One of the best is in 1 Samuel when Israel brings the Ark of the Covenant into battle. This is a twofer of stupidity, with Israel treating the ark like an idol while thinking that putting the ark under threat will compel the Lord to fight harder for them.
The scheme goes horribly wrong when the presence of the ark in Israel's camp reminds the Philistines of several important points of Israel's story. They say "Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness". (1 Sam 4:8)
This is what Israel should be saying. God's people should have been saying to themselves something like, "Our God is the Lord, the one who saved us from the Egyptians with a strong hand and a mighty arm - surely he can deliver us from the Philistines".
But they don't. Instead, it's the Philistines who seem to understand Israel's faith better than God's people themselves. They also understand their own situation, and it leads them fight even harder and they defeat the Israelites and capture the ark.
I was reminded of this as I was reading this amazing article about Joshua Casteel, an military linguist and a Christian who was assigned as an interrogator in Iraq.
The article describes Casteel's encounter with an ardent jihadist. Rather than the brutal interrogations we've heard so much about, this one was a genuine dialog. Casteel says:
He tried to convert me to Islam from start to finish, and coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I felt in familiar territory, as if I were speaking simply to my Muslim counterpart. Then, we began to discuss war and violence. I asked him why he came to kill, he asked me why did I. At that point I knew I could go no further, unless I wanted to get into a debate about which one of us had the more just cause.
He then told me that I was not following the actual teaching of Christ, who said to turn the other cheek and to not resist an evil person. Coming from a jihadist who flat out told me he would kill me if he had the chance, I did not take the personal challenge all that seriously, but I came to a clear recognition of the fact that I absolutely agreed with him. I was in complete and total agreement with him, and I told him so. I did believe that my participation in systems of violence debilitates my Christian witness. I wanted to tell him that there was a different answer to injustice than the cycle of vengeance and violence condoned by Islam and by most systems of secular law: killing in the name of justice or civil order. I wanted to tell the jihadist that Jesus Christ (in Islam, the prophet Isa) had taught another way, and that I was living that way as a flesh-and-blood example for him but I could not. For a moment, my job and duties completely faded to the periphery and all I cared about was confessing to this enemy my own sins in the hopes that he would recognize his. But, I could only take him so far. I could not actually lead him down a different path by my own example.
What I realized that day is that I whole heartedly believed, even when challenged by an enemy lacking legitimacy, that my participation in systems of violence completely debilitates the living example I believe is my bounded duty as a Christian to offer. And I believe this lack of coherence made my Christian witness totally impotent to a man who believed he was fighting a just cause.
When the self-avowed enemies of God's people can speak with greater clarity about the nature of Christian faith than we can, something has clearly gone wrong. When Christian leaders spout phrases like "securing our borders" and "reforming the judiciary" as if they come from Scripture while ignoring phrases like "turn the other cheek" and "not resist an evil person" which, you know, do come from Scripture, something has clearly gone wrong.Israel eventually got the ark back. Where can we go to get our souls back?
(Via Zalm at From the Salmon)