The Bible’s Viewpoint
God’s Use of Force—Is It Justified?
THE deadly use of force has been a constant feature of man’s history. By one estimate, probably 170,000,000 people have been murdered in the 20th century by their own political regimes. As the Bible so accurately points out, men have consistently dominated other men to their injury.—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
In view of man’s misuse of violent force, some may question God’s use of force to destroy his enemies. Did not the Jews, under God’s direct orders, attack and kill the Canaanite inhabitants of the Promised Land? (Deuteronomy 20:16, 17) And does not God himself say that he will crush and put an end to all opposing rulerships? (Daniel 2:44) Some sincere individuals have wondered if God’s use of force is always justified.
Abuse of Force
It is vital to understand that the ability to use force is a critical element of government. An administration that cannot enforce its decrees is, in effect, powerless. For example, how many people despite reports of police abuses would be willing to forgo the protection provided by a police force? And what person would sanely argue against the necessity of a justice system with teeth.
Mohandas Gandhi, who was renowned for his abhorrence of violence, once stated: “Suppose a man runs amuck and goes furiously about, sword in hand, and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man.” Yes, even Gandhi saw the need for force under some circumstances.
Obviously, the ability to apply force is a necessary element of any stable society. In general, when people decry the use of force, they are actually criticizing the abuse of force.—Ecclesiastes 4:1-3.
“All His Ways Are Justice”
History provides no evidence that God ever abused his power. He does not rule by arbitrary force. He wants us to worship him out of love. (1 John 4:18, 19) In fact, God does not use force if there is a just way to avoid it. (Jeremiah 18:7, 8; 26:3, 13; Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11) And when he chooses to use force, he always gives plenty of warning so that whoever wants to can take corrective steps. (Amos 3:7; Matthew 24:14) Are these the actions of an arbitrary, cruel God?
God’s use of force has nothing in common with the unjustifiable abuse of power by humans. “All his ways are justice,” says Moses about Jehovah, “a God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) Unlike governments of human tyrants, God’s government is not based on who has the bigger stick. In every case, he has used force in harmony with his perfect love, wisdom, and justice.—Psalm 111:2, 3, 7; Matthew 23:37.
For example, when God destroyed the wicked in the Flood, it was after many years of warning. Anyone could have availed himself of the provision of the ark and survived. Only eight did. (1 Peter 3:19, 20; 2 Peter 2:5) In Joshua’s day, Israel executed God’s judgment on the corrupt Canaanites, a judgment pronounced over 400 years earlier! (Genesis 15:13-21) In all that time, the Canaanites could not have remained ignorant of the powerful evidence that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. (Joshua 2:9-21; 9:24-27) Yet, no Canaanite nation other than the Gibeonites sought mercy or availed itself of the opportunity to sue for peace. Rather, the Canaanites chose to harden their hearts against God.—Joshua 11:19, 20.
God Has the Authority
When attempting to understand God’s use of force, we must begin with a basic truth about our position before God. “We are the clay, and you are our Potter,” humbly acknowledged the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 64:8) Obviously, as the Creator of the universe, God can use force in any way he wishes to. In recognition of God’s authority, like Solomon we can say: “The word of the king is the power of control; and who may say to him: ‘What are you doing?’”—Ecclesiastes 8:4; Romans 9:20, 21.
Because of God’s position as the omnipotent Creator, earthly life is his to give and his to take away. Indeed, humans lack the perspective legitimately and knowledgeably to question God’s use of force. Man must learn to conform his thinking to God’s. “Are not the ways of you people the ones that are not adjusted right?” Jehovah asked.—Ezekiel 18:29; Isaiah 45:9.
It is Jehovah’s sense of justice and his love for people that will move him to rid the earth of those who abuse power and violently trample on the rights of others. This act of force will establish ideal conditions on the earth for all peace-loving humans who want it. (Psalm 37:10, 11; Nahum 1:9) Thus God’s government will be justified and forever vindicated.—Revelation 22:12-15.