How do you reconcile the longsuffering, loving, faithful, merciful God of the Old Testament with the fire and brimstone God of the New Testament?
Did the question cause a double-take? This question is usually thought of in reverse, and is asked by Evangelical Bible professor Dr. David Lamb, the author of God Behaving Badly, in order to make you rethink your perception of God in the Old Testament.
I stumbled upon this book while doing research for our class on Joshua. A class-member asked about the nature of the violence in the book of Joshua and how we reconcile it with the New Testament. This is an important question, and one being posed by the current crop of aggressive atheists as a wedge designed to shatter and disrupt the faith of modern Christians.
The following are a list of thoughts that have been helpful to me as our class has wrestled with these issues.
1. This issue would not be a concern prior to the coming of Christ. This is important to consider. Prior to Christ, the moral objection to use violence against world barbarism would seem foolish. The only realistic means to advance your tribes culture in the ancient world was to destroy another tribe. The rule was kill or be killed, and pre-emptive strikes were not aggressive behavior; they were seen as defensive moves to further establish the security of your people and culture.
Christ changed the morality of the world. After Christianity assumed its dominance in the Roman empire, theological reflection on the nature of war, defense, and battle challenged the age old approach to conquest. Ironically these “new” atheists are operating within a Christian moral framework, and their attacks would have been unfathomable prior to Christ.
2. The overwhelming picture of God in the OT is one of love, mercy, and faithfulness to his people. He is longsuffering, and goes to great lengths to demonstrate love to His people and all nations. The cartoon above taps into a common mistaken perception about the God of the Old Testament.
Yet this misperception is not new to our century. Early in the life of the Church, one of the first heresies was by a man name Marcion. Marcion taught that Jesus and the God of the Old Testament were different, Jesus being the God of love who overcame the wrathful God of the Old. Marcion rejected the OT as Scripture, as well as some Gospels and anything but his edited version of Paul’s writing.
Story after story in the Old Testament portrays God intent on blessing mankind. The choosing of Abraham blessed the whole world and not only a small ethnic tribe of Middle Eastern people. Abraham’s descendants would be numerous, but they were to be a light that would draw all people to God.
The mission of Israel at its creation under Moses was to bring light to the Gentiles, drawing the peoples of the world into its commonwealth, a commonwealth set apart to demonstrate a relationship with their God that was unique among the world, saving them from the darkness of death-inducing paganism.
Gentiles assimilate into Israel throughout the OT. They throw off the shackles of their former faith and culture to become one with the people of God. As Israel exits Egypt, they bring Egyptians with them. In the wilderness they pick up groups and individuals along the way. Under Joshua's, Gentiles are brought into Israel, and protected like their own people. This story continues, not en masse, like we see in the Church of Acts, but the purpose as a light on mission to the world marches slowly through the pages of the OT.
God through Moses commands the people to protect the resident alien, and treat them with the same care they would the widow and orphan. A foreigner would be in the same desperate straits as the child and widow, abandoned through tragedy, yet their abandonment would come at their decision to leave family and clan to join with the people of God. Israel was responsible to care for them.
more to come...