Today I have the privilege of introducing you to Ed Cyzewski. Ed is a great guy who I had the opportunity to meet last April at a writing conference. He is also a contributor over at A Deeper Story. He has written a number of books, and if you’ve spent anytime reading blogs, you have probably run across him a time or two. You can find out more about Ed at the bottom of the post. So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.
“The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”
We don’t have to look further than the rubble-filled streets of Gaza to recognize our world’s problem with violence. From military conflict to mass shootings, violence is a common tool for solving “problems.”
A quick breeze through the pages of the Bible reminds us that nothing much has changed. In fact, it appears that even God resorted to acts of violence in order to solve “problems.”
There’s no getting around the words of scripture. God is described as a warrior in the book of Exodus. So, is it accurate to say that God is violent? Do we misrepresent God? And if God is violent, would we want to worship such a God?
Since the Bible gives us more stories than absolutes, let’s consider what happened when David aspired to build God’s temple. Before David could start construction, God stopped him because David was a man of war.
God did not want a warrior to build his house of worship.
We may rightly wonder, “Wait a second, wasn’t David doing God’s work? Wasn’t killing Philistines the thing back then?” This encounter with God suggests that David’s violent past wasn’t exactly ideal. While God certainly gave Israel victories in battle, God also didn’t want his temple to have the stain of blood on it.
We could look at this in a few different ways. On the one hand, we could say that YHWH is inconsistent. Did God want David to fight those battles or not? On the other hand, we could say that perhaps God is able to handle tension much better than us. While the consistent desire of YHWH throughout the Prophets is to beat swords into plowshares, he’s still willing to meet his people where they’re at—even if it’s in combat. And if YHWH could meet David in battle, he at least drew a line in the sand: Now that you have peace in your land, I will build my house of prayer under the leadership of a man of peace.
It’s not perfect, but then God is dealing with people who make sinful choices. The raw materials are not exactly top notch at the start. However, there’s a progression moving God’s people away from violence. In fact, we could say that God moved his people from tribal warriors to a powerful nation who built temples and welcomed foreigners.
The future that God always imagines in the Old Testament is one with peace and justice where everyone can enjoy their own vineyards and crops. God does not present a future where his people will roam the earth as a marauding army. Their swords will become second-rate farm tools before they’re ever raised in anger again.
Can We Find Resolution for a Violent God?
Whether we look at the story of David or Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, there’s no escaping the role of violence in the Bible. It should disturb us. That Joshua would record God’s involvement in a military campaign should unsettle us—especially in light of God’s future plans for peace and the message of Jesus to love enemies.
It’s striking that the Jewish people and the early church both held onto the book of Joshua along with the oracles of the prophets that spoke of a peaceful future. Who would blame them for tossing Joshua because it didn’t fit with a more palatable book like Isaiah? They saw that God is leading our world to a peaceful resolution where justice will reign, but they didn’t rewrite the past.
To their credit, they kept the records passed down to them. The tough parts belong in the story too. And if we consider that the Bible is inspired by the Spirit of God, we should ask what the Holy Spirit is telling us by including such diverse stories related to God and violence.
Perhaps the involvement of God in any kind of violent conquest is too much for those who are committed to pacifism. I can appreciate that.
Whatever more there is to say, if this post has left you conflicted and dissatisfied, then you’re probably in a good place. That’s most likely the very thing we’re supposed to take away from these stories.
Ed Cyzewski is the author of Coffeehouse Theology and A Christian Survival Guide. He writes about imperfectly following Jesus as www.edcyzewski.com. He lives in Columbus, OH with his wife and two sons where they obsess over New York style pizza and organic gardening. Connect on Facebook or Twitter.