(This post is part of a series. Start with part one here.)
We conflate a lot of other things with love. Love is tolerance. Love is acceptance. Love is unqualified approbation of anything we choose to do. Love is warm and fuzzy at all times, because love is blind. Love doesn’t expect or require anything; it simply is.
The Bible tells a different story. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Paul told us that Godly love “does not rejoice in iniquity” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Godly love makes a clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil—and what’s more, it refuses to condone or approve of anything wrong or evil.
Godly love comes with the understanding that the best life we can live exists within the boundaries of God’s law (Deuteronomy 10:13), and that by stepping outside that law, we expose ourselves and those around us to pain, suffering, and death (James 1:14-15).
Let’s step back a moment and try to view this from God’s perspective. He creates the earth, the entire universe, as a cradle for the human race. He gives them laws and standards designed to keep them safe, prosperous and happy—and then He watches them discard those laws like trash.
He watches His creation hurting itself.
He watches the work of His hands willfully stepping outside His law, creating a miserable environment and encouraging others to do the same. The cycle self-perpetuates and worsens, worsens, worsens, until the sons of Belial are sexually assaulting unsuspecting passersby and the people are offering their own children to gods of wood and stone.
What does a loving God do in a situation like this? How does He express His love toward a people bent on causing themselves pain?
There’s only one thing He really can do.
He ends that pain. He ends the existence of those so obsessed with self-destructing. He cuts off their ability to hurt themselves and others by cutting themselves off from the life they are determined to ruin.
* * *
The United States’ Declaration of Independence styles life as a God-given, “unalienable Right.”
That’s half true. Without a doubt, life is God-given, but it’s a long way from an unalienable right. When something is unalienable, it is “impossible to take away or give up.” An unalienable right is something we are inherently entitled to, something no one has the authority to take from us. It’s burned into the conscience of Americans everywhere—our lives are sacrosanct, untouchable, and inherently ours.
But are they really?
Do we have a right to our lives no matter what? Can we do whatever we want with our lives and expect no consequences?
Isaiah cried out, “Woe to him who strives with his Maker!” (Isaiah 45:9), and Job acknowledged, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). Before we can understand why God does what He does, we first have to come to terms with the fact that the God who gives life has every right to take it back whenever He pleases.
* * *
Not that He wants to take it back. “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the LORD God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'” (Ezekiel 18:23). Peter confirms that God is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
But God will not abide sin. Not forever. He is longsuffering—He gave the Canaanites four extra centuries, even when it was obvious what direction they were heading—but that longsuffering has a limit. The Canaanites didn’t turn things around. They just got worse. And worse. And worse.
They got to the point where a loving God decided they were better off dead than living in the twisted reality they’d built for themselves.
There was another reason, too. In part one, we read God’s command to “utterly destroy” the inhabitants of Canaan, but we didn’t read the very next verse, where God explains why: “lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:18).
Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The people of Israel were supposed to be the people of God, to be a light in a world that did not know God—but God knew that if Israel settled among these wicked nations, if it integrated into the existing culture, His people would become just as corrupt. The Canaanites would be a spiritual cancer, infecting and spreading through God’s chosen people.
We don’t have to wonder if God was right. During the settlement of Canaan, Israel repeatedly failed to follow God’s instructions. They let kings and nations live that God had sentenced to death—and as the era of the judges began, the land was filled with the evil influences that should have been destroyed (Judges 1:27-2:3).
In time, those influences took their toll. At the end of the book of Judges (Judges 19:22-25), we see an account nearly identical to Lot’s encounter in Sodom—except this time, the wicked men looking to rape the guests are Israelites.
Like the Canaanites before them, Israel got worse. And worse. And worse. Under later kings of Israel, we see the unthinkable emerge again—child sacrifice. Ahaz and Manasseh both practiced it. We see it under the reign of Hoshea. Jeremiah and Ezekiel cry out against it over and over again (Jeremiah 7:30-31; 19:4-5; 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21; 20:30-31).
The nation called by God’s name was no better than the people they had displaced, in large part because they chose to tolerate wickedness instead of stamping it out.
* * *
There’s a lesson for us here, if we’re willing to hear it:
Sin. Spreads. Wickedness and evil are contagious. Sin is a cancer, a life-sucking parasite without empathy or mercy. We cannot protect ourselves by turning a blind eye to it. We cannot protect ourselves by tolerating it. We certainly cannot protect ourselves by making alliances with the people who accept and embrace it.
James writes, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Resisting isn’t passive. It doesn’t happen by failing to respond. The Greek word here for resist was a military term meaning to “‘take a complete stand against’ … to establish one’s position publicly by conspicuously ‘holding one’s ground,’ i.e. refusing to be moved.”
We resist the devil when we plant our feet on the truth and tell him, “This is where I stand; I will not move.” When Satan pushes, we push back. When sin creeps up to the threshold of our hearts, we drive it away. God has given us the tools to wage this war and we must use them.
When Israel became like the nations around them, they suffered the same fate as the nations around them. They were consumed by their own wickedness, they were carted off into captivity, and they were slain by the sword. Just as God had promised would happen, “their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had surrendered them” (Deuteronomy 32:30).
Being God’s chosen people did not give them any extra leeway when it came to sin. If anything, it gave them less.
Rather than drive it out, Israel chosen to ignore and to tolerate the sin around them. We cannot make that same mistake.
We must resist.
In part three of this series, we’ll look at the final—and most important—part of this story.
Until next time,