I recently had a discussion with a student who had a question about why God allowed for the Crusades back in the Medieval times. I answered her question by pointing to the fact that back then the church and state were one, that it was wrong for the church to do the Crusades, that it was driven by greed. I also mentioned that since God allows for free will within our relationship with Him, he cannot stop us from choosing war over peace. But then, I started to think about the OT wars and how God allowed and sometimes even decreed attacks on other nations through Israel. So, why would a loving God want his own Creation to kill one another? Why would he decree such wars? It would seem a bit contrary to His character. I've been thinking - would it be best to point out that God is also a God of justice, in that He cannot/does not allow for any sin within His people (the Israelites), therefore, killing anyone who is a threat to Israel and the covenantel relationship He has with them? Just wanted to know if there are better/other ways to go about answering this...
I had a previous post that you might want to read - Islam Similar to OT.
Regarding God engaging in wars against enemies of Israel, if you survey the OT, the nation that got "punished" the most through wars was actually Israel.. Israel is the one who had the covenant with God, and God seemed to have shaped Israel through the punishment-reward system, which was the language that people understood. So I would say that in fact, Israel is the one who was the subject of punishment by wars the most... and I am not sure why that helps, but I found that it helps.. Perhaps it diffuses the idea that God arbitrarily just commands His people to engage in warfare against their enemies. The history of Israel would demonstrate a different picture -- a picture that, I think, shows God struggling with mankind in a way that is much more long-term than we can fathom.
I think one thing to keep in mind when thinking about the OT wars and about people dying in wars is that everyone eventually dies whether there is a war or not. What differs is the time and manner of death. One can say clearly that a human being has no right to determine the time and manner of death of another, including his own, but ethically God has that right. If we were to abandon ethics, and be utilitarian about this, it would still be the case that God is in the best position to judge what timing and manner of death yields the maximum good for the maximum number of people. For all we know, the fear of being violently killed in a war might have caused people to repent in that last moment before death and be saved, whereas being permitted to live a long and peaceful deluded life severed from God might lead to a person to go to the grave in that state without a second thought. And that might even differ from person to person. Our philosophizing tends to deal with things in abstract, categorical terms, but real life is rarely so clean.
This is such a hard question. I found that one thing that helps me is to take a long view of God and humanity and to understand that God is shaping the Israelites' understanding of God so that they can properly understand and spread the gospel of Christ when it actually happens. The many and repeated wars drove in the point that God demands justice of people (Israel being no exception). Then, when Christ comes, we can fully appreciate the fact that we no longer have to die like that.
This also helps me with why Christ came "so late" after so many generations had gone without him. It was to allow the time to shape the understanding of a just, holy, but yet compassionate and longsuffering God. Could we really have understood this with 100 years of history? Probably not as powerfully as with the over 1000+ years that we see God working with the Israelites.
Here's an interesting paper on this topic: www.cmu.ca/faculty/pgilbert/articles/problem_of_war.pdf
I'm not sure if I agree with the premise that God is limited in some way by human culture...but I'll have to think about it.
One thing we have to consider, God is a God of justice, but also a God who is realistic in his expectations...
When dealing with Stone Age civilizations, it would be unreal to expect the same type of diplomatic commmunications that you would expect from the US in 2010. The less educated, cultured, and civilized a society is, the less it understands rationality, logic and morality. With an older civilization, they only thing they understood was power and might. Justice in such a society might appear different to us. Of course from our perspective it might seem unjust, and indeed it would be had these things happened today.
We must understand just how much Israel was able to trust a perfect God in a world which was so imperfect...without the infrastructure to support such a just idea and concept of God.
In the same way, if I go to some backwards tribe in Bornea, I don't expect them to behave the same way, and might find things in their culture...barbaric. BUT, that does not give me the right to change their barbaric ways UNTIL they understand WHY. And with the why, understanding.
I'm afraid if I put anyone of us through a time machine, back to those days...and surround you with the same tribes and attitudes and such...none of us would survive with out modern understanding of ethics and justice. We would have to adapt and probably become just as savage...
Its a silly argument...God doesn't change so why didn't stone age men behave the same as modern...Why don't uneducated pagans respond to reason...Why didn't love conquer the day. Every try loving a cannibal?
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