God is Not On Your Side

“Neither.”

If we give it a chance, this small word might be a window into our own arrogance as human beings and as Christians.

This word, “neither,” shows up at a very important place in the biblical text, a place we would not expect it.

Joshua 1–5 is essentially the story of Israel preparing for Holy War. Joshua is ordained as the chosen successor to Moses, they are purifying themselves (slicing up some foreskins), and getting ready for battle. They march toward Jericho. This means war.

At the very end of all this preparation, as they are at the doorstep of Jericho, we find the following account:

13Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 14Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”

The word “neither” in this context should make us pause. I mean, that’s not exactly the word you want to hear from your God before you go into a Holy War. For anyone who thinks in black & white, either/or categories, this word makes us insecure or even upset. Like the word “perhaps,” it belongs to the category of both/and, not either/or. It doesn’t let us land, it keeps us unsettled.

As Caputo says, both the fundamentalist Christian and the fundamentalist atheist hate the word “perhaps.” As in, does God exist? Perhaps. Our need for certainty hates it.

And in this case, we find the same thing about the word “neither.” We find the same refusal to be certain about where we stand. Is God for us or against us? Neither. But there is something in us that just needs to know. But we never get a straight answer, just an ambiguous “neither.” Make no mistake about it, God is never on “our” side. He is on his own side.

We see this reality played out again and again in Israel’s story as they try to tame God as if he is some lucky charm they can bring out whenever they are in trouble. As soon as Israel thinks they have God figured out and put him in their back pocket, that’s when God comes at them with ferocity and power, not as a lion to defend them, but as a lion to devour them.

We have much to learn from this word. When we come to the place where we arrogantly claim that we have figured God out and that he is, it turns out, on our side, we must remember that chilling response to Joshua. Whenever we begin to presume to rest in our certainty that God is obviously Republican, or Liberal, or Baptist, or whatever specific doctrines we perch upon to point the finger at others, we are on very dangerous ground. Are you for or against us, God? Neither.

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10 responses to “God is Not On Your Side

  1. I love the idea that what God does is transcend and includes. Is God for us, of course he is. But, is God also for our enemy, of course he is. This is the beauty of the sermon on the mount: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”

    God doesn’t do either/or, he does both/and. God is both for me and my enemy. He is for none of us (in a tribalism way), and yet he is for all of us.

  2. I was reading your post during a debate in class about whether or not God approves of Capitalism. Unfortunately the debate was halted before I could voice this great insight.

    • Indeed! Thanks for pointing out the other side, that is important. I do love the instability of it all but shouldn’t have been so quick to say God is “never” on our side. Sometimes the Bible says he is, sometimes it says he’s not. And even here, I love it as a condition, “if.” Of course, I know that in Greek it’s a first class conditional, “If, and we know he is,” but even within that grammar there is that haunting uncertainty.

      • I think you quoted from Joshua 5, above, regarding Joshua & Jericho.

        But the story continues: Joshua 6

        <>

        In the context you cited for your claim that it’s uncertain that God is not on anyone’s side, or as you stated “God is not on your side”, this clearly shows the context you used that God WAS on Joshua/Israel’s side.

        Also the scripture you quoted was the angel of the Lord speaking, not God. We presume from scriptures and personal spiritual experiences that angels are messengers and accomplish what God sends them to do without extra dialogue and it could be difficult to sidetrack them. Maybe?

        At the end of your opinion (your blog/your right) you mentioned politics… that really cheapens it, but the question is, are you (we) on His side?

        Maybe God doesn’t have “sides” in politics, doctrines or football games, but He has a will and a plan, and it’s His children’s responsibility (free-will) to know and be part of it, not the other way around. He is on the side of His truth and His love (Himself, like you wrote). We need to be reconciled to Him, not Him to us. What brings Him glory? What’s His will? The danger is believing or perpetuating ideals saying they are God’s, when they are not (because it deceives and misleads others). Maybe He’s not for that. I want to be on God’s side. “If” He is for me… who can be against me? ROMANS 8:31

  3. JOSHUA 6:

    2 The LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. 3 You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. 4 Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”

    27 So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.

    • All valid points. I was simply meditating on the “neither” to its deconstructible tendencies within the narrative. Yes, it turns out that God was on their side “this time.” But the very next chapter doesn’t turn out so well (at Ai), and many chapters to come in the life of Israel.

      My point was neither a full grammatical-historical exegesis of Joshua 5–6 (too boring for the no-attention-span internet) nor a biblical-theological account of God’s will (see above). But thank you for filling out some of the details for that larger project! I agree with much of what you’ve written, you have added to the conversation in a way that my medium wouldn’t allow.

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