Hey everyone, and welcome to my first ever “Ask a Pastor” column! I’m incredibly excited and honored to A all your Qs (or sometimes just provide an emoji shrug). You can send any/all of your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A quick note: This column isn’t a place where every tough theological issue will be cleanly resolved, removing all doubt from your mind. While I’ll provide the best answers I can, it’s worth mentioning that—ya know—I might be wrong. What this space is, hopefully, is a place where you can think, be challenged, be encouraged and be inspired to find a deeper understanding of a very mysterious God, who—as C.S. Lewis reminds us—is not a theologically tame lion.
OK, let’s dive in. Since this is my first column I’ll just take this nice and easy.
Q: How do you reconcile the God who wants to care for the refugees and people of different cultures/religions and the God of the Old Testament who commands the Israelites to kill their neighbors of different cultures and religions. (1 Samuel 15:3, Deuteronomy 20:16-18, amongst others)? You know, a softball question.
THAT IS NOT A SOFTBALL QUESTION AND YOU KNOW IT.
So I’m not going to try and sweep away the, “Yo, did God just order genocide?” question with easy answers. Instead, I’ll just say that the stories of Israel eradicating entire people groups are complicated both within the biblical text, and by looking at the culture surrounding them. In the Book of Joshua, for instance, we’re told Israel completely eradicates the Canaanites, and yet they show up again seven chapters later. This fits what we see from other culture’s war stories from this same time period, where victorious armies “totally eradicate” nations, including Israel, and yet, last I checked the Israelite people still exist! There’s reason to believe that a common narrative trait of war stories around this time was talk about the complete annihilation of a people, with everyone knowing that doesn’t literally mean every single person was killed.
My point is there’s room to view these texts a couple different ways. I’d encourage you to explore that topic and come to your own conclusions. That being said, the same nuance doesn’t exist in the Bible’s consistent ethic of how we should treat foreigners. Here, take a quick look for yourself. You’ll find that through the Old Testament God commands Israel to treat the “foreigners” around them with grace, kindness and hospitality.
It’s worth tackling the thorny issue of how the Hebrew people carved out a land for themselves and what that says about the God of the Bible, but let’s not hide behind that and ignore the Bible’s clear instructions to extend hospitality and kindness to the “others” who are around us.
That topic might, just possibly, be relevant to our current political situation.
[ducks head as angry emails fly in]