By Anthony Casperson
Staring at images of deaths caused by her compatriots, a woman sat before a computer screen. “They were bad people. They deserved to die,” she said.
An electronic voice came from the speaker, “But who decides who lives and dies? What makes one life worth more than another?”
The woman began to say something…but stopped. She started again, but the words just wouldn’t come. “Let’s just talk about this later,” she said to the artificial intelligence on her ship.
Later attempts of the game master to get his players to talk to the AI character about this topic left each of the four players speechless. They had difficulty explaining the worth of a human life. And even the one time that God came up in the conversation, it quickly fell to silence after the AI questioned God’s choice of commanding the Israelites to slaughter the various peoples in the land of Canaan.
I was initially surprised by how quickly a group of people could be stumped by such a philosophical inquiry, but then realized that without a perspective of humans as fallen images of God, conversation would swiftly fade to personal assumptions of right and wrong. Assumptions that could easily be disregarded.
With the understanding of human beings having been made in the image of God, we see that the worth of a single human life comes from its mere existence. We bear the image of God. He places our value in us because we are valuable to him. And the reason why human beings hurt and kill each other is because we are broken images, caused by sin. We choose to hurt others for selfish means. We shouldn’t. We were made for much better things, but we choose to hurt and kill anyway because we chose to not act in line with our value, or the value of others.
But the question with regard to God caused me to wish that I could have been a part of the conversation. Quite often, this topic comes up about how God can be loving while he commands entire people groups to be slaughtered in his name. It’s actually used in a slam-dunk fashion by those who seek to deny God’s existence.
However, this thought forgets two things. First, God is as loving as he is just. You don’t have one without the other. And justice requires recompense for wrongdoing. No one would call it justice if a judge released a murderer from punishment. Even if the murderer had the most convincing plea for mercy. Even if the supposedly impartial judge held some form of loving familiarity with the murderer, no amount of love could overcome such injustice.
Second (and I believe this is one of the more pertinent pieces of the argument), God’s actions of justice are always a call to repentance. Even when he knows that the people to whom he’s offering a chance to turn away from the wrongdoing will never take that option, he offers it anyway. (The justice coming in the form of God enfleshed in humanity on a wooden device of capital punishment.)
Time and again, in the history of Israel, God calls down judgement. And if the people repent (turn away from their previous acts), he relents from the coming recompense, allowing the cross to bear that guilt. We even see this in the book of Jonah when the prophet’s reluctant proclamation turned into nation-wide repentance.
So, was God’s command to the nation of Israel to destroy the nations in Canaan a call for those nations to repent? Didn’t God tell the Israelites to obliterate man, woman, child, and even their animals, without any sort of qualifier? Could this act cause anyone to repent, before being mowed down by the oncoming horde?
Let’s set the stage for the conquest of Canaan. The Israelites had done their wandering. They’d taken over some land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Joshua took leadership of the people, as Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. They were crossing over the Jordan to begin the conquest of Canaan. Joshua sent two spies into the very first city of the campaign, Jericho.
The spies met a Canaanite woman, a prostitute, named Rahab. She hid the spies, sent their pursuers in the wrong direction, and hurried the spies on their way. But as she sent them away, she told them that she understood the power of their God. She held him in high regard, and asked if she and her parents and siblings might be saved from the coming destruction.
This Canaanites woman, one of the people whom God had called to be slaughtered, was not only offered salvation from the coming justice, but was allowed to join the people of God. God told the Israelites to leave no person of the nations in Canaan alive. His justice was to be complete and total. But this one woman and her family, in the very first stop in the official campaign of justice, was spared because of her faith.
Moved to repentance, this one destined for destruction was shown the love of a just God. Her sins dealt with by the eventual sacrifice of Jesus, who paid for all sins: past, present, and future. And in God’s amazing methods, this foreign woman, who should have been destroyed if not for her faith in the God of Israel, became an ancestor of her Savior.
This faith would have not existed if it were not for the call for justice that God put in the hands of the Israelites against the nations in Canaan. His justice calls for those who are willing to obey to discover his love. His justice in calling for utter destruction allowed for one to discover his loving embrace. And through that, bring about his plan to showcase his greatest act of love.
This is how justice and love work hand in hand.