All day long I had expected the meeting to be canceled due to snow and plunging temps. When the snow did not come, I texted the elder of my service meeting group: “I can’t believe you guys aren’t cancelling the meeting! It’s getting cold tonight, you know.” He replied that he was just a lowly peon and not the one who would make the call. Not good enough. “If I shiver tonight, it’s on you!” I shot back.
But I’m glad it was not cancelled. (It used to be that even an avalanche would not do the trick) The video about communication in marrage was featured, and my wife gave me looks that suggested that she hoped I would benefit from it. After the meeting—maybe the other brothers DO have it all together in that regard—I approached two of them only to overhear. “Well, he WAS watching the ballgame.”
I even got two comments in of my own. About that verse that Jesus, coming into Jerusalem: “and he would not let anyone carry a utensil through the temple” (Mark 11:16)—it was a massive structure and people would take shortcuts through its courtyards, as you might take a shortcut through the mall, with worship of God the farthest thing from your mind—drop by Herschel’s to pick up coffee and bagels, cut through the courtyard heading home. Jesus wouldn’t let them do it, and I likened it to how in the Kingdom Hall you ought to get your act together spiritually and not spend an overabundance of time chatting about mundane stuff.
The other was about the Amorites, the original occupants of the ”promised land“—promised to Abraham’s descendants after 400 years had passed (Genesis 15:13-16) The Amorites were bad news—unsavory practices as in Leviticus 18 being bedrock to their society—and God allowed 400 years for them to get their act together, even telling offspring of Abraham: “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for it is by all these things that the nations that I am driving out from before you have made themselves unclean...and I will bring punishment on it for its error, and the land will vomit its inhabitants out...you yourselves must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions, and you must not do any of these detestable things.” (18:24-26)
Clearing the land of them, like felling trees, was hardly non-violent, but somehow those verses softens the blow. Jehovah is the Giver of Life, after all, and he does provide an owner’s manual. Clearing out the Canaanites is an exception to ordinary m.o. Once God allows human governments to exist, he pretty gives them free reign, but it is not for nothing that the Bible likens them to wild beasts.
He allows them to exist because virtually any human government is better than anarchy. But they are not his idea. To referee them would suggest that they are. Sometimes I read Matthew 24:14 and explain that the end that will come is not that of the earth, for it did nothing wrong. It is the end of a system of 200 eternally squabbling nations pushing at each other—surely that was not his idea. But he lets it remain. It beats the alternative. It is a stopgap until “thy kingdom comes.”
Can it do things that are murderous? (someone had asked about that—why is it considered murder when you kill someone but not when governments do?) Well, sure—but the entire arrangement is murderous, a rebellion against God. Even though it is a best-case scenario of that rebellion, it is still murderous. God doesn’t get in there and mediate every little thing—it’s not his arrangement and he interferes hardly at all—but he did with the Canaanites and the 400 years heads-up.
Granted, it’s not everything. It doesn’t quite cover the little children. But I used to explain that when children die today due to parental neglect, people don’t blame God—they blame the parents. Same here—it was for parents to train their children and they neglected to do it. Of course, today people blame God for everything, so the above line doesn’t wash as it once did.
I wrote a post long ago about why God permits suffering, and an atheist I would swap comments with couldn’t stand it. It hadn’t been written with him in mind. It had been full of appeals to the scriptures, none of which he accepted. So I began to wonder if it couldn’t be repackaged in a way that would appeal to an atheist. I rearranged everything, squashed some ideas, elevated others, and came up with the following. It is more or less relevant here. How does it sound?
The NY driving instructor—of those refresher courses you take so as to get 10% off auto insurance—asked how many in his class thought driving was a right and how many thought it was a privilege. Some thought one, some the other. The answer is that it is a privilege—screw it up and they’ll take it away. Same with Jehovah, the Giver of life
Human governments take life away. They are not the giver of it, though. They abuse their authority. They’ll pay. But their entire existence is an abuse of authority, so when it comes to their killing people—throw it on the stack.