God’s World of the Old Testament

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Biblical scholars have for centuries struggled with comparing–what seemed to be a harsh and judgmental God of the Old Testament with the loving, forgiving and redemptive God of the New Testament. “Is the God of the Old Testament the same God as the God of the New Testament?

While hesitating in reflective thought, today, most sensitive Christians would finally reply:  well, yes he is! – Yes but ……

  • The God described in the Torah (particularly), had very primitive, undisciplined and pagan people to deal with. The God of the Old Testament had to interact with people who had no codes of conduct or laws. He had to accept the Mosaic Law, as flawed as it was, but much better than anything that had ever been established in any Mid Eastern Culture.
  • The conquest of the “promised land” was clearly commanded by God to Moses and finally to Joshua. God was determined to destroy the heinous, pagan and barbaric religious practices of the indigenous people living in Canaan.  God had no desire to harm or destroy the non-combatant people. When Canaanite pagan armies opposed the Israelites, they were defeated militarily as God directed. They were not harmed if they converted to the worship of Yahweh.
  • Many scriptures reflect the “hyperbole” style of the Mid Eastern culture – such statements as – “everybody and every thing was destroyed or wiped out!” These types of statements were exaggerations of what really happened. It’s like a young teenage baseball player, after winning a game, coming home and telling his parents “we really wiped them out – or we destroyed the other team!”
  • Recent Archeological evidence gathered from multiple excavated sites in the near East (Palestine), substantiates the belief of many biblical scholars, that the popular description of the Israelites conquest was exaggerated. The evidence supports a more gradual infiltration, and merging of small groups of Hebrews into the indigenous populations – than an open war of invasion and destruction. Mid Eastern cultures were famous for their bragging exaggerations of their military accomplishments.The broad history of the Old Testament peoples, with all its inhuman   and even barbaric acts, shows a slow but gradual evolution of the ethical and moral values of  people from Abraham through 2000 years culminating in the Babylonian exile and the life of Jesus.
  • Everything written in the Old Testament does not reflect what God wanted – it reflects all he could expect from a flawed and sinful people at every slow step of the way toward the events of the New Testament.
  • God compromised , tolerated and allowed imperfect laws, cultures and morals to exist in the scriptures, temporarily , as he slowly moved his people over thousands of years, toward the cross of Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore, there are human laws, acts and beliefs experienced in the Old Testament that describe where God’s people were, rather than where God was. God patiently lived with, disciplined and loved his people as they slowly evolved into becoming the fully human, loving and compassionate people of the New Testament.
  • This summary on the understanding of the Old Testament points out the fallacy of making the broad statement that:
    “The Bible is God’s Word” – when it seems more correct to say:  “The Bible contains God’s Word” and to recognize that many statements accredited to God were reported in the Bible to describe events and actions by God’s people that God may not have agreed with or approved. This understanding of a very patient and loving God helps me to have more respect and love for the God of the Old Testament. 

Recommended References:

“The God I Don’t Understand” – reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, by Christopher J. H. Wright

“The Joshua Delusion”- Rethinking Genocide in the Bible, by Douglas S. Earl

“God Misbehaving Badly”, by David T. Lamb

“Is God A Moral Monster?” – Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan

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Book Review: “Good Without God” By Greg M. Epstein

 

Greg Epstein

I am impressed with much of this scholar’s writings, but as a Christian, I am astonished and of course disappointed that the writer rejects any supernatural existence – our God!  He is a PhD from Harvard, an excellent writer and obviously very intelligent. I will speculate that his Jewish heritage has caused him to squarely face the facts of the Holocaust and may be the main reason for his rejection of God. He joins many bitter Jews with this same conclusion. He suggests that a billion people follow his philosophy – generally defined as “Humanism”.  Well, what is humanism and why is it so attractive to so many?

Humanism Defined: 

“devotion to the humanities; literary culture; the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance; Humanitarianism: a doctrine, attitude or way of life centered on human interests or values; a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason, a person promoting human welfare and social reform.”

My first thought was: “I wonder how many of this group are “hard core atheist” and how many have simply slipped away from Christianity under the rush and attractiveness of secularism?

Intellectualism:

Smart people like to write about intellectual topics and this book speaks loudly about the importance of intellect, being well read  and informed. 

It’s about self  improvement, self centeredness – it’s about me and my friends – it’s about feeling good about one’s self! It seems to attract the rich, intelligent and sophisticated clientele who do not like to be accountable to anyone – especially God. One could guess that “humanism” has low appeal to the poor and uneducated.

Rejected God but Supporting Godly Principles:

As I read this book I gained a positive impression that the writer’s philosophies and values parallel many Christian philosophies and values. I am satisfied that Dr. Epstein is a very good person. While there is rejection of “spirituality”, there are substantial references to religions and specifically Christianity. Omitting rejecting God, I could easily accept this as a Christian  or writing within Judaism. This is a mystery!

What is Missing?

I sense a lot of rhetoric, communications and broad activities, go on within some leadership groups, but I fail to recognize any real organizational structure. Maybe its there, but it was not displayed in the writing. How can a billion people accomplish anything effectively without systems of accountability? No specific listing of missions or sponsorships for the needy are listed.  I’m sure some good things are done – but it appears to be fractured and disorganized. Maybe further investigation will clear up this impression.

Conclusive Questions?

  • How can humanism contain so many good motives, be so people centered and reject God?
  • What is so important to you, to promote humanism?
  • What are you seeking to accomplish?
  • Why not focus your intellect, energies and mission on simply serving the needs of others?
  • Much of this story sounds like the golfer who spends all his time and energy hitting golf balls on the driving range, and seldom plays the real game.
  • What good does intellect and enthusiasm do if its main focus is on self improvement? I for one – read books and work out at the YMCA regularly. 

I hope and pray, with all my heart, that this vast group of people, with good intentions, lots of resources and intelligence could become a marvelous force for the building of God’s Kingdom all over the world!