Paradox of Biblical Love
In Matthew 22, someone asks Jesus, “What’s the greatest commandment?”
Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus had this to say:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies…
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
So Jesus gives 3 commands to love: God, neighbors, and enemies.
Yet God commanded his chosen people to annihilate their neighboring enemies.
1 Samuel 15:3 “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
(Even the babies... God was not pro-life.)
This was not a one-time occurrence. The Old Testament is full of passages detailing the Israelites’ battles to conquer the promised land and to destroy the surrounding tribes.
Christians attempt to allay their discomfort of cognitive dissonance by claiming† these people were evil and deserved death—that the Israelites were carrying out God’s righteous judgment. But they can’t argue that these genocidal activities were loving actions—at least not without dishonestly twisting the definition of love.
† Further rebuttal to this claim (click triangle to expand)
A common apologetic to defend Old Testament slaughtering of infants is to claim that action was more loving than letting them grow up in these evil nations. (Is that more loving than adopting them into the “correct” culture?) The idea is they were not of the age of accountability, and so would automatically go to heaven. (What about the unlucky children who had just passed this age?) With this logic, it would better in the Christian worldview to let unbelievers get abortions. Because those babies would be guaranteed a place in heaven, instead of growing up in an environment with a strong possibility of never trusting Christ. Most Christians are ignorant of: What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?
If it truly was God’s judgment on these nations for being evil, he could have simply destroyed them by raining down fire and brimstone, like what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. There was no need for the Israelite soldiers to experience this brutality and to directly oppose Jesus’ later commands to love their neighbors and enemies.
What was the reason these nations were considered so evil? Mainly because they didn’t worship Yahweh. Apologists have argued they were doing terrible things like sacrificing children to their gods, as if that’s more evil than slaughtering ALL the children in the name of the “true” God (who Christians praise for sacrificing his own child: Jesus).
The motive for extermination of the Canaanites was not to punish iniquity, but to take their land and resources, and to keep the Israelite’s tribalistic beliefs isolated from other cultural practices: Children and Virgins as Spoils of War and the Character of God
So how does the Bible define “love”?
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13, which is nicknamed “the Love Chapter”:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
(Where does genocide fit in all this? Or denying protections for minority groups and the poor?)
1 John 4:8 says, “God is love. But God has failed every point: 1 Corinthians 13 vs. God (Google Docs)
What should Christians do when their faith in what God allegedly commands comes into conflict with showing authentic love to others, even to their opponents?
1 Corinthians 13 concludes in the final verse that: love is greater than faith.