Enemies in the Land
Peace is good. War is bad. Right? Not always. In fact, there are times even now when making peace is simply accommodation and the avoidance of a necessary war.
“So then, the Lord left some nations in the land to test the Israelites who had not been through the wars in Canaan. He did this only in order to teach each generation of Israelites about war, especially those who had never been in battle before…They were to be a test for Israel, to find out whether or not the Israelites would obey the commands that the Lord had given their ancestors through Moses…And so the people of Israel settled down…intermarried with them and worshiped their gods.”
I have come to believe God intends war to be a way of life for each generation. I would like to have God drive out completely the enemies and critics so I can settle in without the dissension or the ever-present prospect of conflict, but God understands there are reasons we need it. I want peace for me and my family. I want things to go smoothly and everyone to get along. I want to put the armor aside and dwell in harmony, but for some reason God wants me to live with a tension that is never resolved. Why do I need enemies?
First, I need enemies to keep me from being completely settled and at ease. Greece and Spain are dealing with the consequences of a State that promised a life free of risk and no enemies. Full employment. Full pensions. Early retirement. All the difficulties and stresses of life alleviated. It reminds me of the kiwi bird in New Zealand. It has very small wings, but they are useless. They do not fly. Why not? Because they have no natural predators. They will never fly because there are no enemies in their lives. Like them, we want comfort, prosperity, and security but God knows we need the imminent threat of an external enemy to keep us obedient. We need to stay just enough at risk to remain close to God. There is no criticism in that. He accepts it as a permanent condition.
Second, God desires our children to be taught about war as the way to obedience – not only by hearing our stories or reading about it as history. They are to be taught by practice and being in the war themselves. That goes against most everything we try to do as good parents today, but it makes sense when you look at what some well-intentioned parents are doing in the name of giving their kids good things. Children are being raised in bubble wrap by “snow plow” parents removing every possible obstacle in their path.
Psychologist S.S. Luther found that teenagers in affluent communities have significantly higher rates of depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and addiction, anxiety disorders and other self-destructive behaviors than all other groups of teenagers. According to adolescent psychologist Madeline Levine, the root of these problems is that “affluent teens display a disturbing lack of an independent self and are therefore quite fragile in the face of relatively minor adversity.” They have been protected from their natural predators and from the normal hardships only to become “Kiwi kids” with small wings unable to fly.
God knows we want to provide for and protect them, but He also knows we are fully capable of corrupting them without any war in their lives.
Every generation should know what war is. God does not say the role of one generation is to shelter the next from threats. The purpose of enemies is not punishment but a deepening relationship with God. The Apostle Peter tells us not to be surprised at the painful tests as if something unusual were happening to us – but we are. We long for the Promised Land we imagine.
We’ve not done anything bad to deserve these obstacles and enemies. We’re not being singled out. Quite the opposite. I might not do anything at all to grow toward God without them in my life. The purpose of the enemies is not to create fear or anxiety but obedience and maturity.
What happens when we try to resolve the tension and make peace with the enemies? The same as Israel. They were not violently overthrown or overwhelmed. They were just gradually and yet relentlessly absorbed into the ranks of the enemy. They could not live with the tension God put into their lives for their own good.
As counterintuitive as it might seem, we are to be grateful for the necessary enemies God has left in the land. War and the constant resistance to those enemies and obstacles is the only way for each generation to survive.