James Driedger: Well, hello and welcome viewers. My name is James Driedger and I’m an associate pastor at the Blumenort Community Church and I’m happy to be joined this afternoon by two of my friends, Stephanie Fast and Lissa Wray Beal to have a conversation about violence in the Old Testament. Now we already know we’re not going to have time to answer all the questions that we have or explore all the possible ways that people have tackled this question so today is going to be more of a teaser than anything. But we are in for a treat today and I think we are because Dr. Lissa Wray Beal, Professor of Old Testament at Providence Theological Seminary has graciously agreed to join Stephanie and I to respond to our questions on this topic, and so welcome here, Lissa.
And I just want to say upfront that I think Lissa is an excellent Old Testament scholar. We’re super pumped to have her join us. I know firsthand—I’ve sat in several of her classes at Providence Theological Seminary. But then she’s also written several major commentaries on 1 and 2 Kings, and Joshua, where she directly deals with this question of violence in light of the conquest. She’s also got forthcoming commentaries on Jeremiah, Ruth, and 1 and 2 Samuel I believe. So, she’s been really busy and that’s great, and I just want to say on top of this, on top of her scholarship, Lissa loves the church and she’s involved in her church in Winnipeg, so we’re just really privileged to have her—with both her expertise in the Old Testament and love for the church—to have her speak to these important questions for us, and so we’re super excited to have her with us.
Stephanie Fast: Hello everyone. I’m Stephanie Fast and I also attend Blumenort Community Church along with James. I’m so pleased to be here today with Lissa and James. About a year ago I spent a semester at Providence Theological Seminary and although I didn’t have Lissa as a prof during that time, I did interact with her in a number of other ways, such as we had a discussion group with profs and students and Lissa was the leader of that. And I really appreciated Lissa’s gracious leadership and the way that she cared for us as a student community—the way she demonstrates her care for the church—and it’s a privilege to be here with you today Lissa. I’m looking forward to what you have to say to us on this topic which can sometimes be a bit challenging and intimidating.
Lissa Wray Beal: Thank you. Thank you both for those very kind and gracious words. It is good to be here with you and it is a very broad and intriguing and troubling topic. So glad to see students taking initiative on behalf of their local church body and I understand it might be going a bit broader to the conference. So, it’s always been my privilege to study the word of God and to be ministering in a context that affords me that time and then the engagement with students—people who are involved in the church—to hear them raise questions and have the lights go on for them. So, I feel like I’m engaged in a study that is complex and is even going to take me into eternity. I actually look forward to sitting in the new heavens and the new earth with Moses teaching, or the author of the book of Kings and so on. And as always, it’s a faith-seeking understanding process where we’ve never arrived. There’s always more of God’s goodness and the mystery of God for us to engage, so thanks for the invitation today.
SF: Lissa, we thought we’d begin by just hearing a little bit about your personal theological journey. I know you’ve been invested in study and scholarship of the Old Testament for a long time, but what drew you to it initially?
LWB: Well, I came to Christ at quite a young age and what really drew me in was God’s love. I knew that God loved me. That Jesus was reaching out to me and it was just a wonder to respond to that through the word of God and by the Holy Spirit. I was always intrigued by the Old Testament, and I mean it’s the largest part of our Bible and I sort of, as a young child and then coming into my teens, thinking well it’s gotta be pretty important because it takes up so much space. I wasn’t always sure what the heck to do with it and I think that’s the case with a lot of people.
My understanding now after years of studying of the Old Testament is that it is absolutely necessary to our Christian faith. It tells us why Jesus came. It tells us who Jesus is. It tells us what’s the problem. And it was Jesus’s Bible and it was the Bible of the New Testament Church. So, all of those kinds of things just really affirm for me the importance of the Old Testament. I love it because I see God’s sovereign power working in the cosmos, working in the world, working through history. But I also see in it the intimate care of God for his people, both as a people group and as individuals. And as I came into adulthood, my heart’s desire and sense of call to ministry was partly to teach, but within that teaching and pastoral calling to help God’s people understand what on earth the Old Testament is about. And I figured the best way to really prepare for that was to ask that question myself; “what is it about?” And so that took me on a journey of theological education and now to Providence Seminary.
JD I like that Lissa and I appreciate that reminder that the Old Testament is a necessary element of our Christian faith. And that’s good, but as I’m sure you’re aware you know, a lot of people really struggle with the Old Testament; even question its ongoing relevance for Christians, right? And one of the primary reasons that people give is that the God of the Old Testament, while you know at times he seems loving, other times he seems violent, and vengeful. You know, He’s the type of God that sends a flood to wipe out wicked humanity, who asks Abraham to sacrifice his own son, who kills first born Egyptian sons, and you know, seems to command Joshua to devote to destruction everything that breathes during the conquest. And so, what are we to do with this? This isn’t just something that Christians wrestle with, right? Atheists like Richard Dawkins have used these images, these accounts in Scripture, as fodder to paint God in ugly terms as vindictive, genocidal, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser and so I just got to ask, as someone who spent a life devoted to studying the Old Testament—who’s written a commentary on Joshua no less—have you also had to wrestle through these questions or even wrestle with your faith in God as a result of some of these things that the Old Testament bears witness to?
LWB I would say yes and no to that. I mean because I was so captivated by the love of God and that has always been a pretty firm bedrock for me out of which I have been able to question. So, when I see things that are hard to understand or troubling in the text, I’ve felt I’ve been allowed to question. I think God invites us to question and to wrestle with that. Because, I think, fairly early found some ways that at least within the story arc of the biblical text, and the God that I was seeing across the Old and New Testaments, I was able to make at least some initial sense of some of the things that are often so troubling.
When I started my Joshua commentary, probably the first year when you’re really just, you know, spending time reading and so on, the big question for me was in what ways was the book of Joshua the word of God, because I recognize that the warfare violence in the book of Joshua was problematic for many people.
I think it’s also important to say that it’s not always problematic for people. So, it’s not like one response or the other, “I’m really troubled by this,” “I’m not troubled—it makes sense to me”—neither of those I think is wrong. It just reflects that we’re different people and come from different contexts and so on. But for me, because of my work in Joshua and because I teach students who love God, who are troubled by the Old Testament—that has really pressed me to ask questions that for me, myself, might not be the top shelf, most pressing questions. And that’s been a good exercise, and also, it’s a wrestling for those who do struggle or who recognize the times where God of the Old Testament seems odd or mean or nasty or all the kinds of words that we use.
That struggle is not new, nor is it unique. So, you think as far back to Origen who wrote in the second and third century for the church, he has a series of homilies on the book of Joshua, and you can see him directly struggling with the question of warfare violence. Or you pull out John Calvin’s Joshua commentary from the 16th century. He’s doing the same thing. He’s addressing the question and bringing a very different answer than Origen but our struggle is not new. It’s maybe a little more pointed because we see warfare violence on TV all the time. And since 9/11 the question has really been ratcheted up in the church, and in the secular world, “What about religiously motivated violence?”
JD: That’s interesting—that’s super interesting and I think it’s really good for us to hear right? That this isn’t a modern problem, sometimes when we assume that we have greater senses of being able to perceive what is good and just. But it’s good to hear they’re wrestling with this in in the early century. But I guess that still leaves us with these troubling texts. What are we to do with them? Lissa maybe you can speak to some of the ways Christians have addressed the warfare violence in the Old Testament and you brought up some figures in church history. So, what are the ways that Christians have addressed these questions, thought through them, reconciled them with other passages in the Old Testament and in the New Testament perhaps?
LWB Thanks—huge question, so I’ll probably camp here for quite a bit. Before we get there, I just want to address sort of the terminology “divine violence” which is not just warfare violence but more broadly used of God in the Old Testament. And the Hebrew word that’s used most frequently to designate violence and be translated as violence is “hamas.” And interestingly, it’s about 60 times in the Old Testament and it is never used of God. So “hamas,” violence, is always used of people and generally of unrighteous people and nations. Now, that is not to say that God is not involved in what I would call coercive force in the Old Testament. We see that in narratives, we see it sometimes in the Psalms, so it is there. So simply because the word “hamas” is not used of God doesn’t mean that God’s off the hook in this regard. But it is instructive that the word “violence” is not used of God. I think it’s also important to recognize that often some of the people who are writing in this today, trying to find ways to alleviate the distress of these questions, don’t always make a differentiation between violence that is coming from unrighteous people or unrighteous nations, violence that is capricious, and the violence, if you will, of God that comes out of judgment against sin and against sinful people. So, when we talk about the definition of violence, the term “divine violence” is really sort of a colloquial term that doesn’t sit well with the way it’s used in the Bible. It doesn’t get God off the hook as I say, but I think it’s important to think about “what do we mean?” when we even talk about divine violence.
So, when we talk more specifically of warfare violence in Old Testament there are a lot of ways that people have sought to deal with it, to address the discomfort of it, to address what is perceived to be a difference of God in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament. So, I’m just going to say some of them, and there are shadings of meanings within these, but here’s sort of a high-level view. So there has always been and today there are people who say “hey, we have no right to question what God is doing in the Old Testament and therefore we can’t even identify it as a problem. God is God, he’ll do whatever he can, we’re wrong to question.”
Calvin does a bit of this in his Joshua commentary. It’s almost like he’s “who are you to question God?” but he doesn’t really follow his own advice because then he goes on and tries to give some account for the divine warfare violence in the book of Joshua. So, but that is one approach.
I think another approach which still pertains today but was particularly used and found useful in the pre-modern era, would be something like the approach of Origen, the fellow I mentioned from the second/third century who reported or wrote a series of homilies on the book of Joshua. And what he does, and what the church did all the way up until the age of enlightenment, was really sort of spiritualize or allegorize the violence. They recognized it as being hard to comport with the picture of Jesus in the New Testament, and I think we do need to acknowledge that. Hard to comport with the New Testament’s call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us—that kind of thing. And what they did to try and balance that tension was to say, well what we’re really seeing here is a picture of God’s action against our sinful human nature. So, the Canaanites become our sinful human nature and that provided sort of a way to lessen the tension between what they were seeing in the Old Testament; what they acknowledge happened in history, and what they saw as a different presentation of God in Christ in the New Testament and the call to peace. So, that was another way that that was used for the majority of the church era.
Some of the things that have developed since then and which, especially since 9/11 are having a resurgence, are things like the assertion that what we see recorded in the Old Testament is simply what the authors thought about God. So, the authors were informed by their Ancient Near Eastern context and they wrote down who they thought God was but that they actually wrote something that was their mistaken human understanding of God. So, you actually end up in that scenario with sort of two gods. You’ve got the actual God and then you’ve got the textual God; the God that they’ve written about—this is the wrong depiction of the true and actual God. That is coming to the forefront today in works such as, Greg Boyd’s work will make that kind of move, Eric Siebert who is writing within, I believe, a Mennonite context, Peter Enns has some of this.
And one of the reasons I think that this is applied comes from, certainly comes from, I think a pastoral motivation to lessen that tension that is perceived there, and the difficulty of God being seen to incite warfare violence.
But what it effectually does is remove the authority of the Old Testament. We don’t like this depiction of God so we’re just going to say they were mistaken. So, we can take then, they would say, that depiction of God and set it aside. But the problem with that is, who decides? What parts of the Old Testament we like? Is it just our liking it—we like that part of the Old Testament so will accord to it authority? Who decides what part of the Old Testament is trustworthy? Who decides that we’re only going to do that to the Old Testament? Because if you look at the New Testament, God does not suddenly become all sweetness and light in the New Testament. Jesus has some pretty harsh things—some coercive violence that he uses. I’ll maybe refer to that a bit later in our conversation, so I think the effectual thing it does is lower the authority of the Old Testament as Scripture.
I think it’s much better to acknowledge that all of the Old Testament has authority, but then to be thinking through “Well, what kind of authority and how does that authority speak to us within the context of the whole canon of Scripture?”
Interestingly, Paul Copan has a new volume that’s coming out. It’s got a great title—it’s something like Is God a Vindictive Bully? and he’s actually addressing some of those issues. So, I’m not sure how long before that comes out, but that would be a helpful one.
So, that’s one way that people today are trying to lessen that perceived tension of between the God of the Old Testament and the God they think they’re seeing in the New Testament. Sort of an extension of that, and this is where Greg Boyd really is doing a lot of writing, is he says “Well, God has revealed himself in Jesus, so if it doesn’t look like Jesus, then the Old Testament is mistaken. We have to change it or use a hermeneutic that will sort of allow it to be a mistaken portrait of God that now is being corrected in Jesus.”
The problem with that, however, it is that the church has always affirmed the Old Testament as Scripture and that it presents the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The God that we’re seeing in the Old Testament—the church has always affirmed that this is the God that we see in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ himself never sort of wrote off the depictions of God in the Old Testament—never seemed troubled by them. Neither did the New Testament authors. So, in this sort of move to try and write off the Old Testament God—to draw a barrier, or a gap, or a line between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God is really, in my opinion, revisiting and re-earthing an ancient heresy of the church—maybe not in full blown form, but it’s playing with it. And that heresy is known as Marcionism. Second century Marcion was a fellow who wrote off a lot of the Old Testament and much of the New Testament because he felt that it depicted a different God. And I think anything that is trying to write off two thirds of our Scriptures is problematic and does not accord with the work of the Church through the ages.
It also neglects the fact that there is lots of violence in the New Testament. If we’re going to talk about divine violence… so, think of Jesus using coercive force in John chapter 2 against the money-changers. We would probably call that violence today. Or in Jude chapter 5 where Jesus is spoken of as destroying Israel in the wilderness. It’s not saying the Old Testament God did that. It’s talking about our Lord, Jesus Christ, destroying Israel in the wilderness. Or Revelation chapter 2 where it talks about Jesus striking people dead, or Acts 9 where Paul is struck blind by Jesus, or Hebrews 2 where it talks about a terrifying expectation of judgment, or Acts 5, Ananias and Saphira who drop dead. So, I think any reading that says the Old Testament is a mean, nasty, vindictive bully of a God and we get to the New Testament and Jesus is just skipping along and is just sweet and light, hasn’t read the New Testament. And hasn’t read the Old Testament, because for every depiction of God using some kind of coercive violence, generally against a sinful people or within the context of a fallen world, there are many, many, many, many, many, many more instances of God acting with grace and favour and kindness. Romans, I think chapter 11, says behold the severity and the kindness of God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
So, the hermeneutic that says we’ll use Jesus and if it doesn’t look like what we think Jesus looks like—and that’s a selective reading that cuts out any of the strong coercive violence that the New Testament applies to Jesus—if it doesn’t look like this manufactured Jesus, then we’ll just say that’s not a good depiction or a true depiction of God. That’s problematic. But that is another way that’s fairly current and people like Greg Boyd is doing that.
SF Can I just interject with a question there Lissa? So, you were talking about this contrast we often feel like we see between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But sometimes, just within the Old Testament itself, there seems to be a contrast between, you know, a God of love and mercy and then a God of judgment and sometimes violence. And so maybe the question over the course of the whole story that we see in the Bible is “How can we sit with these two pictures of God? How can both be true at the same time?” I don’t know if you can speak a little bit to that.
LWB Let’s talk about that and then I want to get back to a couple of other ways that people have dealt with Old Testament questions, particularly warfare violence.
But I think Stephanie, one of the things that underlies your question and the question that many people have, is the idea that love and mercy and justice and judgment that can be violently, to use that word, exercised, cannot coexist together. I don’t see why. If… if we… okay and this is an analogy. So, I think of a parent. I think of my dad who was kind and gentle, but he could also be angry at my behavior and he spanked me sometimes. I don’t know if people do that today, but he spanked me or he would speak hard to me “If you continue to do this, these are the consequences” and sometimes I continued to do that and there were consequences. So obviously an analogy—he’s a human person. But why is it that God, who in Exodus 34 is described as a God who is loving and kind and gracious to thousands of generations but who also does not leave the guilty unpunished—so I think we have to sort of poke around at what underlies that.
So, let me leave it at that and I do want to go back because there are a couple of other ways, I think, that people today deal with the question of warfare violence which I actually find much more helpful than some of the ones that I just detailed.
When we speak specifically of warfare violence say in the book of Joshua, we do need to reckon with the fact that we’re reading a genre—so a type of literature—that is an Ancient Near Eastern type of literature. It was not written yesterday. It was written a long, long time ago. And when you go back and you look, you can find that there are other similar types of what we would call a conquest account that are extant in the ancient world from places like Mesopotamia and Moab and Egypt and some others as well.
Within those Ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts which I would say that Joshua is drawing upon and is informed by, that genre—one of the things that we see specific to warfare violence is the use of hyperbole. In Ancient Near Eastern warfare accounts, one of the reasons you wrote this account was to tell everyone your god was bigger and better than every other god and therefore you should worship him. And one of the ways they did that is, they would talk about a God—so Israel’s God—commissioning them to go in and totally destroy—to wipe them all out. But when you start looking at the book of Joshua and even the commands that God gives to do that, you begin to see that they’re speaking in hyperbole. They’re saying more than was actually intended or was actually done. So, when you look at the book of Joshua, not all the people were killed. And in fact, God knew that that would be the case, because he said to Israel, “you’re going to need a long time to go in and occupy the land.”
The violence in the book of Joshua targets specifically cities. So, you can imagine people fleeing out of the city into the countryside and fleeing from one area to another and they survived. You can look at Joshua chapter 10 and it talks about they killed them all, and in the very next verse there are survivors. So that’s hyperbole, and that’s a characteristic of these ancient kinds of accounts.
Now what I’m not saying, and what that hyperbole does not do, is say that there was no warfare, but it does put that warfare into perspective. So, if people are saying “Oh, they went and they killed everyone—even all the children,” that’s hyperbole, and we have evidence of that from other Ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Additionally, when you compare Israel’s account in Joshua and other warfare accounts to the kind of warfare that was conducted in the Ancient Near East, Israel was required to tone down the viciousness of that warfare to a significant degree.
There’s a really good book out by Bill Webb and Gord Oeste called Bloody, Brutal and Barbaric, and they have a chapter or two on that very issue. I think at the end of this session James you’re going to show some resources and that’s one that I’ve suggested.
So, it doesn’t say that God didn’t commit them to warfare, but I think it’s important to put it into perspective, when you look at other Ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. So now we can maybe say “Okay, they didn’t go in—they didn’t kill everyone.” That was not God’s intent. It’s using hyperbolic terms, but we still have warfare.
Well, I think if God is dealing with his ancient people Israel and dealing with them as a nation, it is not that out of the realm of possibility that nations dealing with nations do so through warfare. So, there is this idea of God stepping into and dealing with Israel within the context of that ancient world in which warfare was how nations dealt with nation. And I think He moves them incrementally towards his ultimate ideal which is where we beat our swords into plowshares. That’s where God is going, but he can’t go from zero to a hundred miles an hour immediately and he moves them incrementally. He’s working with them within their own context and moving them incrementally towards his ideal vision. So that’s just sort of a really broad overview of some of the ways that I think people have dealt with the questions specifically of warfare violence, some of which I’ve intimated are more or less helpful when we consider them within the context of Christian faith.
JD That’s helpful Lissa. Thank you for doing that and walking through several of those. I’ve often been drawn to this last one that you mentioned. I’ve often heard it referred to as God’s accommodation to people in their time and place. with this next question here, you’ve talked a little bit about the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament, has kind of come up several times in in your responses so far. And kind of building on that, some Christians wonder if we should draw our ethics equally from all parts of the Bible. Do we have a flat Bible when it comes to forming our Christian ethics or you know, should we just draw our ethics from Jesus? And maybe this is a question that we in the anabaptist tradition, which Stephanie and I are part of, particularly have. And I don’t know. So maybe a way to ask this is, in light of the New Testament and the full revelation of God in Christ Jesus, is there still a role the Old Testament plays in forming our ethics today, especially as it pertains to questions of violence and war? Can you speak to that?
LWB Well the simple answer is yes, definitely. The Old Testament is needful to form our New Testament even in light as a whole canon so in light of the New Testament we need the Old Testament. And I think I’d say that for a couple of reasons, and then I want to put in a qualifier. I think the first reason is that if you want to know God’s heart, one of the ways that you see that is through the Old Testament.
Repeatedly the Old Testament reveals to us God’s heart of justice. I think of Psalm 33. It says, “God loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of his unfailing love.” And that’s just one of many, many, many places where it specifically addresses God’s heart of justice. There are narratives within the Old Testament where God is working for the underdog: Israel captive in Egypt as an instance, or individuals who are oppressed and we see God working on their behalf—so actively seeking justice. We see God commanding Israel to be kind to the widow, the orphan, and the poor, to treat their slaves well, because you were a slave in Egypt. And it’s going to take many centuries for the institution of slavery to get where it really needs to be, which is abolished.
We also see God in the Old Testament giving a pretty raw depiction of injustice, so economic injustice, sexual injustice, institutional, ecological injustice. So, he doesn’t always say, “And by the way, this is wrong.” We think of the story of the Levite’s concubine—where she is raped to death and then chopped up in 12 pieces by her husband and sent out to Israel. And some people say “Oh, it’s in the Bible. That means God is condoning that.” Well, that means you haven’t read the rest of the story, because the rest of the story is that happens and all Israel says, “this should never happen in Israel” and God agrees with them. So, he doesn’t always have neon lights saying this was a bad thing that happened but the way the story unfolds and responses within the story reveal the heart of God.
So, the New Testament of course shows us the heart of God but that is fleshed out and we see God is so intimately involved with issues of justice because of what we see in the Old Testament. So, I think that’s one thing we see in the Old Testament and why it’s needful to form our ethic today, is it reveals God’s heart of justice and it also reveals what we are called to do. So, He told you what is good “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.[i]” And again, that is narrated and illustrated repeatedly in the Old Testament. So, if we’re going to build an ethic today without the Old Testament, then we’re left with sort of wondering “Well, what does justice look like? Who are the oppressed? Why is God so concerned with them?” And so much of that comes from the Old Testament. So, those are the two reasons.
Now let me put in my qualification and I’ll maybe illustrate this in a couple ways if I can think of something.
Because the Old Testament is dealing with National Israel and it’s dealing in an ancient context which is fairly different from ours, we are not always able to draw a direct correlation between an Old Testament expression of what to do or not to do and therefore we should do identically that today. So, if someone rapes a woman today, we don’t necessarily immediately, or should at all, apply the corrective, the punishment, which was quite violent and in the same way. But what it shows us is that this is God’s heart. Rape is atrocious. It’s appalling. It has devastating consequences for the individual, for their family, for the community. Therefore, if that’s how God’s dealing with it in that ancient context in which that was a norm to deal with it in these kinds of ways, how does it look… what might that similar reflection of God’s ethic look like in light of Christ, in light of today’s world that we deal with.
So, I think we need to be careful between drawing direct correlations but allow that it shows us—it illustrates for us the heart of God and the kinds of things that he is appalled by and which we, as God’s people are to stand against and not to participate in in our own lives and times.
SF That’s very helpful Lissa thanks. You know at the beginning you were mentioning how this conversation or topic of violence in the Old Testament has kind of… you’ve seen an increase in it since 9/11, and a question I have is, currently and in the past as well, we see that sometimes Christians can justify things like militarism and military violence by using examples from the Old Testament where there is divine sanctioned violence. So, I’m just wondering if you can comment a little bit on that.
LWB Great question. So, what I’m not going to address is the question of “Is there a just war or not?” So, that’s a huge issue and I just want to set that aside. But where your question really comes to roost is in colonialism, both in the settlement of especially the US, but to some degree underlying the settlement in Canada, where First Nations people were often strongly displaced, violently resettled, unfairly treated. Sometimes underlying that is sort of this general idea that we’re Israel coming in and they’re the Canaanites, so we can just do whatever we want.
Colonialism even today… so some of the colonialism in South America, in South Africa in apartheid, even within Palestine and the Holy Land—some of that sort of colonial subjugation of peoples who were there and have been there for a long time relies on the Joshua text and seemingly the appropriation of what they think is a sanction for a similar kind of warfare violence. And the problem with that, and I’ve alluded to it earlier, is that we today are not National Israel with whom God had an ancient covenant.
The warfare violence that we see in the book of Joshua arises and is executed in a very limited window of time as they go into the land. There’s a couple of other places where the word is used but that’s really where it focuses. And it was for very specific purposes, and it was instituted within an Ancient Near Eastern context in which warfare was common, and that was how nations dealt with nations. And we talked a bit about God accommodating himself into that context while moving to a desired ideal outcome which is really where his heart is. And I think the difference is that God today is- yes, he’s still dealing with National Israel, but for us as Christian nations or as Christian people, he’s no longer dealing with a national covenant. He’s dealing with a transnational covenant instituted in Christ.
So, we are not a nation going in to take over another nation. We are the body of Christ that is living as aliens in this world.
With that colonial history, we need to very strongly say, the Bible does not condone that kind of colonial expansion using these Joshua texts. That is a misreading of that moment in time—for that specific people, for that specific place, in that specific context, for those specific reasons—as if it speaks to all time and all places. We’re not National Israel. We’re not in the Ancient Near Eastern context. And the story of God as it moves on, we see that it is moving from that contextualized national warfare, to when we get to the New Testament, the warfare is a spiritual warfare—put on the whole armor of God—and we fight against the spiritual principalities and powers and not against flesh and blood.
So, the church and even the church today has, because of its colonial past and the wrong application of those Joshua texts, we’ve got a lot to repent of. And we should be at the forefront of the reconciliation movement in Canada because we are the body of Christ and the sins of the body in past generations still is our sin too.
SF Thank you Lisa. You brought to my mind some questions about just war theory but maybe we’ll have to save that for part two if we ever get to that part. Earlier on you were talking about how the love of God is what drew you to the study of Scripture in the first place and so with that a question I have is, after your study of a text like Joshua particularly that has quite a bit of violence, some of it which is sanctioned by God… after studying that, reading it, delving into it, what helps you… what allows you to sit down at the end of the day and trust in a faithful, loving God?
LWB Well I think what allows me to do… several things, but one of the things that allows… not most important thing but one of the things that allows me to continue to trust in God as a God of kindness and goodness and faithfulness, is that He’s okay, and I think invites my questions. So, it’s not like I have to have, you know, all my “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed and everything figured out in order for me to have this relationship with God. I sometimes feel like Job saying, “Oh God, I don’t understand, help me” and I see that in my classes where students sometimes are afraid to say “God, I don’t understand who you are and why you do this.” And so, it’s okay to not have him all figured out. We are people of faith that seeking understanding and it’s a journey. I have been able to find some ways to help me draw… especially the warfare violence which has really been my area study—to draw it into a fairly cohesive picture that helps me wrap my mind around it. But I still haven’t answered all my questions on it, and probably never will. So, that’s one thing that really helps me. And the other thing that I think is the primary thing that enables me to come to God with my questions—with not having him all figured out, and I’m glad I can’t, I always want my God to be bigger than I can figure him out, and to have things that continue to make me question and mystify me. But the thing that enables me to come to him knowing that he’s a God of goodness is that God has revealed himself to me in Christ by the Spirit. He’s bought me with the price, and I know in my knower that I am His and the Spirit testifies of that to me and that really becomes for me a context in which I can hold my disgruntlement sometimes, at what I see in the Old Testament. My uncertainty, my discomfort—all of those things are sort of held in God’s hands.
Christopher Wright who is a wonderful Old Testament scholar, has a book and it’s called I think The God I don’t Understand, and he addresses that very issue. And at a certain point he basically says you’re never going to fully understand God and you’ll always have questions. Good thing because then it’s always faith. Rest with those questions, with that discomfort in the loving revelation of God by the Spirit in Christ. And I think it’s helpful to realize too that God in the midst of warfare violence and in the context of a violent Ancient Near Eastern culture—He is moving in the midst of that. In the midst of our own violent culture—he is moving in the midst of it and he’s bringing us to his eschatological vision of peace and the kingdom of God made known in reality here on earth. So, that eschatological vision helps me sort of deal with some of the things that I’m still uncertain of or maybe not fully comfortable with.
JD I like that Lissa—the acknowledgement of mystery—that we will always have a faith-seeking understanding. It’s a good thing to learn and I think that’s something, a take-away I probably have from my time at Providence. I kind of came in, you know, thinking in three years I’d have all my theological ducks in a row.
LWB If so, then we haven’t done our job.
JD But really this faith-seeking understanding and embracing that as a motto for pursuing God, and that’s been a big take-away so I really resonate with that. Well, this has been really rich. We’ve just scratched the surface Lissa but thank you so much for engaging with the questions that Stephanie and I had and thank you for that—for engaging and I’m sure our viewers will appreciate this and just thank you.
LWB You’re welcome.
SF Yes, I want to say thank you too, Lissa, for taking this time and just for your… I just enjoy your passion for the topic and seeing you get excited about sharing that with us, and the way you’ve helped us to think a little bit more carefully and thoughtfully about this. Really appreciate that.
LWB And it is such an important topic, both outside of the church and within the church. People are troubled by what they perceive to be an Old Testament God who is utterly different from the New Testament God revealed in Christ. They’re the same God and I think… God knows we’re not dummies. I think He expected that we’d see “Hey, what’s going on here?” And so, He does invite us, I believe, to think and to ask the hard questions and allow ourselves to be discomfited by the text. And the God that we see—that I think… that’s the good thing. And that the church in the past and now is talking about this in some ways that I think are less helpful, in some ways I think that are more helpful, but we’re all on the journey and we’re learning in the conversation. And I think whether we get, ever get all the answers to the questions does not detract from the reality that God is God who loves us and in Christ has shown that. And in Christ has shown us the love that He was demonstrating both in its kindness and its severity through all of the Old Testament. It’s one story, it’s one God. So, thanks for engaging this conversation and for the invitation. It’s been fun to converse with you, thanks.
JD Awesome, well very good. For those of you who are interested in learning more as Lissa mentioned before, there’ll be a slide at the end of this video with some recommended resources for you to follow up on and dig deeper. Lissa’s got a couple things there that you can read and listen to, to help you think deeper and further on this important question. So, then thanks for joining us and we wish you God’s richest blessing.