War, What Use Does God Have For It?
This morning, my wife and I were talking about the atrocities of war. She recently watched a movie that gave a Canadian perspective on World War II. The film wasn’t graphic, but the emotional turmoil the characters went through was enough to communicate the dark nature of war.
We talked about God’s use of war, specifically the Israelites’ conquest of the Canaanites. “Did God use war in the conquering of the Promised Land?” she asked. I responded with a quick “yes.” After a brief pause, she asked, in that sweet tone of her’s, “Why?”
I took a deep breath and prepared to explain.
Now, my wife knows the answer to this question. We’ve gone over it several times. When we first became Christians, the problem of evil and suffering often came up in conversation. But, as is true with every believer, she loves to be reminded of the imponderable ways in which her Lord works.
My answer wasn’t the greatest. I wasn’t prepared for such deep interaction while waiting in the drive-thru line for our coffee. Below is the answer I wish I would have given, so this post is dedicated to my beautiful wife Christy, who has been my faithful helper in this adventure called marriage.
WAR AS GOD’S JUDGMENT
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory..”
— Ephesians 1:11, 12 (ESV)
When Christy asked, “Why?” the first thought that came to mind was God’s judgment. I answered, “God used the conquering of the Canaanites as judgment on an unrepentant, pagan people.” Isaiah 46:10, with God’s “declaring the end from the beginning,” began circulating through my thought process.
War is ultimately a result of man’s fall as told in Genesis 3. The causes of war are sinful––there’s no escaping that fact. However, as we know from the narrative of Joseph’s brothers, God often works through sin to bring about His greater good (Gen 50:20). The conquest of Canaan was one of those instances in which God brought about His glory through a negative result of the Fall, that is––war.
This begs the question as to how God was being glorified in such a horrible event. How could God be glorified in the slaughter of men, women and children?
What needs to be understood is that God has no ethical obligation toward His creation except for those He has promised.
God has no obligation to sustain any life whatsoever, unless He promises to do so (because God never breaks a promise). To say He has this obligation is to impose a human standard upon the Creator of the universe which is absurd (Ex 4:11). The Creator ought not be seen by the creature as a fellow creature.
We also need to understand that the Canaanites were a pagan people. They had set up idols, sacrificed children, and committed heinous sexual sin that would be difficult for even a modern secularist to comprehend. Someone might ask, “Why didn’t God give them a chance to repent?” “Why in the world would He have someone like Joshua march in and kill everybody without warning?”
The short answer to this question is that He did give them a chance to repent.
In fact, He gave them 400 years to repent of their sin and turn to the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The very fact the Israelites were kept in Egypt for 400 years––in slavery––is a testimony to God’s undeserved mercy on the Canaanites. Thus, when the Israelites finally did emerge from Egypt, eventually conquering Canaan, it became evident that the time of God’s judgment had come.
It was time for the Canaanites to reap what they had sown––judgment.
While God is a God of perfect mercy, He’s also a God of perfect justice (Ps 9:7; 33:5). In fact, without perfect justice, perfect mercy cannot exist. Without justice it would be impossible to know what mercy is.
WAR AS GOD’S MEANS
When we think of war, we can also think of the displacement of people.
For example, war creates an unstable environment for the native occupants of the battleground. Most of the time, natives are forced to move from their homes to other places. They become refugees. This is nothing less than a massive lifestyle change. When war affects one person, it also affects that person’s family and friends. War causes a devastating and traumatic ripple that affects the entire world in some way.
It’s impossible to calculate what war causes, and exactly how it causes it, for each and every individual; but one thing is for sure––God uses war to change people’s lives for His purposes. Isaiah 46 may be applied here once more. God declares the end from the beginning, and everything is working according to His declaration of that which will come to pass.
Moreover, it’s entirely possible, even probable, that war is used as a means by God to bring people to Jesus Christ. It’s also entirely possible, even probable, that God uses war to harden the hearts of the reprobate (Ex 7:13; Rom 11:7). All of this has much to do with God’s overall plan of redemption. Everything that happens within the universe happens to fulfill God’s will, for the completion of His plan, the purpose––or telos––of all creation.
An illustration may be helpful at this juncture.
Imagine a man named John. John has a normal 9-5 job at the local bank. One day, John is at work and it’s a routine day until he sees on the news that the stock market is crashing. Soon after, people rush in and begin to withdraw all their money in utter panic.
John loses his job.
He’s left with nothing; he and his family are left hungry. He’s been brought from high to low; from a secure position to an insecure position. In desperation, John remembers back to something called the gospel. He heard it 15 years ago from a street preacher. He still remembers that story about a man, who was somehow also God, who came to earth and died so that His people may live eternally. He remembers back to the street preacher and how he said that suffering is a result of sin, and the only solution to sin is found in Christ.
This Christ would also eventually return to judge the world, and those who reject Him, the only Way of reconciliation to God, will be eternally judged.
John would not have come to this point if the stock market wouldn’t have crashed, causing masses of people to withdraw their money from his bank, causing him to lose his job, causing him to suffer, causing his humbleness of heart and his thinking back to the gospel he heard 15 years ago.
God used all of these means––the stock market crash, John’s job loss, his suffering––to give John the greatest treasure one could ever receive, Jesus Christ.
GOD’S PURPOSES ARE NOT OURS
Lastly, we need to remember that God’s purposes are not ours. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).” We may formulate our plans, our opinions as to how we think things ought to be, but this may not align with God’s plans, how things ought to be according to God’s standard.
Because of our relentless desire to be in control, we are often left discouraged and angry. We expect things to go how we think they should go. But, we are not the all-knowing God of the universe. Yahweh is. His purposes are beyond our intellectual abilities. We cannot possibly ascend to God’s thought. Thus, when something like war comes about, we are disappointed and thrown off by our utter lack of control.
We are not in control of much, and even that which we perceive to be under our control continues to be under God’s control, ultimately. We can’t see the world through the lense of our own primacy or constant disappointment, and sense of failure, will abound.
What we can do is cling to Christ and hope in Him, submitting to His will as revealed in Scripture. We can know that God is a good God who works through unfortunate situations to bring about His greater glory, whether we see it or not.
As Christians, we must know the sovereignty of God, the Lordship of God, and the primacy of His plan over ours, even in the face of war. We’re used to the phrase, “Father knows best” in relation to parental counsel or discipline, and that may be true or it may not be true when it comes to earthly parenthood. But, it is always true for God.
We should heed the Word of God, trusting in Him and His goodness when we think of the darkness which plagues this world. Christ is our hope, the ultimate solution to the problem of suffering—to the problem of war. And there will come a Day whereon He will dismantle all the fortresses of evil, destroying all evil and ending all warfare, finally.
To this Day we look. For this Day we long.