STRETCH:  God of Genocide or Grace?   1 Samuel 15:2-3

I had the chance this year to coach my 8-year-old’s baseball team.  The field is right next to a playground.  The playground is lined with little pebbles/gravel that make up the bed of the playground.  I was walking over to practice the other day and I walked through the playground with all the gear, and I got this little pebble in my shoe.  I was the guy that did not take the time to take the pebble out of my shoe, throughout the whole practice. I’m limping along through the whole practice and I really wish I would have just bent down, took off my shoe and took the pebble out.  It would have been a lot easier and a lot less painful, in the long run.

This subject has been a pebble in my proverbial shoe.  I had questions about this during my time in seminary that I never quite got resolved.  In fact, I started to have more questions about it.  It’s a question you may have too.  If you do, the invitation this morning is to wrestle with God, with his Scriptures, to try to figure out how can we view this topic in light of who Jesus is?

If you have a Bible, turn with me to 1 Samuel 15.  This follows the series we’ve been doing in 1 Samuel 14 where Jonathan, the son of Saul the king of Israel, attacks the Philistine army, and with only two swords, they end up wiping out the whole army.  In 1 Samuel 15: 2-3, it says this:  Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. {The Amalekites told the Israelites that they couldn’t walk through their land.}  Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.  Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”  Yikes!  What did the camel and donkey do?  It’s one of those passages—-thirty-seven times in the Old Testament—-that has the idea show them no mercy attributed to the words of God.  Thirty-seven times you read something like this—don’t let anything live, wipe it all out, even the children and the infants.  I don’t know about you, but that grates on me a little bit.  It grates on our sense of justice where we go, “What did they do wrong? God, if you’re really like this, I’m not sure I want to follow you.”  I know a lot of people that have walked away from faith because of this picture of God that we read about in the Old Testament, sometimes in the New Testament, too.  Let’s not oversimplify things and say that this is an Old Testament thing.  It’s not!  Some people have resisted the idea of faith altogether, because this question, this pebble, is just too much to get over. Richard Dawkins, part of the new atheist movement, says this:  “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”  He concludes that the God of the Old Testament is a jerk.

As followers of Jesus, we have to wrestle with the Scriptures, because this is in our Scriptures, but also in our Scriptures are the words of Jesus.  In Matthew 5:43-45, he says:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” {Quick timeout — ‘You’ve heard it said….’  Yeah, we’ve heard YOU say it, God, wipe them out!  Destroy them completely!}  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  {Because when you love your enemies and when you pray for those who persecute you, you look like God.  You start to take on His nature and His character, that’s what Jesus is saying.}  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  That’s why your neighbor, who may be a little bit of a jerk to you, got rain on his lawn just like yours did this weekend.  Jesus’s point is that God is ridiculously good, even to people who are really, really bad.  Which begs the question, did God just get anger-management counseling between the time He said go kill them all, wipe them out, women, children, donkeys, camels, etc., and then later?  How do we reconcile these two competing views of God?  Let me say it like this — Is God, in the nature and character of who He is, a genocidal “maniac” or is He a gracious Savior?  Which one is He?  It’s a huge question.  I’m going to do my best to give us a framework this morning.  I’m going to do my best to tackle it, but I don’t expect that you will completely agree with my conclusions.  It’s such a huge topic that we would need way more time to talk about all throughout.

Let me first frame the discussion for you.  There’s two views of how people typically reconcile this seemingly incongruent contradiction.  The first way people reconcile it is essentially:  God said it.  They did it.  That settles it.  It’s a flat reading of the Scripture.  We see God speaking to the nation of Israel.  They receive what He says.  They execute it, end of story, Paulson, is there anything left to discuss here?  Typically in this view—and a lot of evangelicals hold this view—it appeals to the sovereignty of God in the punishing or judging of sin. We follow that with….Who can know the mind of God?  God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Let me push back on that just a little bit and say, “According to that line of reasoning, they’re also higher than His ways.”  What He says is I’m good to even the evil.  God, if those are your rules, why do you seem to break your rules?  Here’s the problem in View #1 — We have the really, really high view of Scripture, which I say Yes and Amen to, but we have a really, really low view of Jesus and the words that He taught and the way that He taught us to live.  And the revelation of the Father that Jesus is and was.

So the first view is: God said it.  They did it.  That settles it.   The second view is:  Israel heard it.  God didn’t say it, therefore we can ignore it.  Basically, this view would say that what we read in the Old Testament is not the words of God, it’s the history of God’s people as they understood God, as they walked with God, and as they journeyed with God.  So, if the first view has a really low view of Jesus and a really high view of Scripture, the second view has a really high view of Jesus, because they’re saying Jesus is what God is like and God dies for His enemies, He doesn’t kill his enemies.   But they have a really low view of the Scriptures.  I would argue that the second view actually cuts the legs out from underneath its very argument, because how do we really know that Jesus is what God is like if we don’t know that from the Scriptures?  We’re just choosing things we like and discarding things that we don’t, in the end.

So, can we all agree that this is not a simple answer?  That both of these predominant views have massive flaws. I’m going to give you what I call a third way, but before I do that, what I want to make sure is that we understand the discussion, the quandary, the history, if you will, in a little bit more fullness, because if you’re like me, I had a caricature of these wars in my head when I went to study the Scriptures.  What I like to do is hopefully dispel three myths that I heard many people have when it comes to the issue of the Canaanite genocide and God’s commanding of it in the Old Testament.  Myth #1: Israel is the malevolent warmongering powerhouse.  When we think of these wars, we sometimes think of Israel with all of its army and with all of its resources marching into a certain place and wiping out its enemy.  Flexing its muscles and going, “That’s what we’re talking about.”  If you read the Scriptures though, Israel, throughout the Scriptures, is the underdog. They’ve just endured 400 years of slavery as a nation.  {Let’s just take a little straw poll…}  How much training for military conquest do you think slaves got in the empire?  Big fat zero!!  Why?  Because Empire 101 is you don’t train your enemy to turn on you and kill you.  Israel doesn’t have military training.  As they enter into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, they’ve endured forty years of wandering in the desert.  They’re not exactly Hulk Hogan walking into the ring saying, “Let’s do this!”  That’s the caricature we often have in our minds. Instead of a powerful nation going to take over a less powerful nation, when we read these stories in the Scriptures, we should have more in mind a peasant group of Iraqis who rise up to retake Mosul from the powers that be.  We shouldn’t have a powerful nation in our mind, going in to wreak havoc.  Not only that, all throughout, it’s God saying not “You go fight for me,” which is typically what “Holy War” is today—people fighting for God.  It’s actually God saying, “I will go and fight for you.”

Second myth is that Israel attacks civilian centers and slaughters many innocent people.  When you read the term ‘city’ in the Old Testament, more times than not, what it’s talking about is a military garrison, a protected area where military people gathered, trained, and fought from.  Jericho, in Joshua 6, is a great example.  The “city” of Jericho was roughly six or seven acres large, which is about the same amount of property the church owns.   They had somewhere between 100-200 soldiers living in Jericho at the time.  They also had at least one civilian family–Rahab.  Rahab, at the end of the story, walks away alive.  She helps Israel and she walks out. When we read ‘city’ we should think military garrison and when the armies came, if there were civilians there, they would have scattered and left because they knew that a war was coming in.   And so, Rahab in the story is saved.  I would also anecdotally add, we don’t have any historical resources in the Scriptures that would tell us of anything other than that happening in these “cities.”  We don’t have recorded the slaughter of many innocent people.  We just don’t have that.

Which begs the question, “Hey, Paulson, it says right there in my Bible, go and kill woman, child, and infant. What do you do with that?”  I’m really glad you asked.  I’d address Myth #3.  Myth #3 is that we are intended to read every war account, or every word in the war accounts, literally.  I just want you to take a deep breath and pause for a moment.  Are you saying, Ryan, that you don’t think these battles actually happened?   NO!  I think they happened and I think they happened as the narrators of the Scriptures tell us that they happened.  But imbedded within the Scriptures are these hints and winks that they are not speaking literally at every bend, but that they’re using the general vernacular of their day and embracing a war-like rhetoric when they’re retelling their history.  Let me give you one example.  I’ll address the “women and children, etc.” first.  That was a common idiom in the day this was written — kill everybody…women, children, and infants.  It was a idiom, it was a way of saying wipe everything out.  Destroy everything.  We see this conquest, this putting forth in the pages of Scripture….well, Israel destroyed EVERYONE.  Let me give you an example from Joshua 10:40 — So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings.  He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.   And you think to yourself, “Holy widespread panic! This is just massive genocide.”  Until you start to read the rest of the stories, where the Amalekites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites, and the people that occupied the lowland and the highland…..are BACK!  A few chapters later.  Read Judges 1-3 and all these same people are their enemies.  Your question should be, “How is that possible?”  Which part of this is wrong?  I’d submit–OUR part is wrong.  We’re not intended to read this literally to say, “The whole land and all their kings and none remaining,” in the way that we read it in a flat context.  We’re actually suppose to step into the text and let it define for us what it means by this.  As we read further, the Scripture unpacks that this meant that they were victorious, not that they left none of their enemies breathing.  It can’t mean that, because of the rest of the way the Scriptures unfold.  These are their enemies for decades and centuries.

I’ll give you one example within the same passage that we see this type of thing happening.  Deuteronomy 7:2-5. This is at the very incipient stages of Canaanite conquest.  Listen to the author of Deuteronomy telling people what they’re intending to do:  …and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction.  You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. {Just a quick question — How many people have made a covenant with somebody that’s dead?! Why is that a concern?!  Kill them all and oh yeah, don’t make a covenant with them.  Doesn’t seem necessary, does it? NO!} You shall not intermarry with them…  Quick timeout — How many dead people have you seen get married lately?!  Not a lot!  Which should be signals to us: read the story as it’s written, not as we wish it were written. “Devote to complete destruction” means separate yourself completely.  Do NOT take on their religious, pagan, idolatrous interaction with their god, but stay devoted to your God.  And so, do I believe the stories actually happened?  100% yes and amen, I do, but we need to read them as the entirety of Scripture would have us read them.  That’s an informed reading.  It’s a literary reading, not just a literal reading.

So, you go, “Alright, Paulson, I get it.  Maybe it’s not as widespread or genocidal as it felt at first, but that still doesn’t answer the question.”  You said there were two options, Ryan.  One is God said it, they did it, that settles it.  The second is God didn’t say it, they heard it, therefore we could ignore it.  There’s a third way coming. But before we get there, let me give you a framework for the way that God interacts throughout the entire Scriptures.  God is like Jesus.  Here’s what I mean by that.  The fullest revelation we have, the best picture we have, the least fuzzy picture we have of what God is like is displayed in the work of Jesus, specifically Jesus on the cross dying for his enemies.  That’s the best picture we have of what God is like.  In fact, Hebrews 1:2-3 says this:  …but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God {That means when God shines it looks like Jesus.}  and the exact imprint of his nature.   The book of Colossians will say that he is the icon, the stamp, of what God is like.  John 14:9, Philip will say to Jesus, “Jesus, show us what God is like.”  Jesus says back to Philip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”  The fact that God dies for his enemies is great news for everybody in this room.  The Scriptures are going to say that when you and I were God’s enemies, He stepped in with his atoning goodness and his love.  So the fact that God dies for his enemies is the only reason that we are a part of his kingdom today.  That’s number one.

Number two is that God, in his very character and nature, is incarnational.  The incarnation is not solely an event that happens.  Yes, the incarnation is where Jesus takes on flesh and steps into human history and humanity to become a sacrifice for us.  But God in his very character is incarnational.  The entire universe is incarnational.  It’s God creating space where the divine and the human can interact.  Where he can lower himself to become known by people he would be unknowable to if it weren’t for the “playing field” he himself created.  The very universe himself is incarnational.  It’s God stepping into creating, then stepping into human history.  All throughout the pages of Scripture here’s what we see — God meets us, humanity, as we are, not as he wishes we were.  It’s summarized beautifully by Jesus when he says this:  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7: 6) Jesus is saying that even if you have something real good, like a pearl, and you throw it to a pig and they’re unable to digest it, they’re unable to take it in, it’s irrelevant.  The goodness of the gift is irrelevant if the receiver can’t take it in.  All throughout history, God has been practicing this truth.  He meets humanity where they are.  He gives them what they can receive.  And he moves them forward.  Let me give you two examples. First example is sacrifice.  We have an entire book in the Old Testament devoted to ritual sacrifice.  God teaching his people how to offer animals as a way to become right with Him.  If you start reading history of ancient near East culture, sacrifice to a tribalistic deity was the norm.  It was what everybody did.  When God takes the people of Israel and they’re in this culture, He uses the culture around them to point to a deeper, more transcendent truth.  He uses sacrifice….it’s very different than it was in a near East culture.  He moves it forward, but sacrifice was never his goal.  You know how I know that?  The Bible!  Because Jesus will say, “Here’s what I’m really interested in…”  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)   Jesus will say, “Sacrifice was never the intention, which is why we’ve moved beyond sacrifice.”  But God met his people in sacrifice because that’s where they were at, not necessarily because it was where He was at.  He’s incarnational.  He’s stepping in.   So I would argue that sacrifice was the best thing that God could do for his people, given where they were at, but it was never intended to be an end, in and of itself.  He was leading them to the place where their very lives would be the sacrifice.  In fact, the entire Law is considered to be a tutor—taking them from one place and leading them to a different place.

Second example: slavery.  Have you ever wondered why the Bible doesn’t just condemn slavery outright?  Why there’s no verse you can point to that says slavery is categorically wrong all the time?  I do.  I would have loved to have seen that in there.  But it’s not.  Here’s what we do have though.  We have one of the two or three distinct formative narratives of the people of God, being about them, released from slavery.  The Exodus narrative.  This was formative for the people of God.  We have God meeting the Israelites in the Old Testament and giving them a new way to interact with slaves, that were a part of the society in that day.  He says that you can’t treat slaves as though they’re inhumane, as though they’re not people, you have to care for slaves and treat them well.  In the New Testament, we have the church being commanded that there’s not slave, nor free, Jew, nor Greek, male or female, but all are one in Christ.  So we have this movement — God meets humanity where they are, puts forward his ethos, his DNA, his heart into their situation, moves the ball forward, then meets them in the New Testament and moves the ball forward again to today where we feel it is categorically wrong, not because we can point to a verse that says it is, but because we can point to the Scriptures that say every human being was created with dignity, value, and worth.  Our God has come that the slaves might be freed.  He’s always had a bigger plan, but he’s always met humanity exactly where they are, not where he wishes they were.

Here’s the third way.  My perspective is that God did say it, God did say go kill these people.  AND my perspective is that the revelation of God being like Jesus does not fit alongside other pictures of God, but that it’s above every picture of God.  It defines what God is like.  In these genocidal narratives, we see that God accommodates Israel in their tribalism to lead them to his kingdom.  He meets them where they are in order to lead them forward, in order to take them someplace different.  God meets us in our culture, but ultimately leads us to his kingdom.  That’s his intention all throughout the Scriptures.  Let me give you two examples.  One would be if you saw me holding Amy and Darwin’s beautiful little baby Eliana, and you heard me talking annoying baby talk, I hope you wouldn’t assume, “Hey, Paulson, forgot how to talk!”  What happened to this guy?!  What happened to me is I have a different audience.  I’m interacting with this person who can’t understand me talking and we’re trying to meet them where they actually are, not where we are or where we wish they are.  Second illustration — This week I had the chance to look back through my first Bible I ever had. My NIV Study Bible.  I loved that Bible!  I’m a notetaker and I wrote all over that Bible.  I read through it and I thought, “Oh dear God, thank you for the way that you’ve been in work in me!  I thank you that I’m not that same person anymore.”  Can anyone say yes and amen to that?  Keep a journal if you want to see God’s work in your life.  I went back through and started to read it and I noticed that the way God interacts with us on a personal level is also the way God interacts with us on a human level.  That he met me exactly where I was as a punk 17-year-old kid and He loved me there, but He didn’t leave me there.  He does the same thing throughout history — he meets people where they are (not where he wishes they were) and he leads them forward.

So, you may be asking, “Hey, Ryan, is that a little bit pretentious?”  That we’ve grown so much as a “human race” from the time where tribal deities were not only worshiped but used in order to exploit people.  Have we grown that much?  Is that a little bit pretentious?  To that I would say yes and no.  What we’re claiming is that Jesus taught us a better way to be human.  We’re claiming that Jesus is the ultimate human being and teaches us what it looks like to live in relationship with our heavenly Father.  Is it pretentious only if we’re saying hey, we’re here and should be here also.  We’re actually saying, “God is the one who’s teaching us. God is the one who’s installing HIS kingdom.  It’s not ours, it’s His.”  We are trying to live in line with what He is doing.  The Scriptures are a story.  You can’t get to one point in the story and then go back and say, “I want to live at the very beginning of the story.”  God is up to something.  There’s movement, there’s growth, there’s development. This is a very good thing.  When we read the story of conquest in the Old Testament, what we should understand is God accommodates Israel in their tribalism to eventually lead them to his kingdom. Ironically, if you go and read about the life of Christ, what the Israelites wanted was for him to be a tribalistic deity.  They actually wanted him to be the only Israelite God.  What Jesus dies for is the fact that he’s the King of the earth, not just the tribalistic deity of Israel.  It’s a bigger story.

So in summary, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here, did God command Holy War in the Old Testament?  My answer to that is yes.  But, he did not command it because it was something that is in HIS heart, or it’s something that is in HIS character, or something that HE essentially wanted.  He commanded it because it’s where humanity was at, and he commanded it, not to keep humanity there, which is why the new kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth, does not look like tribalistic warfare.  He commanded it in order to bring his people forward.

Okay, if you’re tracking with me, you’re probably asking the question, “Hey, Paulson, are there anchors that transcend this?”  Are there things going on in these stories that are bigger than just these stories?  If we just take this view, it seems like we could float into all sorts of different places with different philosophies about different things.  Let me give you three things that are present in Canaan in genocide and conquest, that are present on the cross, and that are present at the Second Coming of Christ, also.  Three things that transcend all of these stories that have seemingly competing narratives.  First — God is fighting in every case.  God is fighting for the advancement of peace, or shalom, not FOR the destruction of people.  You heard me say last week that in order to start a movement you needed to know the enemy, and if we have the wrong enemy we’ll choose the wrong battle, and the enemy isn’t flesh and blood as Paul says in the book of Ephesians, but it’s actually principalities and powers of darkness in the evil world.  That’s the enemy.  You’ve never laid eyes on a human enemy.  The enemy is evil.  {Look up at me for a second.}  The enemy has NEVER changed.  Whether it’s in Canaan or on the cross.  The enemy is the same.  God’s battle with the enemy plays out in the pages of history and in the lives of people. But the truth of the matter remains, as the prophet Ezekiel recounts, God says:  …I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked… (Ezekiel 33:11)   I don’t get off on that, God says, I don’t like that, that doesn’t get me excited.  God’s violence is against violence.  If there were no violence in the world, God would not be violent.  It’s not in his character.  It’s not in his nature.  Sin is violent.  Violence is essential to sin.  God’s violence against violence, if you will, illuminates the purpose, I would argue, not of country versus country war, but the way that we see military, the way that we see judges in our day, the way that we see government and police officers operating.  That a modern-day equivalent of what we see going on in the pages of Scripture in 1 Samuel 15, for example, is not jihad or inquisition, it’s actually government and policies and police and lawmakers.  In Romans 13:4, Paul will say to the church at Rome:  …for he {talking about government workers} is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.  For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.   Why? To protect and preserve shalom, peace, goodness, and human flourishing.  We see this fight for peace, this fight for goodness, this war on war that’s violence against violence, where death kills death, and sin kills sin, and evil kills evil….we see it both in Canaan and on the cross and we also see it at the Second Coming.

So, God’s fighting for the advancement of peace, not the destruction of people.  Second, God’s fighting for the judgment of sin, not the punishment of people. It’s important for us to know that this word ‘judgment’ literally means ‘the straightening out.’  Sin fractures.  Sin bends.  Sin twists, if you will, and when God comes and God judges, he undoes that twisting.  He makes the world to rights, as one of the famous New Testament scholars, N.T. Wright, says.  He makes the world to right.  Throughout the accounts of Holy War, you see the nation of Israel being used as a tool, as an instrument of God’s judgment, a straightening out of what’s gone wrong.  It typically rubs us the wrong way.  But I would argue that we would not want to live in a world where this didn’t happen.  And I would anecdotally add that God waits 400 years before he judges the atrocities of the Canaanites’ sins.  The infant sacrifice, the ritual prostitution, the oppression of the poor, the growing gap between the rich and the poor.  God waits 400 years before he steps in and he judges that sin.  Here’s the deal, friends.  God’s love in Christ IS the judgment.  His love will either straighten us out, if we’re willing to repent, if we’re willing to let go of our way, which is God’s intent, or, if we decide to hold on to our twisted-ness, we will break with his judgment.  It will either shape us, or it will break us.  God is just, but if we refuse to let go of our sin in light of his holiness, we will perish with our sin.  The fire of his love will wipe us out.

Which is actually good news.  It may not feel like it, but it is.  Let me give you an example.  Last year, an atheist group put an ad on the buses in Great Britain that says:  “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Which, arguably, if you live in a prosperous place, this could potentially be good news, or at least okay news, based on your perception of God.  IF you live in a very peaceful, very justice oriented place. Now, let me ask you, is this good news for people that were victims of the Manchester bombing this week?  Is this good news for Coptic Christians in Egypt, where they’re wiped out while worshiping?  That’s terrible news! In fact, I would argue, that’s not the kind of world that anyone wants to live in.  God’s coming justice for our world is one of the greatest resources that actually empowers us to live peaceably today. (Romans 12:19-20)   Here’s what N.T. Wright says:  “In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance and oppression, the thought that there might be a coming when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be.  Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.”

And that’s God’s intention.  I’m not saying people aren’t destroyed by the fire of his love and that people aren’t punished, but I’m just saying those aren’t his intentions when he sets out.  His intention is to judge sin.  His intention is to push forward his peace.  And his intention is the expansion of his love, not the exclusion of people.  We know this because this is the testimony of the whole, that from the very beginning God creates humanity to be in relationship with him, and in the end, humanity is in relationship with him, and in the middle, God works out how that happens, what that looks like and how we step into that design.  But make no mistake about it, from the very beginning his intention is that every nation would be blessed.  His statement is that it eventually happens through the work of Jesus.

So, when Israel would go and conquer a place, it wasn’t about the exclusion of people, it was about the expansion of his love.  When that happened, did some people die?  Yeah, they did.  But other people were made alive.  This is where the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow are cared for.  Where the crops around the edges are left so that the poor can have something to survive.  God’s goodness and flourishing are seen wherever his kingdom starts to take root.  THAT is his intention.  The fight is to open the door wider, not to close it so that some people can’t get in.  After all, God is love and he sends his Son, for us, because he loves us.  So, in Canaan, on the cross, and at the Second Coming, we see the fight being for the extension of love, not for the exclusion of people.  Certainly, some people are excluded because they refuse to bow to his love.  But that’s not his intention.

So does that answer all your questions?  {NO!}  Me neither.  I texted Aaron this week to ask if I get six hours to preach?  I need six hours for this message and then I can feel that we’ve scratched the surface.  No, you may disagree with me and I want to tell you that’s okay.  I’d invite the dialogue, because I think it’s that important. Let me end by saying that any simplistic resolution to this really complex question should not satisfy us. We should wrestle with…why does God kill his enemies in the Old Testament and die for them in the New?  How do we reconcile these two seemingly competing pictures of God?  What I’ll put forward is that God meets humanity where they are to eventually lead them (you and me) to his kingdom, where there is no more suffering, where there is no more crying, where there are no more tears.  He meets us where we are to lead us eventually to where He is.  And in His kingdom, friends, there is only one God and there is only one tribe, and it’s the human tribe.  He loves us all!  Let’s embrace that kingdom and let’s pray together that that kingdom would come, and that His will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus, with all the questions that we have, we bring them.  We don’t leave them at the door, we bring them to your throne.  We bring them to bow at your feet together.  Father, as a community of faith, as we try to wrestle with how to answer really complex and deep questions, hard questions, I pray that we keep in mind, first and foremost, that you loved us when we were broken and we were in need, that you met us exactly where we are.  And that you continue to love us even though we’re far from a finished product.  As you do that for us, may we be the kind of people that do that for others.  May we live in the way of Jesus.  We pray that your kingdom would come and your will would be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.  And all God’s people said….Amen and amen.