RECONCILING THE OLD TESTAMENT
REVELATION OF GOD
THE REVELATION OF THE GOD JESUS
If you believe that the narratives contained in the Old Testament Scriptures are valid and at least generally accurate than you are faced with a problem. How do you reconcile the teachings and life of Jesus who was God in the flesh with those violent revelations of God in the Old Testament? It is common place for many today to create some sort of amalgam in which you can claim to follow Jesus and yet incorporate certain violent aspects of the Old Testament narratives. This is not only problematic but it takes license where there is none. And it is the essence of spiritual hubris to build your own God with a smorgasbord of Scriptures with which you pick and choose what you like without embracing the superior and foundational teachings of Jesus Himself.
If Jesus is not the complete and all encompassing revelation of God then He becomes just another lego block in your theology. The Old Testament continues to be used of the Spirit to reveal Christ without demanding answers to the question of divine violence. “You have heard it said…but I say” must provide for us a template and a prism through which we understand the fullness of God. But what about the violence depicted in the Old Testament? That is a mystery and I myself embrace Oscar Hammerstein’s statement,
“Who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Fools give you answers, wise men never try”.
But even without a complete explanation we still must bow to the final and complete revelation contained in the teachings and the Person of Jesus the Christ. I suggest that if there are not some mysteries associated with understanding God then that is not the authentic God. How could God do some of the things the Old Testament Scriptures record and then culminate with the profoundly nonviolent teachings of the God called Jesus? I do not know, but I do know what Jesus taught and lived. And I am bound to follow Jesus and to understand the very nature of God through that incarnate prism. Yes, I do not know some things, perhaps many things.
But when segments of the visible church make Jesus into something that goes against what He taught then we not only have a problem but we have another Jesus constructed for the satisfaction of man. Usually the “sometimes violent” Jesus has a connection to democracy, freedom, and the American way. The “just war” Jesus is a product of patriotism and not of His own teachings. And professing believers will reach back into the Old Testament and sculpt a Jesus which commits all kinds of violent acts usually associated with protecting a certain nation and most notably the one called America.
More recently in some men’s theology God will destroy towns and kill people with tornados and hurricanes in response to something associated with the gay thing. In their twisted sense of moral umbrage God seems to allow rampant adultery and divorce, abortions by the millions, and false teachers and heretics who deny Christ altogether. But when it comes to the gay issue God takes violent and murderous action. This is another distortion and is spiritual idiocy as well as being completely untethered to the New Testament. It makes God a moral marionette of man rather than actively pursuing the redemption of sinners both gay and straight. But the formula is the same. They construct a mixture of the different revelations of God which in effect compromises, dilutes, and even obscures the revelation of Jesus, which is not only the clearest, but is the perfect revelation of the Creator.
But this is no minor issue. This goes to the very heart of who Jesus is, who God is, and what Christianity is. And if we get this wrong we get it all wrong. If we mix the Old Testament narratives with the character of Jesus then we have grossly misunderstood His teachings and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In fact, anyone with a fourth grade reading capacity can see that the teachings of Jesus seem incompatible with the violence depicted in the Old Testament. Why do they seem incompatible? Because they are. So we are left with no choice. We must follow Jesus and openly admit that the atrocities committed by God in the Old Testament are a mystery and may have served His purposes, however we are now living in a “better” covenant with “better” promises and with a “better” sacrifice.
Take heart, my fellow travelers in the Spirit. We are not called to unravel all the mysteries that belong to the Godhead. The kind of reconciliation which addresses the two distinct revelations of the same God are not given to us and are safely tucked away in God’s own mind. But we are to cling to Christ alone and His teachings. But nowhere in Scripture are we to strive to enjoin the two covenants and the two revelations in order to manipulate an excuse for violence and other bad behaviors. You cannot kill your enemy and love him at the same time. You cannot do good to him while bombing him as well. You see, it is not only incongruous, but it is spiritual insanity.
Even if we assumed that God still acted today with violence we can see just how indiscriminate His actions are. He allows all kinds of sin and debauchery and when He sends earthquakes and tornados He often kills many innocent lives. But can’t you see just how foolish such a scenario is? Just a reading of the gospels reveals a far different God than the one so many have constructed.
Heb.1: God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
In the end the New Testament was not just an appendage to the Old Testament. It is the final revelation of who God is and what He has done and what He is like. We are not called to draw a straight line between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. We are called to worship Christ and follow His teachings. The rest may be one day known, but then again, we may never fully understand everything. And standing before the Risen Christ I doubt we will really care.