A Courteous Contrararian

Religion of Peace Part 2

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - Apr• 25•15

Last time we looked at the LORD’s command to wipe out the descendants of Amalek and how it was congruent with the more violent outlook of people back then. David regularly wiped out all the people of the towns he raided so as not to leave witnesses. A thousand years later, the Romans still followed the practice.

I said I thought God issued the command as an encouragement. He was proving his might to help unify the national identity. The time might have been right for a fresh display of his power as the Israelites were under their first human king, after centuries of sporadic leadership under the Judges.

So as to be entirely clear, my point is this: God did what the people he was molding and shaping needed him to do, at the time they needed it. He was unconcerned about how we would view it today. He wasn’t silly enough to try and fight Iron Age battles with 20th Century concepts or political strategies. Passive resistance was not an option.

This battle, the battle form Israel into a kingdom under its first king, was not only a physical confrontation with Amalekites and other tribal nations. It was mental, emotional, and spiritual. To forge Israel as a nation was crucial to foster a place where Jesus could be born. So God led them to one more great victory before David’s ascendancy.

Regardless for the moment, of God’s good or bad reasons, can we find our way to a consistency, a constancy, in his actions?  How can Jesus, so tempered and full of love, be the same God who ordered a limited genocide? Did our God, who changes not, change? Was Marcion (whose name, I’ve just discovered, is pronounced martian) right after all?

The answer is no, and it is one of the most important answers we can contemplate. Its repercussions echo and modify almost everything we are led to think about God. Because the fuller answer is, no God doesn’t change, but his methods do. God’s change in methods is what Marcion noticed and the change should be easily apparent to us as well.

Throughout the Bible and biblical history, and even up to and including today, God changes his methods to suit the people he deals with. Want proof? Think about how he deals with you differently than he did before you became a believer. Now he chastens you as an act of love. Previously he left you to suffer the consequences of your sin. Romans 1 (among other places) even tells of another type of treatment for unbelievers, some are abandoned to their own desires.

To reduce the concept to the absurd (a favorite thought exercise of mine) in order to highlight the principle, let’s go back to Adam and Eve. How could God have dealt with the Fall? He could have had Jesus be born instead of Abel, to restore them to immortality. That’s what he did later, in the fullness of time. But then, we would have never realized the magnificence of his sacrifice because we would have not realized the consequences of our sin. Humanity was in its infancy and we had to grow and learn before the Cross would have had its effect. We don’t treat infants like we do teenagers and neither would God.

He could have planted the Cross firmly at the peak of Mt. Sinai instead of giving the commandments through a haze of smoke and fire. But again, we would not have been ready for it then. Until we learned how to live, and how we couldn’t live as we should, Jesus’ magnificent sacrifice couldn’t mean what it does. God was giving rules to a young humanity in much the way we teach the ways of life to a three or four year old child. And can you imagine the Israelites conquering the promised land through agape, turning the other cheek and giving away their cloaks?

God works with what he has and what he has is us as we are. He tells us as much in Jeremiah’s story of the Potter and the clay. The clay became marred in the Potter’s hands, after he had begun working with it. That’s us, the marred clay. The Potter responded by fashioning a different vessel. He didn’t throw out the imperfect clay and he didn’t separate out the bad part, and thanks be to God for that. He works with what he has and he works to form us into the most useful and beautiful pottery possible, that’s the part of God that has never changed.

We all know God works to change our character before he changes our circumstances. He works to make us better than we have been. Has he been effective? He’s God, what do you think? He is effective but it is a slow process because we have free will. As we all (or most of us, or some of us) change for the better, humanity does too. That’s why I brought up the precipitous fall in homicide rates over the millennia. It has taken that long because we are stiff-necked people and change for the better is hard. It is a miracle that he can be so effective and still make allowances for our rebellious free will, all while hiding his mighty hand so well.

The whole of the Old Testament is the story of God gradually withdrawing his close and visible collaboration with humanity. He walked with Adam in the Garden. He visited occasionally with Abraham and more occasionally with Moses. By the time of Esther, he isn’t even mentioned by name in the whole of the book bearing her name. He hasn’t changed in that, his methodology is consistent in that he deals with us as we are able to be dealt with.

In this our Father is like a human parent. We change how we deal with our children as they mature even though our goals for them never change. We all continue to love our children and to prepare them for life apart from us in adulthood.

That’s what God is doing in the OT, maturing us to make us capable of more. Once we were ready, in the fullness of time, he sent his son. And now, because of his son and especially because of the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t need to order genocide. Our allegiances are formed differently because we are slightly different than the people of that young nation.

If you’ll generously grant that my proposition might be correct, it’s time to think about the repercussions I mentioned earlier. If God deals with us differently than he once did, are some of the ideas he gave us in the OT no longer applicable? Of course! We no longer sacrifice animals at the Temple for our sins, or anywhere else. We wear cotton/polyester shirts. We almost never remember the Sabbath; Saturdayish.

Jesus initiated many of these changes by his actions. He worked on the Sabbath, proclaiming that it was right to do so if we are helping other people because the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. He tossed out the law that commanded us to stone adulterers by telling us he who is without sin can cast the first stone.

We know all these things and yet we don’t make the connection to the story of Saul and the Amalekites. God never changes but one of his major goals is to change us. He is successful. And as we change, he changes his methods of dealing with us. He doesn’t give us more than we can handle but he makes us capable of handling more.

I’m glad I don’t live in the type of society that needs to fear raiders coming in and wiping out my whole family and suburb. I know such places still exist and so I am happy for the example of the progress God has made with us since the time of Saul because it means someday those people’s descendants will also be free of that fear. And because my little corner of the world has progressed, I’m really happy that I never have to consider wiping out the Amalekites or the Muslims or the Catholics. For God has made us better than that.

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