This semester I have taken on the mantel of running a young adults group at my church. I love it! It is awesome to just sit and chat with people about real stuff that they are struggling to understand in the bible and to offer any wisdom or knowledge that I may have accumulate over the years.
The dealio goes, if it is bugging you then ask and we will study it. So one of the peeps decided to bring up the issue of how do we reconcile the violence of the old testament with the 'love your neighbour' of the new?
Brilliant question. I am now officially leaving as leader....
Jokes. Though this question is one that I have struggled with for years. It is a question that usually haunts anyone who has been a believer for any length of time. In the Old Testament you have a God who is proclaimed as the Warrior God of Israel (Ex 15:3). In Jesus you have the acclaimed Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).
I really don't like the violence in the earlier half of Scripture. It really bothers me when genocidal actions are attributed to God. It is totally at odds with everything I know of God being kind, loving, and a healer. It makes me unhappy.
Based upon a comprehensive study into the prevalence of violence throughout the Old Testament, Raymond Schwager calculated there to be “six hundred passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Scriptures, one thousand verses where God’s own violent actions of punishment are described, a hundred passages where Yahweh expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason (e.g. Exodus 4:24-26). Violence, Schwager concludes, is easily the most often mentioned activity and central theme of the Hebrew Bible.”
That is a lot of killing.
Some Christians have found this to be waaaaaay too much to handle so they, like a dude called Marcion in the 2nd Century, throw out the OT and focus only on the NT. This is a heresy called Marcionism. The thing is, we may not literally tear our bibles in half and throw away the first lot like he did, but a lot of us don't read our OT because we don't understand it. Instead we read the NT, the stories about Jesus and the church, and we stay in our safe zones, not venturing out into the vast unknown of the Israelite world.
But you can't understand Jesus if you don't know the OT.
Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to abolish it, and that means that in everything that Jesus was and did he was the pinnacle of what went before.
So you have to know what went before to understand how he fulfils it.
Which means delving into the angry God stories.
I am not going to do that today, the point of this blog is very different.
What I want to do is to encourage you to read what makes you uncomfortable, to wrestle with it, struggle with it, pray about it, and talk about it. Don't ignore it or run from it, that solves nothing! Take the bull by its horns and stare it in the face knowing that the God you are trying to learn about won't let you fall if you are placing your faith in him.
And the God we place our faith in shows us most fully what he is like in the person of Christ. So while you are struggling and wrestling with difficult passages, remember that it is in Jesus that we see the full picture. It is ok to come back to the person of Christ as a safe zone while you roam through the foreign land of the Bible. It is ok while sitting in the tension of how to reconcile the two to look at Jesus because he is the FULL image of God.
Just don't give up. It is worth it if you keep pressing forward in hopes of understanding God.