Something that bothers a lot of Christians (and non-Christians) is the seeming contradiction of God’s character between the Old & New Testament. In the Old Testament, God often seems very angry with people- like a cruel old man seeking vengeance on anyone or anything that doesn’t fall in line with His ways. Then comes the New Testament and suddenly God seems to become a kind and loving father who patiently waits for everyone to come home into His arms.
This apparent split personality of God has been one of the most difficult issues for anyone who studies the Bible. Some of my friends think that maybe God's been evolving and adapting, just like we do. But I wonder if it's merely that we're gowing up as a species and our understanding of who God is, is increasing and expanding?
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Last night, I forcefully removed my son’s hand from the stove control and he screamed at me. His eyes filled up with tears and he had a little meltdown right there in the middle of the kitchen. Now, he’s usually the sweetest little boy in the world, but when he wants something that he’s unable to have, he gets furious. Sometimes he becomes so angry that he can’t function and we literally have to pick up and remove him from wherever he is and hold him close until he calms down.
I’m not sure what's going on in that little brain of his when these meltdowns happen, but I wonder if his anger isn’t pointed directly at me and his mom. He still knows that we love him, but since we’re keeping him from his desires- we’re villains, thwarting him at every move.
I can only imagine that it’s going to get worse as he gets older.
My experience with my own parents was mixed, too. As a child, I had a terrible temper and I got in trouble for all sorts of things. My mom and dad were often viewed as the enemies, always dishing out punishment, making me eat food I didn’t like, forcing me to go to bed when I didn't want to, and giving me rules and restrictions that a lot of my friends didn’t have.
It wasn’t until I graduated from High School and was out from under my parent’s constant supervision that we became friendly with each other. Gradually, we developed a different sort of relationship and I began to see how their “restrictions” and “punishment” were actually for my own good. Due to their influence in my life, I had a little more discipline over my own actions and was able to make better choices.
I see now that it wasn’t always vengeance or cruelty that drove them to put rules and restrictions in place. It was more often kindness and love. It was merely my own immaturity that made me view them as villians. It was my adolescent and teenage brain that hadn’t grown to the point where I could see the whole picture of what they were trying to accomplish.
And I bet my son is going to have the same feelings about me as he grows up.
In the middle of the kitchen floor, while Ethan was still crying, it suddenly made sense why God seems to be so mean, angry and jealous in some places and so kind, loving and compassionate it others. It’s because the story of humanity is much like the story of a little boy who's growing up. At some points, God gave rules and then gave grace. At different times, He disciplined and befriended.
God is fathering us and just like is for all sons and daughters, His methods don’t always make sense in the moment. There are times when He seems like the villain rather than the protector. There are times when He seems to needlessly keep us from our desires. But as we mature in our ability to know Him and understand this world we live in, we’re able to see more clearly that the whole picture is love- even those rough patches when everthing seems to be out of sync with how we’d expect a loving God to act.
9/2/2009 02:29:34 pm
I think you're right. I believe that the unconditional love I feel for my children is as close as I will ever come to understanding God. The tricky flip side of your analogy is the part where we allow our grown children to go down a road that ends in pain or disaster. That is part of understanding God as well.
You know, I think that there's element of self-fufilling prophecy in all this. I think that many of us, as we look for passages that support God's perfect just-ness, we scour the old testament. As we look for passages that support God's loving-ness, we scour the NT.
@ Jeff- You're right that we often tend to see what we WANT in scripture.
Yeah, you are exactly right about community and the lost art of reading scripture together. One of the things that's been on my mind about this topic lately is how critical it is that our communities be healthy and diverse. If we don't trust each other enough to confront each other, if we don't think differently enough to air differing views, we may as well just go back to reading by ourselves.
There's lots that's hard to sit with in scripture. Portions of the conquest narratives often are. But other portions of the conquest narratives aren't as hard as they seem, in context. I mean 2 seperate things by this:
10/14/2009 09:20:19 pm
You are right Nathan. I think about that so many times when I remember my dad disciplining me. And yet, when I see a handicapped beggar, not even able to use his own hands to eat, pulling himself to move on the streets, there's a question inside my heart and it is a very loud one. I know that God's majesty wouldn't be shown on him because God won't suddenly make him walk one fine day and people will know that God is there and that he lives. He'll probably die of hunger, in bad circumstances. He lived a hard life, would die a hard death. I wonder if it is ok for us to ask him to believe in God. To many, that brings some kind of peace amidst the torment they suffer, yet I wonder if it'll come out from a full heart or out of helplessness and hence a forlorn hope that he might one day become all right and come out of his sufferings. I sometimes wonder if God is like that sadistic neighbour who throws stones at sleeping dogs and finds pleasure in seeing them howling and running away in pain. Pal, I don't have answers. When I ask the pastor at the church, he tells me 'God's ways are mysterious.' I nod in front of him. But all is not at peace inside my heart. And when someone else tells me that he understands the God of our Bible, I secretively think that he's trying to delude himself and the world around him. I think that if he really takes the time to be in silence for a few days, he'll feel the rawness of his original feelings hurting him, his own identity. Sorry if I rambled on too long. But the only point I tried to make was that not all was explainable. And since I haven't seen God in my own life, I sometimes wonder if He is as they make him out to be, if He is the one pastors tell me about, if He is the one in the Bible.
2/28/2010 05:55:36 pm
This article bothers me on a lot of levels. This doesn't at all show we're growing up, this shows that the old testament jewish God obviously isn't the same guy mathew, mar,k luke, and john wrote about. and i gotta say, jeff you're line, "God grows us in obedience through these things (rape and murder..); it's not really obedience if you know why you're doing it, you know?" This is just horrible, Probably really close to what the catholics were thinking to justify the crusades, yet i bet you might claim they were wrong, though that was the same thing the israelites did to justify taking the land they wanted, wasn't it? need i remind any of you... "So they sent twelve thousand warriors to Jabesh-gilead with orders to kill EVERYONE there, including WOMEN and CHILDREN. "This is what you are to do," they said. "Completely DESTROY all the males and EVERY WOMAN who is not a virgin." Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan." (Judges 21:10-24 NLT; CAPS mine)..(though i bet they only brought them back to camp to help cook and keep the place clean, women had so many rights then). But not only that, fundamentalist muslims TODAY say similar things about obedience to the word to themselves to justify mass killings, sounds pretty similar doesn't it?
2/28/2010 05:59:01 pm
Oh btw Nathan, your completely right about yourself seeing what you WANT in scripture, though i find it hard to believe anyone can see rape, murder, and pillaging as a good thing. God you might try becoming a pirate if thats really what your aspirations are.
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Nathan Key likes to think about faith and philosophy and talk about it with others. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. He doesn't always refer to himself in the third person.