In his autobiography, Eric Clapton, the famed rock and blues artist, shares candidly his long struggle with an addiction to alcohol. At one point in his life, he admitted his addiction and entered a rehab clinic, but he didn’t take his problem as seriously as was warranted. Returning to England after his stint in the clinic, he decided that he could still drink light spirits, beer and wine, but would give up hard liquor. You can guess the result. Before long he was again enslaved inside his addiction. He returned to the clinic to appease friends, but was convinced that he was still strong enough to handle his problems on his own.
But grace intervened. Just before his second rehab stint ended, he had a powerful experience within which he was shaken to his very soul by the recognition of his own helplessness and the mortal danger he faced from his addiction. On the basis of that grace, he finally gave himself over to the programme with his whole heart, accepting that he could never touch alcohol again. He has retained his sobriety ever since.
His story can be helpful in understanding the meaning of certain texts in Scripture which, when read literally, can give us the impression that God is arbitrary, cruel and murderous.
We see such texts, for example, in the Book of Exodus and the Book of Joshua where, before they enter the Promised Land, God instructs the Israelites to kill all the people and all the animals who inhabited that land. Why such a command to exterminate others simply because they’re living in a certain place?
Obviously we need to ask ourselves: is this really the word of God? What kind of God would give such a command? And what about the people being killed: aren’t they God’s people too? Does God play favourites? What about the Canaanites whom Joshua is asked to exterminate: don’t they count? What can be behind this?
These texts, though divinely inspired and rich in meaning, clearly should not be taken literally. This command, while not exactly metaphorical, is archetypal, meaning that it’s not meant to be taken literally as a command to kill what’s foreign to us, but rather as a counsel, teaching that when we’re trying to enter a new way of living we must take all the necessary measures to ensure that we can properly enter that life and sustain it.
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