Who would ever have dreamed that a culture would discredit God's word for the violence there? It's always been there. The Old Testament is full of slaughter and often at God's own hands and generations of children sat around the fire listening to war stories, stories about heroes and victories won. We use our imaginations and (depending on our experiences) we controll the intensity of the image we create when we listen, when we read. If we watch TV and movies, those who produce the show create those images for us.
Fortunately, war isn't all we find in the scriptures. Was God just responding to a culture in ways that particular culture could understand? Are we really such a kind, gentle, peace-loving people who have no point of reference for such things? God knew there would be generations who would respond like this. And if we were truly a kind gentle peace-loving people. Would God use different images to teach us or respond differently?
We're uncomfortable with scripture that seems to contradict our cultural sensitivities. We're uncomfortable with scripture that seems to contradict itself, let alone talking about these things with our children. We're afraid. Afraid of being right. Afraid of being wrong. Afraid of misrepresenting God, afraid that scripture will leave our kids unequipped to face the real world. But scripture was set in the real world - a violent world. We're a cowardly fearful people. But we can't be or we won't inherit the kingdom of God. God didn't hesitate to wage war but God is Love. We're forced to wrestle with that.
The church accuses the world of violence, inappropriate sexual excess, materialism, consumerism....etc etc. The world looks at us and sees the same stuff... What do we do with this? We don't live to please people but to please God. But Christians, even Bible-believing Christians, disagree among ourselves. But the questions and issues we wrestle with really aren't new because "there is nothing new under the sun". How do we handle the scriptures as God's holy Word in a culture that clashes with it, when the lines aren't so clean as they used to be in "Christian-Judeo society". What does reconciliation with God look like in our culture? In any culture? Is it always the same? Man is the same. Jesus is the same. God is the same. His Word is the same. But I bet a soldier knows the Warrior God differently than I do. God the judge, God the shepherd, God the king...a judge, shepherd, king all know different sides of God than I do.
Where is God while these cultural tectonic plates are shifting? Somewhere in that place that doesn't shift and shake. The quake is inevitable, but I'd rather not be standing on a crack. My husband will call it a "paradigm shift"...I'm thinking paradigm quake...How do we walk with our children there? We tell them the stories of scripture and wrestle with them in the context of our world.
We keep coming back to God generation after generation to wrestle with Him and His Word... what matters to God? How do we know? What do we hold on to? What's cultural? Is that just someone's interpretation? Is interpretation even an option? What is the Kingdom that will never be shaken? The two greatest commandments sum up the ten...
I decided to do a quick word search for "violent" (first NIV, then NAS) recalling something in scripture about the Kingdom being taken by violent men... I found it. I don't understand it but I found it. While I was looking for that, I ran over the passage from Acts 2. I should say it ran over me - maybe because I was looking and thinking about expressions of cultural violence (war and killing) and natural disasters and ... gosh...I looked at the word "violent" in the context of Acts 2 and . . . well? The spirit showing up like a violent wind . . . God's Spirit? God! What does that mean?...
I want to think that I fear God...Men, women, and children who experience war or natural disaster - something destructive and totally beyond their control will have very different feelings attached to "violence" or even the "fear of the Lord" than those of us who don't. We are a culture used to being "in control" - not face to face with the earth and it's seasons - day after day dependent on a field for food, hoping for rain when our food plants start to shrivel and the water's running out, hoping for sun when it won't stop raining so the potatoes don't rot. Hoping that grasshoppers won't destroy next season's food as they fly through. Faced with the floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, oil spills, terrorists we're forced to face things we can't control and quite frankly...are you surprised for God to feel compelled to continually remind a generation that has so much control over its environment that we aren't the ones in control?
Jacob was a shrewd deceptive controlling man but he wrestled with God and won. That wrestling to win resulted in a (probably painful) permanent injury. He ended up with a dislocated hip which would have seriously impeded his day to day ability to move for the rest of his life in an agricultural, pastoral, nomadic time. They didn't have wheel chairs or hip replacement. He wrestled with God because he wanted God's blessing. He fought with God. He argued with God if you will. It wasn't enough to have his father's blessing - he wanted God's blessing. It came at a cost and the end result blessed not just a man but a nation, both far from perfect, at that...
So? Welcome! You've been "birthed" into an imperfect faith-filled group of people who wrestle with God generation after generation and remain faithful to the God of the scriptures despite the contradictions they find everywhere. God is God. Look at the wars of the Old Testament. Did God condone them or was it man being man. And what role did God play? Were they superstitious (non-scientific) to ask these questions? Did Jesus need an anger management seminar when he was throwing things around in the temple? Look at what He said to Peter when Peter took out his sword and cut off someone's ear. If it's in the scriptures, it's there for a reason - all of it, "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."(2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV) despite the contractions. Because of the contradictions, I'm left to wrestle: how is it all true? Solomon in his wisdom...for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.
So, how do we prepare and equip our children to make our God their God the way every generation's had to? How do we prepare them to walk faithfully in changing cultures the way every generation's had to? How do we train them to faithfully wrestle with God and all that seems to contradict itself and end up with God's blessing and the ability to bless others . . .
One step at a time . . .I start by giving myself and those around me permission to wrestle with God. Maybe God's people succeeded because they started learning to wrestle as parent and child walking, talking every day when they rose up, when they lay down, when they walked along the way together. Maybe that's the place they learned to wrestle with God's word and life as they knew it age appropriately. Everything in it's time, everything in its season. There was a time and a season for the people of God to await a Messiah, a time and a season for Jesus to come to this earth, a time and a season for subsequent generations to remain until He comes again - a very long season of watching and waiting and wrestling and continuing to work at whatever He's given us to do ... always...until He comes. God help us as we wrestle with Him! God bless you!