Monday, January 9, 2012

...for it was the Lord's will to put them to death...

This is part 5 of a continuing series on hard questions from the Old Testament. They have been adapted from a series of articles I wrote for my church's community groups during our Old Testament Challenge. You can also read the introduction, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Sin is a serious thing. Throughout the Old Testament God is trying to help Israel get the picture—usually with mixed results at best. While God gave the Canaanites 430 years before he finally executed judgment, he was often much more swift and severe when dealing with Israel.

In the past few weeks we have read of God’s judgment on a corporate level (Canaanites, Israel, Achan’s family). In the coming weeks we read of two such accounts on an individual level (Eli’s sons and Uzzah). In each of these accounts, the judgment dealt required the offending party’s life. How do we make sense of this in a time when God is not dealing such judgment (at least not in such overt and expressed ways)? This problem challenges two modern assumptions:

Assumption #1: God cannot take a life justly. This challenge has power only to the extent that we cease to believe that God is the true author and sustainer of life. But if God is the author of life, he also has authority over life to give and take away. In fact, it is by sheer mercy that God doesn’t require our lives from us at the moment of our first sin (which was the warning to Adam and Eve in the garden, see Genesis 2:17).

We are thinking in very temporal and earthly terms if we believe our lives are our own, or that any life cut short is a tragedy (the apostle Paul disagreed, see Philippians 1:21).

Assumption #2: God cannot judge a group fairly. We find it rash that God would judge a group for the sin committed by less than every person in the group. But we must be open enough to challenge our modern value of individuality against most cultures’ higher value of community. (It may be an unexamined belief in the superiority of your historical moment over all others[1]). The Bible is chock full of warnings against the communal effects of sin. Considering the biblical warnings, perhaps God was not being quite so imprecise as we assume. Notice, too, that this challenge depends on the first assumption being true, that God cannot take any life justly at any time.

Yet the Bible would repeatedly affirm that God is capable of and faithful to deal with justice and mercy towards each eternal soul—man, woman, and child.

[1] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008) 109-114.

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