09 Feb 2009

The Merciful God of the "Old Testament"

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I’m putting that in quotation marks because our theology teacher (in my Catholic high school) once told us, “Don’t call it that in front of a Jewish person!” But I asked my Jewish neighbor one time if he would be insulted and he said no.

In church today the (assistant) pastor was going through various passages where the Lord says that He will take people’s sins and hurl them into the sea, He will wipe them from His memory, etc. etc. And then the pastor said something that resonated with me: “Everyone, notice that these passages are all from the Old Testament, you know, when God was really mean before Jesus came along and changed His mind?”

I thought that was funny because I used to think like that when I was younger. I thought the God depicted in the Old Testament was vindictive and had a really short fuse. In contrast, Jesus seemed like a really nice guy.

Well, there is really no way to reconcile those opinions with Scripture. If I had held on to those childhood beliefs, I might as well have made up my own religion, because the Bible clearly says, for example, that the Lord of the Old Testament is slow to anger, is merciful, etc.

But beyond that, you have the testimony of Jesus Himself. In other words, it is rather ridiculous to think, “Jesus is a really nice guy, and I respect his moral code, but man oh man, I can’t endorse what that psycho being did back in the day!”

The reason you can’t say that, is that Jesus Himself revered “that psycho” and said none but Him was good. So you can’t endorse Jesus’ moral code if you think the God of the Israelites was often out of line.

Anyway, I will close this post with something that shocked me when I first realized it (several years ago). I had thought that Jesus was a great synthesizer and innovator, because (I thought) He took what was good in Judaism and saved it, while throwing out all the “crazy” stuff. In particular, I thought that Jesus invented the greatest commandments, to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. I thought Jesus was the Einstein of theology, as it were, giving a deeper set of principles that yielded the specific conclusions of the more cumbersome set of rules handed down by Moses.

But there was just one flaw with my neat little theory: Those two specific commands appear explicitly in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:5==> Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Leviticus 19:18==>Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

During one of these Sunday “religious” posts I do intend to address the burning question: How the heck could a loving, merciful God have ordered the Israelites to slaughter the children of their enemies?! But I am letting it percolate.

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