My friend nudged me.
“Hey! Check this out!” He could hardly contain his laughter until I viewed the meme. It pictured several hundred ISIS members running under a sky filled with fiery missiles. The caption read, “ISIS problem? Solved.”
Then I was struck by this thought: should I really be laughing at the death of hundreds of human beings?
If you’re anything like me, you start justifying your laughter. “They’re not innocent!” or “They’re slaughtering people!” The excuses continue, but the questions remain: Should we scoff at the loss of life? Could it be that political ideology shapes our view of humanity more than Scripture? Could it be that we’re more concerned with representing a political party well than we are with reflecting our God?
Now, I’m not making a political statement. I’m not commenting on whether or not I think we should be in the Middle East. I am asking this question: Should we take the loss of a human life so callously?
The only question that really matters is, “What value does God place on life?” God’s perspective must direct our own.
I’d like to argue from the most extreme case backwards. In other words, we need to see how God views those who look least valuable to us. We need to look at those under his judgment.
Ezekiel 18:23 reads, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked…and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Although the covenantal complexities of Ezekiel 18 add several layers of interpretation, the basic point is clear: God does not joy in judgment.
You may object:
1) What about passages like Psalm 2:4–5 where God mocks those who oppose him and his Christ?
God’s laughter highlights the foolishness of rebellion, but this is not the same as his being giddy about punishing his enemies. God is not rejoicing in judgment.
2) What about passages that describe God’s hatred of the wicked? Can we find reason for our callousness here?
Psalm 5:5 — “You hate all those who do iniquity”
Psalm 11:5 — “[the Lord’s] soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence”
Does God’s hatred of the wicked mean he enjoys judgment? Once again, the answer is no. Sobriety, not indifference or glee, marks all of these passages.
“Perhaps,” you may argue, “God views those under his judgment as less valuable?” No. Just extend the logic of the question. Who has received the full weight of the wrath of God? Christ himself! Does this mean the Father devalues the Son? No, certainly not. God’s judgment makes no value claims about the one being judged.
A Brief Caveat
God does not enjoy judgment or view those under judgment as less valuable, but he still receives glory in judgment. Passages like Romans 9:22–23 indicate that it is perfectly just and completely within God’s right to receive glory both in judgment and in mercy. And the halls of Scripture echo with praise to a just God who righteously executes justice (Deut 32:4; Job 8:3; Ps 37:6, 89:14; 2 Thess 1:8, Rev. 16:5–6, etc.).
So God does receive glory in his justice. He doesn’t, however, view human life as cheap.
A Test Case: Moab
The intertwining of God’s justice and glory is notably complex. It’s made more complex by our sinfulness. How can you righteously hate someone, execute perfect justice, receive glory, and not experience some joy?
The case of Moab clarifies God’s perspective. First, a bit of history. Moab is born to Lot’s oldest daughter by her own father (Gen 19:37). From the very beginning, the nation has the stain of rebellion against God. The next interaction between Israel and Moab is in the wilderness when Balak, king of Moab, hires Balaam to curse Israel (Num 22–24). Although Balaam is not able to curse Israel, the nation drifts from God as they intermarry with the Moabites and begin worshipping Baal (Num 25:1–3). As a result, God prohibits Moabites from entering the assembly until ten generations have passed (Deut 23:3–7).
Clearly, Moab was no friend of Israel or of God. Almost every time the Moabites are mentioned, the narrator marks their opposition to God and his people (notable exception: Ruth). The history of Moab’s relationship to God and Israel makes Isaiah 15–16 (our example) all the more shocking.
The question we’re asking is, “What value does God place on his enemies—and by extension, all human life?”
The oracle begins by describing the horrors descending upon Moab by the hand of God. The effect of God’s punishment is catastrophic: “Moab is undone” (1). The whole nation wails (2b, 3), the men shave their heads and beards (2c), and everyone wears sackcloth (3). Even the armed men cry out (4). The cries in Elealeh are heard in Jahaz some fifteen miles away.
How does God respond to the judgment he has brought? Listen to his own words.
My heart cries out for Moab (15:5)
The oracle ends with another expression of God’s care in the midst of judgment.
I weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah; I drench you with my tears….Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab, and my inmost self for Kirhareseth. (16:9, 11)
Now, God’s weeping does not indicate his reticence to bring punishment. In verse 10—the verse right between the verses above—God takes personal responsibility for Moab’s plight.
Isaiah 15–16 displays the beauties of the fierce wrath of God. We find a certain complexity in his nature that astounds us and draws us to awe. What an amazing God, who weeps in his judgment! What justice! What wrath! What love!
God’s heart in his punishment must direct our own perspective. How dare we laugh at death when God weeps! If we are to reflect God, we should respond to death with sobriety, with sorrow. Although man is made from dust and will return to dust, we should not treat life as dust. What else could be further from the Christian worldview? We should learn to value human life—every human life—as much as our Maker does.