Saturday, April 23, 2005

Would You Cherish Him Still?

Well I’ve finished up with yet another attempt at properly formatting my thesis. As I wait for the fateful word, I though I’d catch up on a couple of posts I’ve been intending to write. I just finished Rogerson’s Beginning Old Testament (the book is left of center theologically)and had a couple of more thoughts.

John Barton, in his chapter on Old Testament Theology, writes,
Most Christians would probably say that when they read the Old Testament, they expect (since it is part of the Bible) to learn from it truths about God. . . .Most Christians who approach the Old Testament in this way, however, are soon disappointed. . . .Although at times [God] is loving, gentle, and trustworthy, at other times he seems capricious, harsh, and unfeeling. . . .the conduct he demands, though it can be recognized as putting a high value on justice, often seems to lack important elements of what we might call Christian love. In short, the information about God we get from the Old Testament seems fairly ambiguous, and we would be hard put to say that we recognize in it the God in whom, if we are Christians, we profess to believe in.
Barton resolves this supposed difficulty by asserting that the picture of God presented in the Old Testament is simply a product of the evolving and “richly” diverse (why is diversity always described as “rich”?) perceptions of the Jewish understanding of God. Thus God is not really like what we read in the Old Testament; the picture there presented of God is simply what the Jewish theologians of that time thought he was like. Thus, even though the Bible records that God commanded the Jews of the conquest to annihilate the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, we need not believe that God would really desire such a thing. This was simply the Jewish perception of that event. To be sure, the Old Testament does communicate some truths about God, but we need not embrace everything it teaches as authoritative regarding his nature and character. We enlightened moderns and post-moderns, of course, now know better. God just isn’t like that.

By way of response, I offer the following. First, Barton’s main premise regarding the character of God seems based upon the ethical assumption that God’s moral attributes are bound by our sense of human justice. But God’s utter ontological superiority must not be forgotten. As I wrote in my Yahweh—God of Genocide,
Too often we define God’s moral attributes in relation to humanity strictly, as though God’s movement toward man defines his character. But we are not the same. We are a different and lesser race. We are the creature to the creator. The love of God is not defined by its relation to man, but by its relation to the inter-relations of the Trinity. Only there does true justice exist. Only to himself is God bound to honor divine rights. Were God to damn the whole race of man, though we be without sin, he could not be deemed unloving as long as it served some purpose of love towards himself within the Trinity. We have the same rights before God that the animal world has before man. Or do we suppose that even God is bound by our “inalienable rights?”
Secondly, I am by no means convinced of the basic assertion that the God of the Old Testament is in any way substantially different than the God revealed in Jesus Christ. To be sure, God’s full revelation of grace is revealed in Jesus Christ, as witnessed by the New Testament, but we must not forget that the Jesus who said “come to me all who are weary” will also one day “tread the wine press of the wrath and fury of God almighty.” And the Jesus who came the first time to seek and save the lost will come again to cast souls into hell. That God has provided a “day of salvation,” inaugurated with the incarnation of Christ, does not stand counter to the prophetic witness of his fierce and coming wrath. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God—and this living God with whom we have to do is none other than the Son. If the New Testament testifies more to the grace of God than the Old (and I think that it does) this is only because the New Testament was written during the “day” in which that grace—the grace prophesied about in the Old Testament—was realized in Christ. But such a “Day” will not last forever, for “the night is coming in which no man can work.”

And finally, I think my main concern with Rogerson’s and Barton’s approach to the Old Testament is its explicit/implicit rejection of the God revealed in the Old Testament. What if the Old Testament witness is indeed an accurate reflection of the God of reality? What if the God of Jesus Christ really is a God of genocide? What if the God of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, and Edwards is the God with whom we have to do? Will those who have found such a God unpalatable in this day find him attractive on that Day? Can we reject him now and receive him later? I don’t know the answer to this question. Obviously none of us grasp fully the nature and character of God. But I am deeply concerned for those who exchange the picture of God as presented in Scripture for what is perceived to be a kinder, gentler sort of God. I have observed this “exchange” in some aspects of the emerging church, and it concerns me for my brothers and sisters there. To you I simply ask, “What if the God of the Bible, without apology or qualification, is really indeed the God of the universe? Would you love him and cherish him still?”


the forester said...

Wow. A very aptly worded response that digs into the heart of the issue. Your final paragraph is humble, wise and loving, all at the same time -- like the Gospel itself, full of grace and truth.

I'd like to echo your thoughts by recalling Elihu's response to Job in Job 33:

"But you have said in my hearing -- I heard the very words -- 'I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy. He fastens my feet in shackles; he keeps close watch on all my paths.' But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man."
~ Job 33

In Romans chapter 9, a New Testament passage, Paul affirms that God is just when He judges.

God is the measure of right and wrong. Any time we suspect Him to be in the wrong, it means we ourselves are out of sync with the universe's only true moral code.

David Nebraska said...

This strikes at the heart of the issue. Are we willing to submit to the God of the universe regardless of our perception of Him? Are we capable of judging rightly the unjudgable? Is it our place to discern rightly God's nature and character in order to decide whether we would feel comfortable to serve Him? Or are we simply the clay at the mercy of the potter no matter what vain the potter may be. And if this is so, will we subject ourselves to molding? In fact do we even have the choice? I am confident that the God of the Bible is the God of the universe, both the one of infinite wrath as well as the one of infinite love. For those who are drawn to His love, will be loved, and those who are turned off by his equally emphasized wrath could more than likely experience that very same wrath. It truly is an awful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. We should love Him for His whole self and not just the characteristics we choose to consider "God like" as if we could discern what that is.