Today’s “Weekend Post” delivers more beauty from the Smoky Mountains, plus addressing a question that’s been coming up in some facebook and blog conversations recently.
The issue at hand comes from a friend who says that he pretty much wants nothing to do with following Jesus because of the terrible violence (apparently) sanctioned by God in so many Old Testament stories.
In fairness, I’ll post this direct quote from my friend. We’ve had several versions of this conversation before, but I’m going to take another run at a reasonable response. First, here’s part of his (name withheld) statement:
I keep coming back to the God-sponsored atrocities of the Old Testament because it ts that much of a stumbling block for me, that I would choose to align myself with a being that condones wholesale slaughter… So tell me I would NOT have been expected to put the kids and mothers and animals to the sword in Gods name. No ones ever said…”No, you’ve got it wrong. God never told anyone to be butchers or put to the sword babies.”
“Lothlórien” – the mythical elven realm in Middle Earth
YOU HAVE IT WRONG! So I’m going to go ahead and say it (once again, but in another way). “You’ve got it wrong. I don’t believe it is ever – or has ever been – God’s plan to put people to the sword; not men, not women, not children.”
Here’s my thinking, and this does not mean I’m not a “Bible-believing” Christian (seeReligion and Culture, What does Bible-believing really mean?). I see the Old Testament narrative as the honest account of the ongoing struggles of the Children of Israel, as they learned – and failed, and learned again – and failed some more, to work out what it means to have an authentic relationship with God.
These were primitive people. They lived in a brutal time where life was cheap, where violence was constant, and where atrocities such as child-sacrifice passed as acceptable religious practice. These folk believed that God wanted them to execute gays; they believed women were the property of men; they believed God wanted them to stone disrespectful children. They fit right in with the Middle Eastern culture of the time.
Abraham (for example) found out that God was calling his people to a different way of expressing devotion when the angel stopped him from sacrificing his own son. “That’s not my way,” God seemed to be saying. “You had the wrong idea.”
Rebekah amongst the amazing “old growth” trees
So atrocities were committed in the name of God (as they still are), and the story-tellers wrote it all down, good and bad. Commandments such as “Don’t kill,” tell us a lot about God’s fundamental values. But the stories cover thousands of years of tragic error and learning and re-learning. But, time and again, the Children of Israel (like so many people and nations today), went ahead and did what they liked, and then they justified it by saying that God was on their side and sanctioned the whole mess (sound familiar?).
NEW AND LIVING WAY: Then God sent along Jesus, to put things right. Christ said that the entire weight of the law and the prophets can be summed up in the foundational commandment to Love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Rebekah enjoying the magical forests
“So who is my neighbor?” the people asked. Jesus answered that our neighbor is the person in need, quite often our enemy, and quite often the person we’d rather avoid.
“But what if we get into a fight?” they said. So Jesus explained about turning the other cheek, about loving our enemies. Jesus even said that we should do good to those who “dispitefully use you…”
And so it goes, Jesus demonstrates that the heart of the law is to be found in the practice of love.
EASY ANSWERS? Are these tidy answers and neat solutions? Lord, I sure hope not!
But I do – honestly – find it helpful to realize that the journey of discovery is constant when it comes to God, and that the Old Testament portion of the Bible is an honest look into the infancy of that process.
Great Smokies: great views at every turn
May God bless each one of us as we continue to struggle with what it means to follow Jesus, and to be discerning students of God’s Word – DEREK