unsustainable. They eventually found themselves committed to a system rather than a person. Their spiritual resources dried up, and they were empty. Without a personal connection to God through a growing intimacy with Christ, challenges from without concerning God’s love and justice were met with a powerless response and an inevitable acceptance of a low view of Scripture. Some of them do hold to a form of belief. But not one that recognizes the authority of the Old Testament.
Paul said this best when talking to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:20-21 — a really precious chapter where Paul so personally teaches his pupil:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.
I really don’t have the luxury of arguing with God about His decisions to wipe out whole cultures. He did it differently at different times, including with plagues and fire and now with hand-to-hand combat. That evil exists is abundantly clear. That God has a plan in dealing with it is also clear. I’m just thankful there is a plan, that God is good and just, and I can trust Him to deal rightly and justly with things I cannot cope with or even understand. My paltry understanding of grace and justice do not match His infinite knowledge of both.
At its root is the belief that death must have a happy ending, always. When Paul says, “O death, where is your victory, where is your sting?” he is acknowledging the ugliness that comes with death. He knows his abjectly evil heart that delivered Christians up for death has been spared the natural consequences because of God’s grace. His evil heart was redeemed, but make no mistake, it was evil.
Joshua forces us to face evil squarely, name it, recognize its capacity for pain resides in us, and agree with God that He alone is just and merciful. To the degree I wrestle with this truth, and place my trust firmly in Him, I will know abiding peace and joy.
I have work to do.