Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Conquest, Exile, & Cross: Replacing Projection With Reality

The problem
If you’re a proponent of nonviolence, you will definitely hear the question: what about the conquest of Canaan? How does this fit with the call to nonviolence? How does this “violent” God fit with the nonviolent Jesus? Numerous books have engaged this issue and the problem of God’s violence, often focusing on the Old Testament (usually meaning the conquest recorded in Joshua). These questions must be answered carefully because the answers given have far-reaching implications and not simply for our view of nonviolence. My contention is that Christian pacifists must affirm certain points of continuity between Joshua, Jeremiah, and Jesus—conquest, exile, and cross—or else they may undermine the central logic of the biblical narrative and, along with it, our doctrine of God.

Conquest

One popular answer is that the conquest narratives record Israel’s projection onto God rather than God’s actual instructions to Israel. God is not really judging the inhabitants of Canaan with Israel as his instrument, its proponent say, Israel is simply rationalizing its own selfish drive to possess the land. In order to transcend Israel’s faulty and murderous self-justification, they then encourage us to read later texts, such as the Gospels, over against these problematic earlier texts. The more this interpretation prevails the more popular it has become to speak of “God’s violence” rather than “God’s justice” or “God’s judgment.” After all, if unseemly OT texts simply amount to human projections onto God, then we create “God” in our violent image rather than witness to a God who is just in all his ways. So the idea that the conquest narratives are projections onto God correlates closely with talk of divine violence.

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