Today’s reading: Joshua 9-11.
“If GOD is GOD he is not good; if GOD is good he is not GOD.” So goes the challenge from the antagonist in the play, “J.B.” So goes the thinking of many in our time. How can a good God allow evil? Since evil exists, they say, there must be no good God, only a wrathful God with whom they want nothing to do.. Or if God is loving, they argue, he must not be very powerful and therefore not very god-like.
The extermination of the Canaanites in Joshua adds much fuel to this debate. Some of the arguments include:
- The Israelites didn’t really fight and win these battles; it’s all myth.
- The Israelites weren’t acting on God’s orders; they were only acting out their own desires.
- If true, these events prove that God is not good.
Believers accept that the Bible account is accurate. The Bible states clearly that God ordered the extermination of the Canaanites (meaning all the tribes living in the Promised Land). How does God justify his order?
The sins of the Canaanites were great and deserved judgment. In Leviticus 18 God details all the sins of the Canaanites for which he is condemning them: incest (which is often sexual abuse), adultery, child sacrifice (burning alive), homosexuality, sex with animals, and idolatry. He says that they have so defiled the land with their sin that the land is vomiting them out. God says he is condemning them for their sin, not because of their race. Their destruction is not genocide but capital punishment.
God had been patient. God foretold Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, but that it would not happen for another 400 years because the sin of the tribes in Canaan was not yet full (Genesis 15). In other words, God did not act rashly in eliminating the Canaanites. He gave them time to repent and only condemned them when their sin became intolerable.
God is sovereign and just. Since God is God, he is the ultimate authority with the ultimate responsibility for maintaining justice. If we accept his authority, we also hold him accountable for enforcing his rules and commands. It should not surprise us then that God punishes the wicked. Rather, we should expect it. Our only surprise should be that God extends grace to us, wicked as we are, and pardons us by the blood of Jesus.
God is impartial. God warned the Israelites that he would punish them, and remove them from the land, if they did not keep his commands. They abandoned him and committed the same wickedness as the Canaanites, and God kept his word by expelling them from Palestine.
Imagine a loving father with a disobedient child. The child lives under the father’s authority, and knows what behavior the father requires, but continues to act wickedly. Some people say that God, as the father in the story, should use his power to make it impossible for the child to disobey. But that would take away the possibility of choice for the child. Some say that the father has no right to tell the child what to do. In that case the father would have no power or authority. God is just the opposite of a powerless bystander; he is the supreme LORD. Some say that a loving father should not harshly punish his child no matter how severe the crime, but that hinders justice, accountability, and responsibility.
We don’t know all that God knew about the sin of the Canaanites. Words on a page will never convey the extent of their wickedness. If God is God, we should respect his justice and trust his wisdom in handling trespasses. If we disapprove of God’s actions, it shows our standards of right and wrong are not his standards. As for me, I’ll choose his standards rather than find myself at odds with the LORD of the universe.
Image by garryknight on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0