In church today the pastor read a statement from a theologian that astounded me. (BTW I know at least one guy who goes to my church also reads this blog, so it should go without saying that I am criticizing this particular point without malice. I like the sermons, I just sometimes think they say things that aren’t quite right.)
We were discussing the parable of the shepherd finding a lost sheep and the pastor read from a Christian scholar who had said (I’m paraphrasing) something like, ‘To the Jew of Jesus’ day, maybe if a sinner came crawling back to God and begged forgiveness, God would have had mercy. But never in a million years would God have gone out looking for lost sinners to redeem.’ In other words, we are supposed to infer that this was an innovation of Christianity.
But that strikes me as crazy. The single most important theme of the Old Testament (it seems to me) is that God continually forgives His wretched and straying people. He approached Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single “important” Old Testament character who wasn’t courted by God; the only one that is arguable is Jacob (who wrestled to obtain a blessing).
The psalms are full of tributes to God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness.
And consider the book of Hosea: God literally orders a guy to marry a prostitute, and to go out and bring her back home after she leaves him to return to prostitution, as a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel and its swooning over foreign idols.
I think there is sometimes a tendency for Christians to exaggerate the innovations of Jesus. For example–not that my pastors would ever have made such a basic mistake–I myself used to think that when Jesus summed up the Law and Prophets by saying love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, that Jesus was a brilliant guy who took a bunch of specific rules from the Old Testament and unified them under two brand new principles. Sort of like the Einstein of morality.
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus is “a nice guy” of whom I am not afraid, whereas the God who sent plagues on Pharaoh is scary and you don’t want to get on His bad side. But actually as Christians we believe they are the same
PersonGod, and furthermore you can see the fire in Jesus’ ire for the religious hypocrites, not to mention what He does in Revelation. Going the other way, the God of the Old Testament is harsh at times but He’s not really like a spiteful god from Greek mythology, the way atheist critics sometimes claim. He is full of compassion, love, and mercy, and is constantly trying to get the nation of Israel to do what is in their best interest.