There is a strange moment in the biblical story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Mighty and massive Jericho looms at the gateway to the country. No way around it. To receive their inheritance Israel must go through it and that means war and battle. So Joshua and Israel are preparing to fight. The strange moment is this: Joshua sees a man standing in front of him, sword in hand. He is clearly a warrior. Joshua approaches and asks, “Who’s side are you on? Ours or theirs?” The stunning answer is, “Neither. But as the commander of the Lord’s armies I have come down.” And Joshua falls on his face and worships.
So much of our country is divided right now. Republican or Democrat. Trump or Hilary. Black or white. “Take a side,” I have been told. But I am troubled by the idea of sides. I am asking God, “who’s side are you on?” and I fully expect his answer to be, “neither.” He is not on the side of the police or on the side of those who feel abused and lash out with violence.
“But,” you may object, “surely God takes a side. God helped Israel destroy Jericho and so many other Canaanite cities. Surely God was on Israel’s side.” He says he wasn’t though. He says he wasn’t against the Canaanites either. What he was doing was working through Israel to accomplish his own mysterious purpose in the world. He was taking a necessary step in his plan to bless the whole world through Abraham’s descendants. Apparently, that story of blessing, like all stories, contains some dark, difficult to understand chapters. Let us say this: God does not take sides against anyone.
What God is doing now is what he has always been doing. He is seeking to bless the world through Abraham’s descendent Jesus Christ. Our chapter of the story is not a dark chapter in the sense that while we have a battle to fight it is not against flesh and blood. There is no person we need to oppose any more than Jesus opposed the Jews who handed him over to the Romans to be crucified or the Romans who carried out the execution. He forgave and loved both. That’s how we fight the battle in our chapter. We love people and in doing so we seek to see God’s purpose in our day brought to fulfillment too.
When you choose a side, when you post or pontificate online, when you take a stand, do so carefully and wisely. When you choose a side, you are inevitably turning those on the opposing side into enemies. And God has no enemies. He only has people who haven’t been reached yet.