Last week, a friend of mine was challenged by an unbelieving buddy about killing that God allows or commands in the Bible, most particularly in some verses in Isaiah 13.
“And like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with none to gather them, each will turn to his own people, and each will flee to his own land. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished. Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children.”
My friend and I texted back and forth about the guy’s misgivings about, or objections to, the passage as a reliable revelation of the Creator. I’ve left out my friend’s part of the interchange, but thought it might prove helpful to share some of my part. This is probably a relatively commonplace conversation when a believer talks with a skeptic in present-day America, so I offer it in the hopes that it might be of some help.
The following is (an edited version of) my part of our text-conversation:
“The first response would be to lovingly tell him that while it’s hard, God does say that. It’s right there.
“Then I’d remind him that the worst thing ever done wasn’t that. It was the murder of God the Son. Jesus was way more innocent than any baby or woman ever could be, and God predestined the Cross and His death, and look what His eternal purposes in it were. Look at what He brought out of it.
The same Isaiah said this about that: ‘Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.’
“And then the New Testament says this about God’s ordained murder of the perfect and innocent Son of God:
“‘For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.’ (Acts 4:27-28.)
“God predestined the Cross, and brought impossibly beautiful things from His own purposes out of it. Can He not do it with the destruction of violent and rebellious peoples?
“And then, I would remind him that it is Biblical to believe that infants go to Heaven when they die, and so while we should mourn and be shocked at and hate death, there is a measure of hope when God took out cities in destruction, because He presumably cut short the lives of sinful infants who would have grown up to be sinful, God-rejecting adults and took them to Heaven (by the Cross, which I and many Christians believe, based on Romans 1 and other Scriptures, covers infants).
“But He is just, and to take sin seriously is to know He can wipe out sinners, and that every moment He doesn’t is mercy. We in 2015 America have an inflated view of man and a deflated view of the holiness of God, and so the Bible will often shock is in correcting us. It’s a good shock, though. Like going to the Grand Canyon and being reminded that you really aren’t a giant and you could really fall into it and die if you’re careless.
“You could hate that if you want, but you can’t change it. And if you’re heart is right, you’ll actually start to find it beautiful.”
After realizing the young man who had challenged my friend was not a believer:
“Okay, then yes if he is critically attacking the Bible (which I did not realize), he needs to be told to read the entire paragraph and not just one or two sentences. God is not commanding rape, He is prophesying it. God never sins, and He does not command sin, but He will allow sin and use it, He will even harden or stir up sinners, in order to bring about His judgement, the salvation of His elect, or any other good purpose He deems appropriate.
“From James 1: ‘Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.’”
I hope you are able to offer God’s grace and communicate His holiness if challenged by an unbeliever on the wrath or decreed judgment of God. Trust Him, and trust His Book. I know it’s difficult, and I know what sweaty palms and an accelerated heartbeat feel like, so believe me when I say I sympathize with the desire to play down the uncomfortable. But they need His truth, not our 21st century Euro-American sensibilities. Try to sound more like Isaiah, Elijah, and Paul (humble, bold, worshipful, and ready to speak the Word) and less like an emcee of 2015 pop culture (vague, shallowly humorous, and, above all, inoffensive).
Let me close by saying God’s mercy is offered to hideous sinners in the Gospel. And if you have believed and been rescued from wrath you have a responsibility to offer it to others, just as I do. He sent Isaiah to proclaim the wrath, but the same Isaiah was commissioned to proclaim the Messiah. He preached judgment to preach the Gospel.
Acts tells us the same type of story:
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.'”
Believe in Christ be saved. The Gospel is good because His wrath is real, coming, and fair.