20 September 2021 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
After reading through the New Testament a number of times, I came to see God as a loving Father who stood by me in all kinds of situations.
Then several years ago I started to read the Old Testament from the beginning. I encountered stories that were troublesome to me:
- 2 Samuel 24: God kills 70,000 persons because David did a census,
- Judges 19-21: God incites the war between the Benjaminites and the rest of Israel. Over 65,000 men and many more women and children are killed—all Israelites.
- 2. Samuel 21: God stops a famine only after two of Saul’s sons and five of his grandsons are killed for his warfare against the Gibeonites.
- There are others I can’t explain, like the lion story in 1 Kings and the story of Uzzah and the ark.
How should we understand these stories? Why are they so incompatible with Jesus’ actions and teachings?
Signed, Bible Reader
Some feel that they must take everything in the Bible literally, which compels them to try to make excuses for God in these stories. They say that it’s not cruel if God did it, or that the babies who were killed (1 Samuel 15:3) or virgins who were raped (Numbers 31:18) somehow had it coming.
But many Bible readers, including Aunty, reject the theological accuracy of these Old Testament stories. There is no moral justification for such actions on the part of God’s people, and Aunty won’t try to explain them away by attributing them to God. Aunty would want nothing to do with a God who rejoices at babies being dashed to death on stones.
Aunty believes these are human feelings, not Divine ones, written by human beings who ascribed human hatreds to God. Perhaps they were trying to justify their passions and anger. Perhaps they confused Yahweh with how the pagan deities around them were said to interact. We don’t know for sure.
What is clear is that the God of the New Testament, seen in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, is nothing like that. This is a God who would have us “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” who embraced strangers, foreigners, enemies, the poor and the downtrodden in a way that isn’t consistently demonstrated in the Old Testament.
Years ago Aunty heard a theologian say that a Christian must always look at the Old Testament through the filter of the cross. When you do that, you will realize that what Jesus brought was effectively a new religion, one but loosely connected to the old one. When Jesus said, “You have heard it said… but now I say to you…” he contradicted not just the rules that the Pharisees made, as is often said, but the Old Testament itself.
Aunty sees little point in trying to harmonize these Old Testament stories with the New Testament. Look at those stories as cautionary examples of bad religion that God corrected by sending Jesus. Look to Jesus as a picture of what God is really like, as well as to find a perfect example of how we are to live and treat others, friend and foe alike.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.