A Shift Can Explain
By Anthony Casperson

Usually, in video games where a war is the primary setting, the player controls characters only on one side of the conflict. However, in 2007’s Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the plot eventually leads the player to direct the actions of both sides. Even presenting a battle where characters leveled and equipped by the player are on opposite sides. (And trust me, that’s scary in a game where character death is permanent.)

However, this ability to see the war from different perspectives helps show how something that makes no sense from one side’s point of view can have an otherwise unseen purpose that’s clear from the other. Actions that would seem to be evil or bad or wrong to some, might actually have a good reason if you look at it from a different angle.

Granted, in this game from the Fire Emblem franchise, that good reason has been forced by some hidden enemy that both sides of the war must eventually join together to defeat. But even the idea that there’s a greater enemy than the people being fought reveals to us the importance of seeing events from multiple angles so that we can find the good in what seems such a bad thing at first glance. And then aim our fight against the true enemy instead of each other.

These thoughts came to mind as I read in my daily devotions earlier this week. Oftentimes, when people read the Old Testament and see God’s commands for Israel to battle—and in many cases, totally wipe out—the inhabitants of the Promised Land, these modern readers question how a good God could ever request such a thing. For instance, “How could the loving God we see in the New Testament tell the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20:16-17 to ‘save nothing alive that breathes’ in the cities of the land? And how could he command them to ‘devote to complete destruction’ the various peoples listed? No loving God would do that.”

This perspective gives rise to discussions that posit a discrepancy in the God worshipped by we followers of Jesus and what he shows himself to be in parts of the Old Testament. (Though to be fair, this argument also greatly blinds itself to the loving grace of God portrayed in various parts of the Old Testament and the areas of the New Testament where God reminds us that he is the Cosmic Judge as well.)

But we can see in verse 18 of that chapter in Deuteronomy that God’s purpose reveals a greater enemy than the inhabitants of the land. Sin stands as the enemy. He commands them to destroy so that the Israelites won’t be infiltrated and indoctrinated with the sin of these godless people.

Part of his reason is to keep idolatry from taking root like a weed in the lives of his people. And the only way to get rid of weeds is to totally uproot and destroy them.

However, there’s another good reason for God’s direction for battle. And it’s the one that many refuse to consider in this question of God’s actions. A good God is also a just one. The God who rightly punishes wrongdoing. Those who refuse to repent, who don’t accept his loving ways, must meet the consequences of his wrath. (I mean, if people don’t accept Jesus, then they have to take the full force of what they didn’t want him to pay for them. Becoming the object of God’s wrath for the sin of those who accept his sacrifice was kinda the whole point there. And without his sacrifice covering a person, that wrath’s gotta be aimed somewhere.)

This perspective shift leads us to places like Genesis 15:16. Here, God tells Abraham—still called Abram at the time—that his descendants would return to this Promised Land in the fourth generation because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

The Israelites at the time of Joshua act as agents of God’s justice because the sins of the previous inhabitants had reached their full peak by that generation. God had waited for these people to repent. Even though he knew in his infinite foreknowledge that they never would. And only after it was clear to everyone present that these people would never submit to God’s prescribed way of life, was judgement set. And then executed by his command through the Israelites.

Our perspective that God’s command for the obliteration of people groups as a bad thing doesn’t take into account the perspective of God. He gave those people a chance. Waited generations for their repentance to come. And when they didn’t, he enacted his right as their Creator and Righteous Judge to proclaim them guilty of rebellion. And called forth the payment for their continued sin, placing the executioner’s axe into the hands of his people Israel.

We often look at sin from a human perspective. Act like it can’t be good for God to punish how and when he chooses. But we forget the incredible patience of God. How long he waits for repentance, even when he knows it won’t ever arrive. How many bad choices he has to watch his creation make before he reveals the consequences to them.

And more importantly, we forget that the only method of full freedom from sin that comes through the sacrifice of Jesus is how he shows us love while being just. That payment on the cross for our sin, that sacrifice, was the only way to save we who have succumbed to the reign of sin and death.

The fact that some people—those who refuse God’s definition for life—have to take the payment for their selfish rebellion doesn’t disprove God’s love for them. It shows he’s good and just. And it is the fact that Jesus came to take deserved wrath that was meant for any of we fallen human beings that shows his love.

Freedom from God’s wrath against our sin is not something that we have by right. It’s not innate. What we deserve—as sinful people—is the wrath. But the cross allows us to receive God’s love while he remains the God of justice that rightly judges sinful rebellion.

And his patience in waiting for us to accept that sacrifice is the aspect of his love that is so often missed. Because we fail to see our sin from his perspective.