Is killing necessary?  Martin Luther King would have said no.  But the vast majority of the world says yes, including Islam and, for that matter, America whose response to terrorism was to wage war.

In today’s passage we return to the topic of fighting back.  (I promise I am only going where the Qur’an takes me each day.)  The main point made in this section is that the first Muslims, though they may be afraid, are to willingly fight for their rights to worship in Mecca.  God has commanded it and God gives, controls and takes back life (“God has power over everything,” 2:259).  Do not be like the ancient Jews who so often shrunk back from conflict (for instance the lack of faith Saul/Talut and his men showed when facing Goliath and the Philistines).  Instead, be like David and please God.  But they must choose whether to obey in this matter or not because, as 2:256 says, “there is no compulsion in religion” (which really calls into question the belief that Muslims are out to convert people at the point of a sword or barrel of a gun).

In the middle of today’s reading we are given a valuable glimpse into the Qur’an’s rationale for violence:

If God did not drive some back by means of others the world would be completely corrupt. (2:251)

The Muslims are cleansing agents.  The Muslims fight back in order to stem the tide of corruption and evil in this world.  The spread of Islam will cause the spread of God’s will, so if it takes fighting back against those who wish to stop the advance of this new kingdom of God to cause Islam to spread then that fighting will be justifiable.  So goes the logic.  The violence that ensues, then, is not politically, ethnically, socially or even emotionally driven; it is a spiritual act of “kingdom-making,” bloody though it may be.

There are a few passages in the Christian Bible that just make me uncomfortable.  Maybe I don’t understand them well enough.  When the topic of violence done in God’s name comes up, it is easy for me to point to Jesus, whose life and teachings exemplify non-violence.  However, there is still the God who sent his people into Canaan with an agenda of exclusion and even genocide.  There is the God who said kill all of the Amalekites — all of them, women, children even the livestock.  I simply can’t do the illogical write-off of the Old Testament God as somehow different from the New Testament God.  That didn’t fly 1700 years ago with Marcion and shouldn’t today.  God is God; he does not change.  And that God is the God I worship and love, though I don’t fully understand Him nor do I expect to.    So I look at what I am reading in the Qur’an and I have this nagging reminder that there are some equally offensive passages in my Bible.  And with the Qur’anic verse I quoted above, I see some commonality in the rationale for bloodshed.

There is a backstory to the conquest of Canaan we often forget.  Genesis 15:16 says the “measure of [the Canaanite’s] sin is now full.”  The conquest of the Canaanites is not ethnic cleansing, as if God doesn’t like Canaanites.  If it were God would have given the Jews Canaan without condition because of their superior ethnicity.  Instead a condition is put on Israel that if they become as depraved as the Canaanites they too will be savaged and exiled from the land, which of course did happen by way of the Exile (see Deuteronomy 4:25-27 for the conditionality of the land promise).  This is the natural unfolding of justice in a world where all truly are free yet accountable to God for their choices.  The conquest of Canaan will be a re-creation in which God re-orders the sinful disorder caused by pagan depravity.  This is what “kingdom coming” (Matthew 6:10) looks like in the real world where people are free to rebel against God and continue to do so to such a degree that death is the only end to the madness.  Pretty?  Comfortable?  Easy to stomach?  No!  Necessary?  Do we want to live a world more like hell or heaven?

While God hasn’t changed, he has decided to work through the love ethic of Jesus Christ for a time — a long time (see Monday’s post).  But let us remember that even the meek, pacific Jesus will come again bearing a sword to do battle against evil, death, and sin in the world and in the human heart in order to re-create God’s Kingdom of love, purity and justice in the world (Revelation 19:11-21).

Gandalf leads the charge at Helm's Deep (Tolkien's depiction of "kingdom-coming" in The Lord of the Rings)

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