Reflection #34: The God of the Old Testament can seem like an oppressive tyrant. Should we ditch Them?

A few months ago I was speaking with a friend who – though is not someone who identifies as a Christian herself – loved the liberating message within Jesus’ teachings. She spoke about her early memories of being in church as a child and hearing about this Jesus who spoke about giving to the poor, and standing with the oppressed, she understood that Jesus was talking about Liberation for the poor, marginalized and oppressed. And a bit ironically maybe, though she wouldn’t class herself as a Christian, she is more committed to following the Way than a lot of people who bear the name.

We talked about Liberation, and discussed what the teachings of Jesus have to offer us in our current struggle for Justice in Aotearoa, and as our conversation ended she made a comment that has stuck with me.

“Well New Testament at least, we wont talk about the Old, we’ll leave that where it is.”

To be honest I completely get that. When you read the Old Testament it can be really hard to see how Jesus and this angry, jealous, vengeful and violent God have anything to do with each other.

And yet, as Christian, I believe that the Divine is revealed through Scripture, both Old and New. And alongside that I also believe that Jesus and the God of the Old are One. And alongside that, that Jesus fully reveals the Divine, meaning what you see in Jesus, is who the Divine is.

Can all those statements go together?

Really, it depends who you ask. If you listen to someone like Richard Dawkins or his friend Dan Barker, they’ll tell you no. They’ll look at the Old Testament with all the violence and God ordained blood shed, and they’ll tell you that God is a vengeful monster.

And to be honest, I am not going to deny that there is some messed up, and really vulgar stuff attributed to God in the Old Testament. I won’t defend the violence of the Old Testament, it is indefensible.

And yet, as I listen to athiests such as Dan and Richard, I often wonder, who gets to define my faith, and what I believe? Is it the critic standing across from me throwing stones, or is it those in the waka beside me as we row together, committed to figuring this stuff out?

I believe that it is possible to both acknowledge and condemn the violence of the Old Testament, and yet at the same time see it as part of God’s self revelation, a revelation that is fully realized through Jesus.

I’ve decided to continue my reflections this year, and this time I’ll be starting in Genesis and hopefully working through the Old Testament. Once again, I dont know how long I’ll continue with these, but what I’m interested in exploring is how the Old Testament builds on these themes of Liberation of the oppressed and Justice for the poor and marginalized which Jesus sets as such a central aspect of his ministry.

So this is the lens I will be bringing to these reflections. I also believe that to read the Old Testament as a follower of Jesus, it is important to use a cruciform hermeneutic. This means that when I read the Old Testament, I am doing so through the lens of Jesus Christ crucified. To say it another way, I am committed to the belief that the Crucified One is the fullest image of the Divine, so if there is an Image of God that does not fully line up with that of Jesus (such as God ordering the murder of children, and the enslavement of a whole race of people) than I assume there is something else going on in the text. I’ve written further on this approach to engaging with the Old Testament in previous blogs, i’ll try find them and link them here and here if you like.

If this is something you’re interested in, I’d love to have you journey along. As with my other Reflections I won’t be looking to defend or argue my perspective in these. I’ve done that in the past, and will do that in future blogs. But in these reflections I am really just creating space to reflect on my faith in a manner which is authentic to me. I wrote a bit about the rationale for these reflections here if you want to check that out.

Anyway, thanks for joining me, or not. If you want to follow a long on FB, you can find my page here.

A.J. Hendry

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