English Articles

God of Love and Violence?

god van liefdeby drs W.J. PijnackerHordijk          vlag

God is not a sadist but He is holy, righteous, powerful, long suffering and yes indeed: He is Love. God is often presented far too sweetly today, especially in evangelical circles. His love will never accept the injustice in the world.


  1. Are violence and suffering normal?
  2. False solutions
  3. Explanation on uneasy texts
  4. Conclusion

      1.Are violence and suffering normal?

Men hate violence. Is that true? Then why does the entertainment industry flourish with all kinds of violent computer games, television and video series, horror and war movies? Moreover, there are a lot of martial arts full of violence. These are all supposed to canalize a lot of aggression, but it can unfortunately also inspire violence. Domestic abuse is a serious issue. Torture has been and is still actual human work. The extremely bloody movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ – indeed about the crucifixion of the peaceful Jesus – is an orgy of violence, and probably the most controversial movie ever, which even has become a hit (record). Is it not hypocritical to fuss about the violence in the Bible, while the newspapers report violence in all kinds of form on a daily basis,without us really worrying about it?? Violence seems to be normal. In our current ‘civilized and cultivated age’ and so-called peaceful world we look back at no less than two world wars, and dictators such as Hitler, Mussolini, Trotsky, Stalin, Lenin, Hoxha, Franco, Khomeiny, Pol Pot, Amin, Mao and the Kim-dynasty, were able to commit gigantic massacres owing to the help of countless henchmen and confederates. Slavery has been officially abolished, but informally it still exists. Incest also seems to be a persistent phenomenon. It is encouraging that not everyone accepts this manifold violence as normal.

But let us not walk away from the dilemma in the Bible: is the God that is revealed in it full of love or full of violence? According to 1 John 4:8 God is love. But what about the violence that had to be committed in the name of God? People, including believers, wonder “Is the Bible to be trusted? Is the God of the Bible to be trusted?” Is Christianity actually better than Islam on which the terrorists appeal? Everyone who ask questions about Bible texts deserve a compliment. Violence occurs a lot of times in the Bible and we can be appalled by that, but that is not less present in our modern days. Violence just has been there since the early human history, unfortunately.With the second generation of men we already read about the very first murder: Cain, who out of jealousy struck his brother Abel dead. Jealousy is the basis of the wars waged by economic motives. Wars are more a regular occurrence than an exception in human history. With Lamech the escalation of violence had increased (Gen.4:23). The judgment of God over the first men was very negative (Gen.6:5-7,12,13); It couldn't go on like that. Humanity would have had to exterminate itself and at least as that bad: in that way the solution would have hindered the coming of the Messiah and Prince of Peace, which is promised in Gen.3:15. In children’s bibles the history about the Flood is very popular. In fact, of course, it was definitely not a 'fun bed time story’, but a mega drama whereby numerous people died by the horrific death of drowning. How deeply tragic that only eight people wanted to get saved by the safety boat. God promised that this worldwide flood would be a one-time thing (Gen.9:8-17). But locally Sodom and Gomorra were struck by God’s judgment (Gen.18:21,19:1-29). According to the Old Testament, the applicable rule was: He who hates sin should kill the sinner. Not the sinner Achan alone was sentenced to death, because he, despite the prohibition, indulged himself into the banned spoils (he brought a part of the abhorrent Canaan into his home) and tried to keep it hidden until the end (Jos. 7), but also his children had to be killed. Achan was responsible for his family’s sake. Were his family members not complicit by participating in Achan’s theft instead of reporting him?! We read about no protests from bystanders nor from the author that this judgment would be unjust. 

Not every war in Israel was a holy war. The civil war between Israel (ten tribes’ realm) and Judah (two tribes’ realm) is an example of this. God was not necessarily exclusively on the side of Israel, sometimes also on that of their enemies, e.g. the Philistines (1Sam.4) and the besiegers like Assyria and Babylon. They led the people of Israel into exile in two stages, and in that way executed God’s judgment announced by the prophets.

Suffering, because of your beliefs is unfortunately of all ages. The world religion with the most martyrs is Christendom. The Lord Jesus stated very soberly: Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they followed My word, they will follow yours also.” (Jn 15:20). More personally tailored, Jesus predicted that His follower Peter was going to suffer because of his belief (Jn 21:18, 19). Jesus’ foreknowledge did not make Him responsible for the suffering and we should not conclude that God legitimizes violence and torture.
Jesus did not opposed the Roman besieger with violence. He never criticized His Father and did not delete anything from the Tenach (OT), on the contrary. The authors of the New Testament did not criticize their Old Testament colleagues. What about us? In Deuteronomy 7, Israel is called to eliminate the seven Canaanite nations: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. In Deuteronomy 20:17 and in Joshua.9:1,2 the Girgashites are strikingly missing in this list. Without pity, also the women and children had to be destroyed. The execution is to be read in Jos. 6:17, 21 (Acts 13:19). This raises major moral questions. After all, how can a God of love give such a violent command? How can God command something He Himself finds abhorrent? Although Christians do not have a clear-cut answer to it and have great difficulty themselves with passages of violence in the Bible, we still want to try to explain religiously motivated violence.

  1. False solutions

God and violence – they do not match, these words are incompatible and indigestible, many people think. If there is a God, He doesn’t do it right. Already in the second century, Marcion who was condemned as a heretic, came with this radical solution: there are two different gods: the violent God from the Old Testament and the loving God from the New Testament. As a result, he had only the gospel of Luke and the work of Paul left. The church protested. We should explain the Bible as Allegoresis (allegorical statement) and as legalism. But because of that, the stories don't get a historical but an allusive explanation. 
The position (existence, the promises of land, etc.) of Israel however, becomes so outdated and considered dismissed. The Lamb and the Lion from Revelation, however, appear to represent the same Person. Other non-satisfactory explanations are that we should read ‘drive away’ instead of ‘eliminate’, or that this text from Deu. 7 was human writing work, for a God of love cannot give the command for such a mass slaughter, can He? Dr. S. Janse thinks: ‘The actual question that we should ask regarding Bible texts with a high level of violence is not: how is it possible that God commanded it? But: how is it possible that people thought that God commanded it?’ So people mistakenly thought that God commanded violence. Dr. M.-J. Paul and dr. J. Douma refute this false solution and conclude that God certainly had given the command to destroy the nations of Canaan (2) We cannot ignore it. In order to better understand this, in our view, indigestible command, we should dive into it and read it carefully and fully. Everyone who comes up with questions ánd seeks answers deserves two compliments.

  1. Explanation of these uneasy texts (3)

3.1 Is our image of God correct?
God is not a sadist but He is holy, righteous, powerful, long suffering and yes indeed: love. The western, modern, prosperous and individual man imagines the image of God as soft and poppy. God is love and will always be love in all things and has grief over every death (Jonah 4:10,11, Eze.18:23, 32, 33:11, Lamentations.3:32). He loves all men (Lev.19:34, Deut.10-19,19, 1Tim.2:2-6). It’s exactly His love that will not settle for the injustice in the world. So, when He is wrathful, that’s just as much in love. Love, truth, righteousness, judgment and mercy do not exclude one another. God today in mainly evangelical circles, is often presented far too sweetly. But He can also be super angry: wrathful. God is awesome, He is a consuming fire, He is holy. In former days people prayed to a God who knocked the teeth out of the mouths of the wicked, now people pray to a toothless God. God is radically wrathful about everything that is bad and evil, for He hates the life-threatening sins. Apparently, people read the Bible with certain, nowadays pink glasses and are selective in what they want to read and are often missing the balance between God’s holy love and God’s holy wrath.

The coming of Jesus, the very most famous Jew from the tribe of Judah, who would be the Redeemer of the world, had to be secured. This is also why they had to radically remove the serious threat of the Canaanites.The New Testament is not nonviolent either. Although the cleansing of the temple has not cost human lives, it did go hand in hand with violence. Jesus Himself died because of extreme violence: after the scourging and crucifixion. By taking the punishment that we deserved, upon Him, He brought reconciliation between us and the Holy God. Ananias and Sapphira from the New Testament fell dead on the ground after they told halve truths. Many forget that the last New Testamentical book Revelation is also full of violence. The last judgment with punishments are not executed there by fellow men or nations, but by angels and by Jesus Christ Himself. The believers are not the literal fighters but they suffer and cry for revenge (Rev. 6:10). God is patient, long suffering, but cannot continue to condone sin. So, He doesn’t act from a suddenly rising compulsion. The measure of iniquity of the Amorites (the general term for the people of Canaan) was only full after 400 years (Gen.15:16).

 3.2 Violence can be (il)legitimate.

It is about a unique, one-time violence command which therefore will not be repeated, comparable with the Flood. It has to do with the bringing forward of the last final judgment. Consider that this judging God is the Only One with Whom justice is absolutely safe.

Expansion of Christianity cannot and should not take place by power or violence. The Islamic great Jihad is the inner fight to do good, while the small Jihad regards the violent expansion of their belief. However, what God commands the Israelites to do is the judgment over sin. Christianity has admittedly been violent in the past, but that does not make violence part of its essence. Conversions that were forced with the sword are therefore strictly condemnable for Christians. The crusades are shameful black pages in church history. Violent extremist murderers should not claim themselves to be Christians, they are blinded by a major disgrace to the gospel. In the book of Revelation it becomes clear that the way God will realize the new creation, is anything but pacifist. Making right what is crooked, is legitimate but unfortunately not always achievable. Then there must be room to deal with this major lack emotionally as well.

3.3 Violence was legitimate.
The command for the eradication of the Canaanites was limited up to the time of the entry and the conquest of the Promised Land. Other than these seven Canaanite nations, such as the Ammonites, Edomites and Moabites were to be left alone by Israel, unless they attacked Israel. The eradication command was not applied to their arch enemies the Philistines nor to the cruel Assyrians, the Nazis of that time. Nor was violence to be used to engage in "land stealing"; as the boundaries were, after all, already established in Gen.15. So the greed for annexation and conquering the whole world were out of the question. Practicing justice was higher than gaining the spoils.

Banning does not happen out of revenge or lust, but on the command of God: or total destruction of men, cattle and goods at Jericho (Jos.6:17-19, Deu. 13:15-17, 1Sam.15:3 – Amalek); òr only humans had to be killed while cattle and properties were allowed to be taken away (Deut.2:34, 35, 3:6,7); òr that only the males had to be killed and women, children, cattle and spoil were allowed to be robbed (Deu.20:13-15). For the execution of the ban there were always reasons given. The time had to be right for this to happen. In Israel there had never been a general command to always ban all pagans.

In the Old Testament there is no glorification of violence. That appears from the fact that king David was not allowed to build the temple because he had a lot of blood on his hands (1Chron.22:8, 28:3). His son Solomon, the prince of peace, did not fight any war and was allowed to build the temple. This is in striking contrast to the cruel and blood thirsty kings of Assyria that were operating in the same area as IS(IS) does in our time. The old testamentical ideal is the kingdom of peace, in which all the weaponry of war will be transformed into useful agricultural tools (Isa. 2: 9, 11).  

3.4 Israel is not superior but sanctified.

God has a great love for Israel, which is also written in the same chapter (Deut. 7:7, 8, 13), but not because this nation was that impressively large. God desire was that Israel would love Him (7:9). This nation is holy and has been chosen from all nations (7:6, 14:2). However: Noblesse oblige. Israel is allowed to stay in Canaan if they obey, otherwise they will be likewise driven out from the land (Lev.26:33-39, Deu.8:19,20, 13:15,16, 28:63-68, 30:1-3). There is no question of eradication because Israel would be superior. The cause of the election of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob / Israel does not lie in these people, but in the electing God Himself. I choose to respect God’s choice. This God warns Israel unfortunately in vain about the futile and dead-end road of the old inhabitants of Canaan. Israel ultimately fell in the same sins and had to bear the consequences of it.

3.5 Eradication of those nations was inevitable because of countless hideous sins. 

Reasons why the Canaanites had to be wiped away are: the disgusting idolatry, wickedness (Deu.9:5), immorality and gross sins such as children’s sacrifice (Deu.12:29-31, Lev.18:21, 20:2-5, 2Kgs.23:10, Jer.19:4, 5, Eze.20:30, 31), occult practices (Deu.18:9-14) and extreme violence (4), and not because the Canaanite would be of an inferior race.

In Gen.9:25 Canaan was already cursed. Noah speaks out a judgment over Canaan and its offspring. That judgment was partly realized by the conquest of their land by the Israelites. Because of the abominations, the land would spit out the defiling nation (Lev.18:24-30, 20:22-26). It was like Sodom and Gomorrah. God is not capricious and unpredictable, but He is wrathful over the life-threatening sins and wants to protect His people against this persistent evil through a one-time execution of a judgmental sentence. Those seven nations could have formed a real satanic seduction for Israel if they would continue to exist. That’s why intervention with violence was necessary. A comparison: the democracy in Europe was able to survive because of a bloody counter-offensive since D-day by the Allies. Another example: When a patient has gangrene, there is no other option than to amputate the affected body part, in order to prevent the spread of infection. Killing or murdering is prohibited according to the sixth of the Ten Commandments, but the death penalty was instituted to curb even worse sins. Therefore, sometimes evil is necessary in order to prevent greater evil. Over these nations that did many things that God had prohibited, Israel had to execute judgment. But Israel was not above the law and they themselves would also be punished if they would commit the same sins as the Canaanites did. The Canaanites was going form a snare for Israel (Exo.23:33, Jgs.2:1-5), and that clearly appeared to be the case with Manasseh, the later king of Judah, who surrendered to the abhorrent practices of the nations that the LORD had driven out before the Israelites (2Kgs.21:1,2, 2Chron. 33:1,2). But also king Ahaz offered heinous child sacrifices (2Kgs 16, 2Chron.28). There were more morally bad kings from the ten tribes’ kingdom Israel and the two tribes’ kingdom Judah than good ones, so that God had to chastise His own people with exiles.

There is no mention here of ethnical cleansing, ethno-centralism or genocide, but there is mention of the judgment over sins by the holy God. In the Apartheid’s government in South Africa, we do see racism. There, the oppression of the black population was (is?) justified, but wrongfully,

Bible texts do fit in a context, but you can't just generalize those into a permit or a command for violence wherever and whenever.Amalek very cowardly attacked Israel in the back, plundered the weak and had no reverence for God (Exo.17:8-16, Deu.25:17-19, 1Sam.15 (:3)). Saul let Amalek live against the commandment. The anti-Semite Haman, a descendant of Agag, who in turn was descended from Amalek, planned to completely eradicate the Jewish nation, but that turned out to be a boomerang against himself (Esther 3). His descendants form a permanent threat for Israel. They are like assassins who are always looking for a prey. The enmity of Amalek had a demonic character. The fight of Amalek against Israel was essentially a fight against the Messiah of Israel. The fight of Israel against Amalek is of all coming generations (Exo.17:16). This fight was on the same level as that of Haman from the book of Esther, as that of Herod the child murderer of Bethlehem, and as that of Adolf Hitler from the previous century. Aren’t you supposed to love your enemies? The prominent German church leader, theologian, resistance fighter against Nazism and author of Christian books, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, thought a lot about this dilemma and yet has seen it as a divine command to get rid of Hitler. His last words before he was hanged, were: “This is the end, for me the beginning of life”. 

3.6 The eradication command was partly executed.
The command to eradicate these seven nations was only partly executed. In Deu.7:3 we read that Israelites were not allowed to marry Canaanites. Apparently, it was assumed that not all Canaanites would be eradicated, otherwise this prohibition would have been meaningless. Joshua conquered the land and all its kings were killed (Jos.11:16), but this appears to be somewhat exaggerated, for in Jos.13:1, 2 we read that many areas were still not conquered over the Canaanites. Also from Jos. 23:7-11 and Jgs.1 and 3 etc. it appears that there were still Canaanites living there. If Israel does let a remnant of these pagan nations live, then they would no longer have to be killed. What God intended to prevent, still did happen: Israel took over the sins of those nations and became even worse than them, so that, after waiting for a long time (after all, God is long suffering), the exiles were inevitable.3.7 Escape by turning over. 
Based on rumors from Egypt that she heard, the harlot Rahab draw the conclusion and believed that Israel could not be defeated. Rahab appeared to be a wise woman of faith. Therefore she decided not to fight against Israel but to surrender herself together with her family to the Israelites. In that way she saved her own life and that of her father, mother, brothers, sisters and all who belonged to them (children?!)  (Jos. 2(:13, 18), 6:23, 25, 8:35, Heb. 11:31). So, the Israelites had nothing to do with xenophobia, for Rahab with family were warmly welcomed into the covenant nation. That also happened later with Ruth, who despite her descent from Moab accepted the God of Naomi / Israel (Ruth 1:16). So the violence cannot be called a genocide because it did not turn out that a certain group was killed only because of its descent.
By blessing Israel you will be blessed, but if you curse Israel, then the curse will strike you yourself (Gen. 12:3, 27:29, Num.22-24).

Some Egyptians surrendered rather than to resist against Israel and its unbeatable God, like Pharaoh did to the very end. These Egyptian renegades were welcome to join God’s elect people and went with them to the Promised Land (Exo.9:20, 10:7, 12:19, 38, 43-49). God reveals Himself as the merciful God of widows, orphans and foreigners (no barbarians but fellowmen) (Deu. 10:17, 18, 24:17-22, 27:19, Exo.22:20, 21, 23:9, Lev.19:33, 34). The anxious Gibeonites also rather chose to surrender than to perish. They cunningly escaped the ban by coming up with and executing a deceptive trick. Joshua did not break his word when he promised to keep them alive, but they had to live on as woodcutters and water carriers (Jos.9).

3.8 Crying for vengeance and violence are legitimate.

Christians must refrain from violence for “It’s up to Me (God, King and righteous Judge) to take revenge, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” Rom.12:19 is a quotation from, not to be mistaken, Deu.32:35. The weapon of the church is not the sword, but prayer and the Word. We are allowed to cry for vengeance, but not to execute it ourselves, because God will avenge injustice. Injustice cries for justice. Murdered martyrs appear not to be dead, but they cry for vengeance: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”(Rev.6:10). God delegates this right to the government. The right for violence lies exclusively in the hands of the government, for “it does not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom.13:4).

From the moral laws of war in Deu. 20, it appears that violence is limited: before they started the war actions against a hostile city, Israel had to first offer peace to it. The army had to be made smaller rather than larger. There is also no room for ‘scorched - earth – tactics’ and the rule ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ applies’, for the counter-violence must therefore remain proportional. Consequently, there is no head in revenge for an eye and no teeth for a tooth, but a restraint on a spiral of violence. The punishment should never be worse than the crime. Violence is not exalted in the Bible. Although the judge / muscleman Samson had killed many Philistines, he is not in the gallery of super wrestlers, but of heroes of faith (Heb.11:32). And then we have the revenge and curse psalms. How could we read them with decency, let alone sing them? Isn’t that cursing in church? Still, Christ sang the ‘Hallel’ (Psalms 113-118) in which 118:10-12 is also included and where we find a kind of revenge prayer. Jesus quoted Ps. 137:9 (‘who seizes and dashes your little ones’) when He entered Jerusalem on a donkey (Luke19:44) [5]. In that kind of psalms lies a cry, a prayer to right the wrongs that have been done to you or that you see around you. Those are songs that put emotions of intense anger, powerlessness and frustration into words and therefore not to encourage others to kill other people by themselves. These are religious poems, but no theological explanations. The psalmist refrains from seizing the weapons himself. See point 2 in the above-mentioned. Revenge is justified because it wants to restore injustice. Therefore, there is no room for Schadenfreude, but for holy legitimate revenge. To be angry, yes to be furious because of injustice is very legitimate and these songs with a cry can be a great relief, e.g. for the persecuted church, for abused people. There is hope because the Judge is coming! Offering forgiveness often comes up too early, because first there must be enough room for justified anger. God is our refuge even in our anger. So there is both malicious violence and redeeming violence. Ps.137:8, 9 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock!” The city Babylon is represented here as ‘the daughter of Babylon’, as a mother, then her children are Babylon’s inhabitants. But were there actually rocks in Babylon? In other words: you can explain this text figuratively. And literally? The Babylonians themselves had killed the children of Israel (2Chron.36:17). The poet is asking God to stop the evil, so that it will not continue to proliferate in future generations. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. “Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.” (Ps.139:21, 22) Prophets already predicted that the children of Babylon would be dashed to pieces before their eyes (Isa.13:16, Jer. 51:22). 'Don't shoot the messenger!' What’s wrong about hating and avenging the evil and the wicked? What is crooked must become right. In the Dutch churches these 'difficult' psalms were sung in the Second World War, which is understandable?! Isn’t it?4. Conclusion
Until the 18th century, believers in general did not get upset about these violence texts. God speaks through the Holy Spirit, not through the hype of the day or the zeitgeist. Our probably distorted view of God’s image should always be tested against God’s Word and be adjusted as necessary. From the epistle to the Hebrews, it appears clearly that the God of the Old Testament is the Same as the One in the New Testament. We may and can never hold God accountable and He is not obligated to give us any information and explanation for His actions and commands. We are called to love God, also with our intellect, but that will cease once, for His thoughts are higher than ours. Then the choice remains to trust in this mysterious God, regardless. I remain to choose for the divine inspiration of the Bible, including the texts that are difficult for us to digest and to explain.

drs. W.J.A. Pijnacker Hordijk 

translated by Ursula Moestapa


* Dr. H.G.L. Peels, Wie is als Gij? ( Who is like Thou?) Schaduwkanten van het oudtestamentische godsbeeld (Shadows of the Old Testamentical image of God) (Utrecht: Boekencentrum, 2e herz. druk 2007), 148 pp.

* Eric Peels, Kan een God van liefde geweld gebruiken? (Can a God of Love use violence?,  hoofdstuk 3 uit (Chapter 3 from: Martine van Veelen en Cees Dekker, Hete Hangijzers (Controversial issues) (Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 2009), pp. 55-67

* Arie Versluis, Moesten de Kanaänieten echt sterven? (Did the Canaanites really have to die? Hoofdstuk 20, pp. 71-73 uit (Chapter 20, pp. 71-73 from: Ongemakkelijk teksten van het Oude Testament (uneasy texts from the Old Testament), Hetty Lallelman (red.) (Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 2014)

(1) Dr. S. Janse, De tegenstem van Jezus Over geweld in het Nieuwe testament (The Counter voice of Jesus on Violence in the New Testament) (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2006), pp. 23, 24

(2) dr. M.-J. Paul, Macht en geweld in het Oude testament: Israëls houding tegenover de Kanaänieten, (Power and violence in the Old Testament: Israel’s attitude towards the Canaanites), workshop CVB symposium 9-12-2006, p. 2; dr. J. Douma, Geweld in de Bijbel (Violence in the Bible), Nederlands Dagblad, 10-2-2007

(3) Mede n.a.v. Arie Versluis (partly as a result of), Geen verbond, geen genade. Analyse en evaluatie van het gebod om de Kanaänieten uit te roeien (No Covenant, no mercy, Analysis and assessment of the command to eradicate the Canaanites) (Deuteronomium 7) (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2012), 368 pp. Uitverkocht. (Sold out)

(4) Hetty Lalleman, Is dit onze Vader? (Is this our Father?) Waarom ik van de God van het Oude Testament houd (Why i love the God of the Old Testament) (Amsterdam: Ark Media, 6e druk 2016), p. 17

(5) In het Grieks van Ps. 136:9 in de Griekse vertaling van het Oude Testament de Septuagint LXX staat hetzelfde werkwoord als in het Grieks in Luk.19: 44. (In Greek of Ps 136:9. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the Septuagint LXX, the same verb is used as in the Greek in Luke 19:44)


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