The Bible teaches us who God is and what He is like. To do this, it employs different images and metaphors to help us see more clearly the nature, character, and works of God. Some of these are easier for us to understand and relate to, but others are more difficult. Yet as Christians, we believe all of the Bible’s metaphors to be true and to teach us some kind of truth regarding who God is.
I preached this past weekend on a passage from Scripture which is I believe is hard for most in our day to accept. It is Habakkuk 3:3-15. Here, God is described as a warrior with unstoppable power who brings salvation to His people and delivers them from their deadly foes.
Now I imagine most of us who live in a place like Naperville find it difficult to think of God as a warrior. Even if we accept Scripture, we wonder how we can view God this way. I believe there are several reasons why this is so.
First, this is partly due to the time and place we live in.
We—those of us who live in safe, comfortable, well-educated suburbs in America—live in a time of relative peace, comfort and ease. Our tendency is to think that life’s biggest problem is not having our creature comforts met (or getting our kids into the right school), or not having the kind of success and ease that we desire. Thus, the imagery of God as a powerful warrior is hard for us to resonate with. But this is not the case for Christians in other parts of the world. Some face a daily threat of physical persecution (like Christians in Nigeria and North Korea). To believers who face daily the possibility of being killed for their faith in Jesus, surely the imagery of God who is more powerful than any tyrannical government or maniacal mob is delightful and comforting. This would have been comforting to Habakkuk and Israel in Habakkuk’s time as well; they faced the fact that the mighty nation of Babylon was marching toward them to bring destruction (Habakkuk 1-2).
Perhaps a second reason we struggle to resonate with the imagery of God as a warrior is because we have forgotten the reality that we are in a REAL SPIRITUAL BATTLE (Eph 6:10-20).
Life is not all ease and comfort the Christian—even for the Christian in Naperville. While there is a real comfort in knowing God (2 Cor 1:3-7), Christians battle daily against the lies of the Devil, the evil pull of our fallen flesh, and the allure of the world (1 John 2:15-17). I believe if we saw this more clearly, we as Christians would more readily rejoice and delight in the picture of God as a mighty warrior. No struggle or temptation or darkness is too powerful for God—He is mighty and can deliver us from them all. We can come to Him and His throne of grace for “help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
A third reasons we recoil from seeing God as a warrior is that we have domesticated our conception of God.
We’ve tamed Him and made fit into our comfortable suburban outlook. We see Him as tolerant, kind, loving, and generally accepting of everyone, but not as a judge or king or warrior. But while God is kind and loving—even to those who are evil (Matt 5:43-48)—He is also full of just wrath against sin and sinners (Rom 1:18-32). His eye on His people to bring about deliverance for them from evil and from those who work evil against them. God will not be molded to fit our safe suburban conception of Him and we certainly do not have Him under our leash; He is a holy warrior God and will bring about justice and good to the Earth. (I think there is a great line in the Narnia series which captures this, ‘He’s NOT safe, but He is good.’).
Yet we would have a misshaped view of God if we only saw Him as a warrior. He is also a loving redeemer. We see this in the gospel. God the Son came and had all power, but entered earth humbly as human (John 1:14; Phil 2:5-11). He came to earth to save sinners from their sins and hell (1 Tim 1:15). As a warrior savior, he brought about victory over the devil, sin and death (Col 2:15; 2 Tim 1:10); He did this in way of grace and love by dying for his enemies on the cross (Rom 5:6-8). He conquered evil and brought to earth the Kingdom of God (Matt 4:17) . Here we see the wonderful news of God’s warrior character—He is a warrior king unlike any we’ve met, this warrior dies for the sins of His people. He also rose again and ascended into heaven, and not prays for His people from heaven and rules over His kingdom.
While Jesus came the first time in this humble way, we read in the Bible that the second time Jesus returns it will be as a warrior judge. He will return in full battle array with an army of angels. He will bring justice and victory over all who oppose God and the gospel (Rev 19:11-16). Until then, we as Christians plead with people to be reconciled with God who offers pardon to all in Christ (Rom 10:9-10) and we as Christians join Habakkuk in marveling at God who is unimaginably powerful and good.