Water Mosaic echoes from home

pondering the mysteries, simplicity, and humor of life

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Justifying Genocide, part 1

While enrolled in Joshua, Judges, Ruth graduate class this semester, Dr. Philip Camp is requiring us to read Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide. I’m re-reading it because we have to write a report on it. The book is written by 4 contributors who each take a different angel on the accounts of genocide in Joshua and seek to justify/explain/argue it. After their chapter, the other 3 authors write shortened critics covering that particular chapter.

The first chapter, which is penned by C.S. Cowles, states a case for Radical Discontinuity. In summary, Cowles wrestles with the harmonization of a loving God fully portrayed in the life of Jesus and the warrior God of Israel who instructs his people to “utterly destroy” the inhabitants of Canaan. In all honesty, I have (as well as others) struggled with this idea for some time now. What do we do with the God in the Old Testament who seems to have a chip on his shoulder and the loving peaceful hippy Deity that we see in the New Testament (besides the wrathful tale of Ananias & Sapphira)? Cowles continues his essay by stating that the Old Testament’s message is not of and by itself a Christian message, since it is not Christocentric. He points out the distinction between the old and new covenants, but he extends that boundary to include the text of Jesus telling Peter to put down his sword (somewhere near the end of Luke) as directly countermanding Moses in forbidding the use of violence of any sort. Cowles continues by saying that the will of God could never be attributed to such atrocities as holy war (herem for you Hebrew junkies). The author attempts to resolve this matter by adding that people like Joshua and Moses mistakenly thought that God was authorizing such a gruesome policy.

Cowles has more to say, but I’ll stop boring you. I don’t agree with several of Cowles’ points. But I can see myself in Cowles because he attempts to cover the idea of genocide actually happening by somewhat running away from the problem at hand. I don’t like reading about the Israelites killing men, women, children, and livestock. Really everything that breathes except a few items for the Lord’s treasury like gold and silver. It hurts. It is so difficult to see other human tortured for the sake of God's name. Cowles seems like a pacifist in his writing, which I am finding myself more and more aligned with that idea, especially after taking a class from Lee Camp and reading his book, Mere Discipleship. Deliberately taking another human’s life is definitely prohibited in the life of a Christian. Should a Christian join the military or police force and quiet possibly be in a situation to kill another human being? I don’t know the answer to that question. Who really is our enemy? I think I know the answer to that one though. Is war ever justifiable? I don’t think so, but yet I doubt myself. What are we to do with the eschatological scenes of Revelations which portrays the Prince of Peace as one who “judges and makes war,” who is “dressed in a robe dipped in blood,” and from whose mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations”? I know that many of you have already addressed issues that pertain to your certain faith/belief in regards to war over the past few months, especially surrounding the war in Iraq. I still don’t know the answers and I probably will never attain them, but I know and believe that God desires peace on this earth. Maranatha!