By: Scott Taylor
We are currently devoting our worship to the exploration of the Bible and how we meet this complicated collection of holy writings for the Christian church. Like many of you, I have enjoyed the insights of Revs. Turman and Brown in worship. This past week, Becky raised questions regarding how we reconcile the attributes of God in the New and Old Testament. I should admit upfront that I am an Old Testament kind of guy. I have long considered the Old Testament a close friend. A long time ago, I memorized the first chapter of the Bible in its King James translation as well as most of the original Hebrew. As a youngest son who wrestles with faith, I take great solidarity in the stories of people like Jacob, Joseph, and David. As a musician, I live with Psalms on a daily basis. As a person who has experienced deep loss, I take a great deal of meaning from the drama of Job. I find Ecclesiastes so vital to my life that I will read it multiple times each year. And finally, the prophets. In the absence of modern prophets, where else can I turn?
Somehow, we have become convinced that the nature of God in the Old Testament is different from the nature of God in the New Testament. Rev. Brown pointed out some of the history of why we may feel this way. Some people have tried to draw clear lines in the sand separating Christians from their Jewish past. Also, it was rightly pointed out that there are very few sermons preached on Old Testament stories. In fact, it seems that most of our Old Testament stories are confined to the pages of children’s Bibles that focus attention on the fantastic stories of Noah’s Ark, Jonah’s big fish, Daniel’s Lion, David’s slingshot, and Adam and Eve’s Olive Leaf. Through all of this, it seems we are slowly creating a narrative that says the Old Testament God is angry and the New Testament God is loving. Perhaps we go so far as to even find scriptures that support that view. But, is this stereotype fair? I think not.
Not only is such a stereotype unfounded in many ways, I think it can lead to some dangerous conclusions. Perhaps the most dangerous and false assumption is that the New Testament somehow simplifies things for us. We may look at our relationship to the Law of God and say, Jesus made it so much easier for us. After all, he says “all the law and prophets hang on two commandments; that I love God and that I love others (and if you fail, no worries because there is grace enough for you!).” I maintain that if what we see in Christ is faith made simpler, then we need to take another look. This is the same Christ who preached a Gospel wherein the first and last are turned upside down. This Christ told stories about prodigal sons being forgiven; about tax collectors being more faithful than the religious leaders of the day. This Christ asked us to take up our own cross and follow him (to death?). This Christ said that he did not come to bring peace but the fiery sword of division (“Oh, that it might come soon!”). This same Christ preached a salvation that hinged on giving drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and visits to the imprisoned.
And, it doesn’t stop there. I haven’t even begun to get into the Epistles of Paul and the other Apostles. I haven’t even touched Revelations – a book about a uniquely apocalyptic God.
The God of the New Testament can really make my head spin. Sure, I can find there that “God is love.” But, only a few pages later I read that “if you have been faithful in whole law but failed in a single part, you are guilty of it all (James 2:10).” In truth, I like the Old Testament because it is simpler. When I find myself in times of trouble “I lift up my eyes to the hills from which cometh my help.” When I think of political and economic divisions, I remember that “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb and a little child shall lead them.” When I struck by the ugliness of this world, I remember “vehineh me’od tovv.” “Behold, it was very good.”
So, I guess what I am saying is that I am an Old Testament guy who struggles to hold the New Testament from time to time. And yet, just like Jacob and Job and Joseph and Daniel and Nehemiah and David and all the prophets, faith is found through the struggle. Or as Paul says in Romans, “We must rejoice in our struggles and sufferings.” Indeed, let us struggle together, for that is indeed what church is. And let us never faint from holding the whole Bible – even the New Testament!