The God that We Judge


CourthousePeople say that they reject Christianity because of the Old Testament. They say that they cannot believe in a God who strikes people dead and instructs His people to wipe out (kill) other people.

There are other reasons, of course, that people give for not believing. My focus in this writing is only this pop culture view of Christianity and the God of the Bible.

I think what people are saying when they say they cannot believe in the God who is described in the Old Testament is that they cannot believe in a God who seems so arbitrary, angry and jealous as God seem to be portrayed in the Old Testament.

There are many things that can be said in response to this popular sentiment. For one thing, if there is a God, it does not matter what I believe or what you believe: God is God regardless of our beliefs. There is Truth in the world, and it transcends me and you. The important question is, then, not what we think about God as revealed in the Old Testament, but whether it is true.

Considering whether it is true should first include some understanding of the Old Testament from the Christian perspective. Most people reject God revealed in the Old Testament without understanding.

Before providing my thoughts, I should say I am no Old Testament scholar. With that said, it dawned on me a long time ago that, if there is a God who desires to have relationship with human kind, He would find a way to communicate Himself. That would be no small matter for the infinite Creator of the Universe to communicate to a finite created being.

How would that connection be made? How would it be perceived? How could a flash-in-the-pan like creature, albeit an intelligent one, really understand and accurately know the infinite, all powerful Creator? At the point of connection, how would that creature (us) categorize and describe the God who is, was and ever will be with the tools available within the limits of finite and limited ability?

When we consider the extent of human life, as significant as our years seem to us, the existence of all of humanity is not even a drop in the bucket of time, and our individual and collective years are not even a spray of mist in the sea of infinite timelessness. The relation of our lives even to the time that we are able to catalogue and understand is utterly insignificant.

What, then, is death that cuts a life “short”? What significance is this life that we live? If God in the Old Testament strikes people dead and commands His people to wipe out nations, of what significance is that really in the big theme of things?

I can hear the retort: as short as our lives are, cutting them even shorter is all the more tragic and costly. And so it certainly does seem to us from our very limited perspective. Our perception is colored by our utterly limited experience and awareness; and our awareness, knowledge and understanding is limited by the finiteness of our existence.

Bible lightstock_4192_xsmall_user_7997290 - SmallThe same Old Testament that describes what seems like an angry, jealous and retributive God says that God put eternity into the hearts of men. Therein lies a clue, though it is difficult, indeed, to grasp the significance of it from where we stand.

The time, space and matter that we know, that define the farthest boundaries of our present existence, do not hold or contain God; and this God who has revealed Himself to us says that there is something else that awaits us… only we have great difficulty grasping it.

In the context of this eternity, what is 100 years? What is 50 years? What is 1 or 2 years if eternity awaits us? While it is truly difficult to grasp in any experiential way of “knowing”, we can, at least, understand the concept. This life is short. At the end, 20 years is not much different to 100 years. If there is an eternity awaiting us, this life is not very significant in relation to eternity.

When we read of God striking people dead in the Old Testament, or instructing Joshua and Caleb to overrun the land of Canaan and wipe out its inhabitants who live there, we are tempted to recoil from it. It seems brutal and barbaric to us. The significance in relation to an infinite God who set eternity in the hearts of men, however, is not as we perceive it.

There are many, many points to be made about these passages in the Old Testament that I am not focusing on. The Canaanites and other inhabitants of the land are described as wicked. Among other things, they regularly sacrificed their own children to their gods. The story chronicled in the Old Testament is the story of God revealing Himself, little by little over time, to people who were somewhat, but not always, receptive to the revelation. It is the story of many misunderstandings, and tests and lessons learned, We read that God’s intention was to lead them into a land where these people would be a “captive” audience to God, free from the distractions of other gods and the wickedness practiced by the people who inhabited the world.

We are told that God wanted the inhabitants of Canaan wiped out and driven out of the Promised Land so that the Israelites would not be influenced by them and distracted and led away from God and what God wanted to reveal to them by the local people who were wicked. The Israelites, we read, did not completely wipe out the inhabitants and did, in fact, continually stray from God and devote themselves to the gods and practices of the people they failed to drive out. But that is not my point or focus of this article.

Jesus st sunsetMany of the people who judge “the God of the Old Testament” consider Jesus to be a wise man, like Ghandi. They do not consider Jesus to God; they believe he was just a wise man, and they believe him to be very different than the God of the Old Testament. They are wrong about that, however.

You do not have to believe Jesus is God to understand that these people do not know what they are talking about. They have not read or paid attention to what Jesus said.  Jesus unequivocally equated Himself with God. He claimed to be God in the flesh. If Jesus was who He says He was, we can not consider Him just another wise man.

While people dispute this, it could not be clearer. When Moses asked God who it is that Moses should say sent him (to the Israelites in Egypt), God said “’I Am Who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I Am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14) When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), Jesus was making clear to his Jewish audience that He equated Himself with God.

The audience to whom Jesus made these claims clearly understood the claims He made. When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one”, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him right there because, they said, Jesus was claiming to be God (John 10:33). The statements Jesus made about Himself in these places and elsewhere would be like me announcing in a Mosque Saudi Arabia, “I am Allah, your God!” They would want to kill me if did that because that is the Islamic penalty for blasphemy; and that was also the penalty for blasphemy in New Testament times (which is why they wanted to kill Jesus, and why He was eventually crucified).

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. (Mark 14:63-64).

We cannot accept Jesus of the New Testament without accepting the God of the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus said, “I and the Father [think Old Testament] are one.” (John 10:30) Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) The entire thrust of Jesus’s life was the claim that He was God in the flesh, revealing His true Self to men, fulfilling the Law He gave to Moses and sacrificing Himself for the salvation of mankind.

Elsewhere we read that Jesus is the “image of God”. (2 Corinthians 4:4) We read that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….” (Hebrews 1:3)

If we are going to accept Jesus, we need to take another look at God who is revealed in the Old Testament. Jesus does not allow us to dismiss God as revealed in the Old Testament without considering the Old Testament in light of Jesus. Jesus is the true revelation of God and gives us a different perspective on God as revealed in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, the people viewed God from afar. They saw Him behind lightning and thunder, cloud and smoke. The people trembled in fear. Even Moses had to hide His face. We are old in Philippians 2:7 that God emptied Himself to become a man; Jesus was God in the flesh stripped of his glory, power, majesty and the thunderous, overwhelming display that Moses and the Israelites experienced. Jesus is God and all of His attributes reduced to man.

Jesus Suffering lightstock_115938_xsmall_user_7997290In reducing Himself to one of us, Jesus reveals in a way that we are able to see, touch and understand that God is love, and He loves us. He is willing to sacrifice for us. He is no less the God who Moses and the Israelites experienced; He is no less the Creator of the Universe, omniscient and omnipotent.

But emptied of those things and appearing in the flesh we see that He is also love. We can trust and return the love of God who loves us enough that He would empty Himself and sacrifice Himself for us, His creation.

The reality is that God is God. We do not get to create Him in our own image. We are created in His image. God put eternity in our hearts, and He made us to commune with Him.

Even so, the gap between Creator and created – omniscient, omnipotent, infinite God and finite, fragile, limited man – is cosmic. The Old Testament chronicles centuries of revelation and limited understanding by man viewing God only from afar, unable to stand in God’s magnificent presence or appreciate Him as anything other than the fearful, thunderous, all-powerful God of gods. Over two thousand years since God appeared in the flesh, emptied of the attributes that made Him unapproachable by men, we still struggle to understand.

We are in a better position to understand, having seen God in the flesh – loving, sacrificial revelation of God in Jesus. God as revealed in the Old Testament, however, cannot be dismissed. His ways are not our ways. Who are we to stand in judgment?! We are told not to fear man who can kill the body, but God in whose power our souls are held in the balance. (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5)

From our perspective, death to the body seems like, feels like, looks like the ultimate tragedy, the ultimate injustice. From our perspective, God striking a man dead or instructing men to kill other people appears unethical and unjust. The reality that God reveals to us, however, is that this present world of time, space and matter is not all there is. God set eternity in men’s hearts so that we can know that there is something else, something more significant, though we see it only through a glass darkly from where we stand.

Jesus reveals that God, the same God who is revealed in the Old Testament, loves us, and we can trust Him.

We are told throughout Scripture that God is true; He keeps His promises. That is, perhaps, the primary revelation in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfilled the Law (the Covenant) and fulfilled God’s promises made in the Old Testament. Though God sometimes appears to us as fearful, even cruel and arbitrary from our very limited perspective, there is a much bigger picture. We can no sooner judge God, than change Him, but we are fortunate that he is loving and keeps His promises.

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4 Comments on “The God that We Judge”

  1. Sue in NC Says:

    Reblogged this on The Lamb's Servant and commented:
    I hear people judge God on a regular basis. “The God of the Old Testament is cruel.” “Why does God allow pain and suffering?” This thought-provoking article helps us stand away from our limited perspective and offers us a clearer view of God.

    Like

  2. kas1981 Says:

    I appreciate your thoughts in this article: but I also believe that to better understand the old testament, one has to read the Book of Jubelees, the Book of Jasher and the Book of Enoch. Many Christians recoil from the thought of reading this books- but the Hebrews of old grew up,quoting this books. Jesus grew up knowing this books. The beatitudes of Jesus are the exact opposites from the curses of Enoch on the sons of The watchers. The Epistle of Jude is mostly restatement from Enoch.
    In Summary to understand the God’s why one has to have the three books as foundation.

    Like

  3. munyingnying Says:

    God is just–who am I to question Him (although He gives me the freedom to)?

    The thunderous God of the OT is the same God who so loved the world, gave His only begotten Son, so that I would not perish and live the eternal life that He meant for me.

    Thank you for this article.

    Like


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