We reached a troubling passage of scripture at BSF last Tuesday. The part where Israel creates the golden calf. But it's not the calf itself that troubles most people, interestingly enough (frankly, we're all quite comfortable with the idea of a dramatic falling away from God -- we witness it in our own lives all the time).
It's God's response that troubles folks -- and troubled me. He has Moses call anyone "on the Lord's side" to come to him, and then instructs them to take swords and walk through the camp killing. In the end, about 3,000 rebellious Israelites are slain that day. That's less than one percent of the group, but still a significant number. Our BSF lesson notes said that it was the "ringleaders" of the group who were killed, but I personally didn't see anything in scripture that indicated that was the case. (I'll keep studying this passage. I assume they come to that conclusion based on other scriptural principles and how they would apply here.)
In any case, such a massive slaughter understandably disturbs many. It doesn't sound like a "God of love." But I was reminded in our lesson, and in my pondering it this week, that we need to be careful in our exultation of this one glorious characteristic of our God to not forget about His other characteristics. He is also a God of purity. And a God of justice.
Our teaching leader compared this to a case of gangrene. When I first learned about gangrene, and how soldiers who acquired it in the battlefield would have to have limbs amputated, it horrified me. But that's the nature of the infection: it spreads very quickly and is absolutely destructive. There's no playing around with gangrene . . . no dabbling with methods to slow it down . . . no patient "tolerance" . . . you have to cut the stuff off completely. This was truly the only loving way to help the infected soldier. Any weaker response in the name of kindness meant death.
We even see Jesus promoting a similar principle. "If your right hand causes you to sin," he said, "cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It's better for you to live your life a bit maimed than to lose your life completely later in eternal punishment."
I used to gloss over this passage, trying not to think about how . . . primitive Jesus' approach sounded. I mean, it's not our physical hand or eye that causes us to sin. It's a dumb command.
But then I had a friend tell me about her husband. Her husband who had just confessed to her that he was addicted to internet porn, and who told her (this was twenty years ago or so) that they needed to get rid of their internet connection so he wouldn't be tempted so much. AHA. Then I got it.
If your internet connection is causing you to sin, cut it off.
If that TV show you enjoy is causing you to sin, cut it off.
If your friendship with your old college buddy is causing you to sin, cut it off.
If your job . . . where you pass that tempting woman every day who has made her willingness abundantly clear . . . where you have little or no accountability for your time and whereabouts and opportunity for indiscretion abounds . . . yes, even that job that is putting food on your family's table . . . if your job is causing you to sin, cut it off.
If Jesus expects us to be willing to give up an appendage, how much more these things?
Because we simply don't take sin seriously enough in our society. Not other people's sin -- many of us are quite obsessed with other people's sin. We don't take our own sin seriously. And it's our own sin that we're told to do violence to. Cut off your own hand. Set aside your own friends (even family). Excommunicate your own church members. Exterminate your own people.
If we see things from God's perspective -- the infinitely holy God whose primary purpose is to re-establish relationship with defiled humanity -- it makes more sense.
The sin in our lives deserves a dramatic response. Even a violent one.