They said a Mass for Peace on Sunday at my church. The day before that, Pope Francis called for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for internal peace in Syria and against armed intervention.
And what am I in the middle of reading? The Book of Joshua. Blame my Bible reading plan, but really, can you get any more inappropriate?
If Joshua is not the most violent book in the Bible, it’s definitely right up there. The eponymous Joshua is an exalted Jewish military commander, literally on a mission from God to wipe out countless other cultures and take over their land. Here’s a choice quote from Joshua 6, the story of the famous takeover of Jericho: “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.”
There’s a lot of that. Utterly destroying everything and everyone in sight, all in the name of the Lord.
This is the kind of thing that makes evangelical atheists super smug. Me? I love the Bible, but I freely admit this part of it confuses and disturbs me.
There is apparently some level of consensus among Biblical historians that archaeological evidence doesn’t back up the events we read about in Joshua. According to these historians, the book is not so much history as a rewriting of events as the authors would have liked them to go, and also, obviously, an object lesson about obeying God (See, here’s how you do it, and here’s how much God blesses you in return… get the picture?).
In reality, the claiming of Canaan may have been much more gradual and less violent than the book of Joshua tells. But whether you believe the Bible is literal historical truth or not, the question remains… why is this in there? Why is it important? What do we have to learn from it? These are big questions, but I think one thing we can learn from Joshua is what peace can cost.
The name “Joshua” means “the Lord saves.” All the violence Joshua apparently committed was for the sake of saving his people, preserving them from outside influences and violence, giving them a homeland of their own.
And yet, there is another Joshua in the Bible who also saves his people, a much larger group of people, in a very different way.
Jesus is just the Latin version of the Greek version of Yeshua, a variant of Yehoshua, the name of the commander. I remember how shocked I was to realize this for the first time. How strange, I thought to myself, for the Prince of Peace, someone who by all accounts never did anything more violent than kick a fig tree, to share a name with a famous conqueror.
I think a peace like Joshua’s, a peace achieved by militarism and violence, is what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of “peace that the world gives.” Jesus would bring a different kind of peace at great personal cost and with no collateral damage. The only thing Jesus completely destroyed for the glory of God was his own body, and by doing so, he also destroyed the power of sin. The only innocent person harmed was Jesus himself.
Unlike world leaders and conquerors, Jesus never promised a peace that would give security or comfort. In fact, he said that those who followed him on the way of peace would have trouble, suffer attacks, and be hated by the world. But he also promised that following him was worth taking up that cross.
As a Christian, I know which Joshua has my heart. I know which one I ultimately need to follow.
I come from a powerful country, a country that puts a lot of faith in the redemptive power of violence. I need to reject that. In my life, I’ve passively accepted much violence, too absorbed in my daily life to care. I’ve enjoyed many blessings that were brought about and protected by acts of violence. I need to learn a better Way, to mourn the cost of that violence and do my best to make sure it is not repeated.
The Joshua who truly conquered the world was an innocent victim. When I think of someone suffering supposedly for the cause of peace, it’s his face I need to see.