“God is Love,” the Bible tells us, and His soul is absolutely aversive to violence (IJn.4:8; Ps.11:5). We are told that He once destroyed the entire world by the Flood when He saw that the earth was filled with violence (Gen.6:11,13).
“But, isn’t that also an act of violence?” someone may ask, “When God punishes people, throws them into hell fire? And, what about the violence that God commanded in the Law of Moses to stone people to death, to destroy the Canaanites? How can we say that God hates violence, then?”
At the very beginning, we must make a distinction between divine violence and sinful violence. To say that God is non-violent is to deny the obvious. God’s violence is evident in the Scripture; however, His violence is true to His own holy and righteous nature. His violence is the violence of justice and salvation. The violence of sin, on the other hand, is the violence of injustice, evil, and destruction. It is man’s active expression of His estrangement and separation from God. It is this violence that God cuts down by His acts of righteous judgment. And who can stand before Him?
Now, we know that God is Love; which also means that He is opposite of everything that is not Love. We also know that God is Light; which also means that He is opposite of Darkness. In other words, God’s nature has no place for anything that is opposed to Love and Light. He is the pure and personal form of Love. God is the Person called Love. Consequently, as the nature of light is to destroy Darkness, so the nature of Love is to destroy Hatred. In the Kingdom of Light, there is no place for Darkness, there is no night (Rev.22:5). This destruction is natural; in other words, true to the very nature of Love and Light.
We do not appreciate Hatred to triumph over Love; if it did, just imagine what would become of the world. We also do not appreciate Darkness to triumph over Light. It is an impossibility. So, we know that Love always triumphs over Hatred as Light triumphs over Darkness (Rom.12:21; John 1:5). It is impossible for Hatred to persist in the presence of God who is Love.
When the Bible talks about violence as sin, it refers to the violence that is antithetical to the nature of God. There is a form of violence which is harmless. For instance, when a surgeon uses knives, scissors, and needles to cut open and sew together the flesh of a patient, it is a form of violence; but, it is not sin. Such violence is intended to bring healing. The Bible tells us that when Jesus returns the second time, He will seize away and take away by force His Church with Him – that is what the Greek word harpazo (for “caught up”) means in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. That will be an act of violence; but this is a violence of salvation. But, why will He seize the Church away? To protect her from the evil that is going to set loose on the earth, to keep her away from the Tribulation, and to save her from the Judgment to come. It will be an act of violent love.
Salvation is an act of violent love. We know that. Someone said it well that when Jesus hung on the Cross, it was Love crucified by Sin. The Bible tells us that Jesus endured the hostility of sinful men (Heb.12:3; 1Pet.2:23). He let the blows of sin fall on His body, and He bore our sins. The Crucifixion of Christ was the greatest act of Violent Sin that humanity committed against God; because, in it man tried to violently murder God Himself. However, the Crucifixion of Christ was also the greatest act of Violent Love that God showed towards humanity; because in it He allowed man to hurt Him personally and embraced him as he was there on the Cross. Thus, He cancelled the writ of Law against us, the declaration of Judgment, because Sin was consumed in His voluntary Sacrifice. And, there is no Law that can stand against God’s voluntary Sacrifice. He allowed the violence of man on Himself. He gave Himself up on the Altar of the Father. He drank the Cup of Suffering. That’s why the saints talk about agape as Sacrificial Love. And, God is Agape. On the Cross, Love triumphed over Hatred.
But, how does that answer the violence legalized by God in the Old Testament? We have already looked at one face of the answer; the next is also important.
The Bible says that God is Life (1Jn.5:20). This means that God is the opposite of Death. Death and Life are contradictory to each other. And, Life triumphs over Death. Thus, anything opposed to God is Death. When man in Noah’s days rebelled against God and did whatever he liked, walking according to his evil imagination (Gen.6:5), he embraced the finality of Death. Only Noah found favor in God’s eyes (6:8). This doesn’t mean that God didn’t give a chance to the others. The Bible says that God waited patiently for them, but none except the 8 people who got into the Ark, could receive the favor of God (1Pet.3:19). The Spirit did strive with the people, but they rejected God, they rejected Love, they rejected Life, because of their own hatred and sinful violence (Gen. 6:3; 1Pet.3:19,20). Noah accepted the grace of God and became the heir of righteousness by faith (Heb.11:7). To reject Life and embrace Death is foolishness, we say; but, that is what humanity does again and again. We have no rights to Life when we have rejected Life. It’s a contradiction.
What about the Canaanites then? Why did God order to kill them all?
The same principle applies even there. However, this time God uses man to judge man, a nation to judge another nation, instead of using a flood; for He had made a Covenant:
“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen.9:11).
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen.9:6).
Not even Israel was exempt of this universal Covenant. When we read the books of Kings, Chronicles, and the Prophets we know that when they sinned by rejecting God, God raised another nation to execute judgment over them. Judgment is nothing but giving someone his/her rightful place – in this case, when someone rejects Life, he/she embraces Death and Death comes in various forms: sword, pestilence, and famine to name a few (Jer.14:12).
With regard to the Canaanites and the nations that God commanded Israel to destroy, God makes these statements with a warning for Israel:
“Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev.18:25)
“And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you” (Lev.18:28)
To vomit is a hurtful and violent experience; but to vomit is to cast out substance that is unacceptable, even lethal, to the body – it is one way of saying, “We are opposed; we can’t stick together!” If a body doesn’t vomit up a lethal substance, it accepts its own destruction. It’s an either/or condition: Either Light or Darkness, Life or Death.
God is not compelled to cast them out. It is His nature as Light, that when He turns His face to action, Darkness is blotted out. He is not like man who might be indecisive at times. He is the Perfect and Absolute one and in Him there is no shadow of turning (James 1:17). His Love is so violent that it embraced us despite of the hurt we gave Him. It is also so violent that it will vomit us out if we don’t renounce ourselves and become one spirit with Him (1Cor.6:17). When we do that, then we’ll find in our lives Love and not Hatred, because the fruit of the Spirit is Love (Gal.5:22). We will be as He is.