instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The God of the Old Testament

Here are a couple of verses from a passage in Deuteronomy instructing Israel to have nothing to do with the pagans they would find in the Promised Land:
Know, then, that the LORD, your God, is God: the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments, but who repays with destruction those who hate him; he does not delay with those who hate him, but makes them pay for it.
That's some old time religion. Follow all the crazy rules, and you're set for life, but don't make the LORD, your God, angry. You wouldn't like Him when He's angry.

But it's also some new time religion, or at least some New Testament time religion. Jesus too speaks of the consequences of loving God and keeping His commandments:
Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.
(Note, by the way, that in just a few words Jesus explains what all the crazy rules are for: They are the necessary, concrete, specific acts by which we love God. What makes them intrinsically acts of love of God can be more or less inferred, but that inference is a secondary matter. If the love of your life tells you snickerdoodles are their favorite cookie, you bake them snickerdoodles.)

As for repaying with destruction those who hate God, Jesus says (among other things):
Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.
These are not comforting words. These are not intended to be comforting words. But nor are they intended to feed triumphalism on the part of Jesus' disciples. If God doesn't find pleasure in the death of the wicked, neither should His children.

I'll suggest two purposes for Jesus' repeated teaching on the damnation of the wicked. First, it is a warning to the Elect get their act together. You can slice the doctrines of predestination and free will however you like; if you don't remain in Christ you will be thrown out like a branch and wither.

Second, it is a teaching on the nature of God. Fools read such passages and say, "What a petty, miserable little god they have, by nature vindictive, capricious, and miserly." That would be true, I suppose, if the LORD were the sky-god with superpowers they think He is revealed to be (with an a priori assumption that is only sustainable if they ignore or dismiss as flattery the many Scriptural passages that praise God in Himself).

But if the LORD is as He is in fact revealed to be in Scripture -- All-Holy, All-Wise, All-Good Sovereign and Creator -- then the destruction of the wicked simply follows as a necessary corollary. To be wicked is to be base, foolish, and evil. Do those who sneer at "the God of the Old Testament" -- including plenty of self-professes Christians -- prefer a god who welcomes and rewards baseness, foolishness, and evil?

No, they want one of two things (if I may speak for them). They either want to fashion God in their own likeness, so that He agrees with their opinions about what is wise and good, or they simply want to be God themselves, by denying God His sovereignty over them.

Either way, they want God to be other than as He is. They don't like the necessary consequences of God being as God is, so they want His nature to change.

Well, God's nature can't change. More to my point, God's nature as revealed to the patriarchs and prophets can't be different than God's nature as revealed by His son Jesus Christ. And the many passages in both Testaments that prophesy the destruction of sinners all reveal God to be holy, wise, and good, just the sort of sovereign creator any same person would want -- in fact, far better than anyone would think to want.

(Image of icon from