By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
The love of God is greatly misunderstood by many both within the church and from without. A common descriptor of the God of the Bible is that he is “All-Loving”, and while this is true, there needs to be proper biblical distinctions put in place. In 1 John 4:8 we are told that “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” However, a wider reading of scripture with regards to the attributes of God will quickly teach us that God is not simply love, but rather, the bible provides for a us a rich and diverse list of attributes that are to be held in tandem with the notion of the love of God. Furthermore, when we isolate the attribute of love to the exclusion of the other attributes given in scripture, we swing open the gate to all sorts of heretical teachings.
While it is true that God is love, we are also told that God is righteous (Psalm 11:7). Furthermore, it is clearly taught that God is also holy (1 Peter 1:16) and just (Isaiah 30:18). It is the Lord God, holy, righteous and just, who will sit in judgment over the nations. The very same God of love as depicted in 1 John 4:8 is the same God who is described as a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), who will in righteousness cast unrepented sinners into hell (Matthew 10:28). Indeed, it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). These other descriptors of God are in the Bible, and hence should be taken as divine truth given to us from God himself who inspired the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). It is only by embracing all of what scripture has to say, that we can have a balanced and sober understanding of who God really is.
Keeping these things in mind, the Christian should not shrink from the clear teaching of scripture with regards to the nature and attributes of God. We are to proclaim the full council of the Lord even in the midst of unbelief and rebellion. When an unbeliever brings up the topic of God’s “horrible” judgments so as to besmirch his name and point out how unjust and unfair God is, we should be willing and able to dive into the text and explain what is going on, and indeed, with regards to God’s commands to destroy the Canaanites, this judgment was well deserved.
The Bible tells us that the Canaanites were exceedingly wicked and indulgent in all sorts of abominable acts before God, some of which included things as incest, bestiality, witchcraft, child sacrifices and much more. Now the unbeliever may retort that such acts do not warrant such harsh punishment, but then again, the unbeliever is not God and therefore, is not the all-knowing, all wise judge of the matter. God as God, is the only one in the position to know with full assurance, certainty and righteousness who warrants such judgment. It is often the case that many (even believers) recoil at what seems to be harsh judgments on God’s part, but this says nothing of God’s unfairness or injustice, but rather, it speaks volumes with regards to how little we regard the seriousness of sin.
It is very amusing to see many complain that God seems to do nothing when evil transpires, yet, when God steps in to stop evil, He is declared harsh and unfair. The reality is that all of us are evil and warrant God’s righteous judgment. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It also teaches us that “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and because “all have sinned” it follows that all deserve to die. The fact that anyone is alive is itself an act of mercy and grace on the part of God. These biblical truths may not fill the pews on a Sunday, but these are the facts as God has revealed them. In the case of the Canaanites, God was well within His rights as the righteous and holy judge of all the earth to execute judgment upon them in the way that He did. If these truths cause one to read in horror at the fact that God judges with utter righteousness and perfection, and in a manner that causes fear to grip the heart of the reader, then the reader is urged to repent and cast themselves at the feet of the savior. The fact that God will judge sinners should bring us pause.
But remember, it is important to have a balanced understanding of who God is. Indeed, the same God who brings such serious judgement is the same God that sent His Son to die for sinners, as the scriptures say, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died” (Romans 5:8). Turn to Jesus and in doing so you will find him to be a perfect savior. But that very same savior will one day judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).