Dear Mar­tin,

I want to tell you how delight­ed I am that you want to cor­re­spond with me con­cern­ing some of the real­ly dif­fi­cult issues in the Chris­t­ian faith. I will try to answer your ques­tions the best I can. 

In this first let­ter let me tack­le the seem­ing con­tra­dic­tion between the law of love as spelled out in the New Tes­ta­ment and the whole­sale slaugh­ter of peo­ple described in the Old Testament. 

Many peo­ple become con­fused on the point of the reli­a­bil­i­ty of the Scrip­tures and fail to under­stand exact­ly what that reli­a­bil­i­ty guar­an­tees. In par­tic­u­lar respect to the Old Tes­ta­ment writ­ings — and espe­cial­ly the main­ly his­tor­i­cal books, e.g., Gen­e­sis through Esther — that reli­a­bil­i­ty extends to war­rant that the opin­ions and deeds record­ed were in fact held and done. But notice, what so many fail to, that those writ­ings do not guar­an­tee that the opin­ions were cor­rect or the deeds right. The ques­tion of cor­rect­ness or right­ness must ulti­mate­ly be set­tled in the light of the truth brought by Jesus Christ con­cern­ing God and man. Jesus claimed to be the full rev­e­la­tion of God and backed up His claim by the res­ur­rec­tion. I think one of the most lib­er­at­ing truths to get a hold of is the Christ- like­ness of God! 

But what if in the light of Jesus Christ and the law of love we see things attrib­uted to God and to the right in the Old Tes­ta­ment which we know could not be God’s way of doing things? We must remem­ber that the writ­ten Scrip­tures do not guar­an­tee that the things attrib­uted to the Lord are right­ly attrib­uted to Him. It is sim­ply an error to think that it does. There is no place in the sacred writ­ings that it says that it does and no inde­pen­dent rea­son to sup­pose that it does. Hence, there is no real con­flict between the law of love and the Old Tes­ta­ment writ­ings; there is only a con­tra­dic­tion between the law of love and cer­tain opin­ions and deeds attrib­uted to God. Jesus him­self taught con­cern­ing this — for exam­ple, Matthew 5:33 – 48 — and we are under oblig­a­tion to fol­low Him in this as in all things. 

On the oth­er hand we must nev­er for­get that God con­tin­ues to work with peo­ple who mis­un­der­stand and even mis­rep­re­sent Him. In His grace He did so with Israel through­out her his­to­ry, and He does the same with us. How thank­ful I am that we do not have to have every­thing straight before God will work with us. But this does not mean that he con­dones and endors­es the mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions as true or right!

In regard to the bloody way in which the Canaan­ites and oth­ers were treat­ed when Israel invad­ed Pales­tine, I believe that God was mis­rep­re­sent­ed and that He stayed with and blessed the chil­dren of Israel in spite of this. Remem­ber that the Herem (i.e. com­plete destruc­tion) was the com­mon­ly accept­ed way to wage war in those days; and when God com­mand­ed Israel to pos­sess the land, they did it in the only way they knew. In some impor­tant sense those peo­ple who were wiped out deserved exact­ly what they got, but no less than Israel deserved the same. But wip­ing out is not God’s way, and He allows it in His peo­ple only in the process of redeem­ing them from ways that are not His way. 

Per­haps one of the most hor­ri­ble cas­es of mis­ery from the will of God” is found in Ezra 9 and 10, when you real­ize what this must have meant to the peo­ple, espe­cial­ly the women and chil­dren. In order to main­tain a peo­ple who would remain true in their faith in Him, God had long ago com­mand­ed Israel not to inter­mar­ry with the poly­the­is­tic peo­ples sur­round­ing her. But as usu­al Israel failed to obey. In a desire to bring about reli­gious reform, Ezra and the oth­er reli­gious lead­ers decid­ed that the best way to han­dle this sit­u­a­tion was for all male Israelites involved in mixed mar­riages to put away” their wives and chil­dren. When we real­ize that in a patri­ar­chal cul­ture like this the women and chil­dren were utter­ly help­less with­out a father or a hus­band, we begin to see the awful mis­ery this com­mand must have brought. Cer­tain­ly this should teach us always to test con­tem­po­rary con­vic­tions about the will of God” by the light of Jesus Christ and the law of love. 

Well, these are a few thoughts on a very large and dif­fi­cult sub­ject. Remem­ber, the adver­sary will use even reli­gious ortho­dox” ways to get you to believe that God is not good, that I John 1:5 is false. Nev­er, nev­er for­sake the God Jesus brought to light! 

Faith­ful­ly,

Robert J. Catalyst 

Editor’s note: The author of this new fea­ture Con­tem­po­rary Issues’’ wish­es to remain anony­mous. How­ev­er, we hope the ideas pre­sent­ed will arouse read­er response, and any let­ters will be sent to the author, who will reply either via this col­umn or by a per­son­al letter.

Pub­lished in Quak­er Life, April 1973.

Originally published March 1973

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