There’s something about the Bible. It is capable of evoking joy in those that choose to believe it or it evokes anger in those that choose to discredit it. Oftentimes, it can evoke anger and joy in those who believe it too. Most of us modern day thinkers find many chapters (or the entire thing) in the Old Testament too terrible to comprehend. Much of the old testament speaks of brutal war, murder, rape, plagues, sin and sorrow. The Israelites were themselves brutal in their conquering of their enemies as they took hold promised land. In Deuteronomy 3:6-7 Moses, the author of the book, puts it bluntly: ‘We destroyed all the people in every town we conquered – men, women and children alike. But we kept all the livestocks for ourselves and took plunder from all the towns’. In my opinion that is horrific, barbaric, and wrong! I am forced to ask ‘what kind of God could do that?’ And, if I take this further, I must consider if a God like that is really God at all because shouldn’t God be all about loving thy neighbor?
Somewhere along my journey of faith, perhaps when I heard Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in the United States say that it is ok to have doubts, I came to realize that it is good to have questions too. In fact, more than that, it is essential to have questions, to mediate and think about God and what all of this means. Questions and doubt are not something to fear or to feel guilty about. It is part of who we are and how God made us. The intelligence he gave us is to, first and foremost, think. And in our thinking and questioning we should not feel the need to hide from our christian friends, pastors, leader and churches. They too should not shy away from the deep questions we ask for there is opportunity for everyone to grow in faith and knowledge. Questioning God isn’t an act of doubt, it is an act of belief! If there was no belief, or no desire to believe, why bother questioning? There would simply be no reason to. It would be a waste of our precious time. To question then, is to desire understanding and meaning. Nothing wrong with that!
So how then do you and I read the Bible? How do we continue in relationship with God when there is so much we don’t get and empathize with in the book? I suppose we need a little bit of faith, even just a tiny bit, to begin. Faith is that thing we can’t see but might be able to feel in our hearts but is also something we choose to have. It’s like saying ‘I don’t know about that but I’m going to trust that one day I will and that it will be good for me’. ‘But how do I even get to have faith, I don’t even know where to begin?’
Faith is found, seeded, and grown in hope. Hope comes from trusting a God who promises life and blessings to those who believe in him. We hope that the good stuff in the bible is true, we trust that it is. Trust is made manifest in the questions, trials, tribulations, joy and goodness that can be found in relationship with God (all those times we can see that God worked the good into our lives). Trust grows over time and relationship with God comes from time spent together with him. That’s time spent in thought, prayer and reading his word (and other writings that encourage you). Time given to thinking though God’s purposes and meanings. Wrestling over the purpose, meaning, and character of a God who stood by as the Israelites slaughtered thousands, means that you haven’t given up, you haven’t lost faith in God, it means that you desire peace in your heart over something that doesn’t sit right. And it doesn’t. I admit it. The slaughter of children never sits right. But then I wonder, why doesn’t it sit right? It seems like many ancient cultures killed children in war. In fact, many ancient cultures sacrificed their own children to gods (Deuteronomy 12:31b). Is there a difference in how we see children, or how we value life now in comparison to then? Yes. There is. Obviously.
The reaction of many of governments around the world to bring their nation’s economy to a standstill in favor of protecting it’s citizens during this Covid-19 pandemic reveals something striking: life is valued. It is valued more than the billions of dollars lost. It is valued more than winning the next election. A world at standstill, in lockdown, in isolation to save the lives of people indicates more than strongly that we are valued. I am valued. You are valued. It seems that governments are acting in good faith that there is no financial loss that could be considered worse than losing one life in this pandemic. In Australia, where I live, to date, 97 people have died. The dollars spent to protect them – it’s not countable. So what happened? How is it that we read the Old Testament with such disdain, disgust and interrogation when ancient cultures and it’s celebrities, including King David (the most celebrated Israelite (human) king), read it with acceptance and understanding? They even agreed with it! So, what changed us? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ did. It was he who offered a profoundly different way of thinking and living. In doing this, he also brought about a different way of relating to God.
When Jesus was ministering in Israel, the nation was under the command of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, famous to many of us now for it’s architecture and Gladiators, waged war for centuries with millions of people across land and sea. It was also a people who, if a baby was not wanted, it was put into the street to be ‘exposed’ to the elements so that it would die. Children were not valued anywhere. Was it shocking for people to witness Jesus reprimanding his disciples for attempting to stop children approaching him? And when Jesus placed his hands on the children’s heads and blessed them saying ‘Let the Children come…For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children’ (Matthew 19:14), doesn’t this infer that Jesus placed value and equality of the lives of children, on all of us? Similarly, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people), and at such length, he broke all social custom and treated her as equal. Most distinctly, when he commanded that we should love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) he said something that no one before him had done. The act of loving our neighbor as ourselves makes us equal in ways that the Old Testament did not do. It is this, this idea, that our western civilization, our world has profited from. For now, in our hearts, we abhor murder, rape, war, and all evil treatment to our neighbors and children alike. We are a changed civilization. Our perspective has been altered and it is for this reason that we have difficulty reading, understanding, and empathizing with parts of the Old Testament. But that’s a good thing! We are not meant to empathize, how could we, we view things in the light of Christ. We’re the lucky ones. We have an enormous benefit of seeing the story played out in God’s word. The ancient Israelites did not, they only knew the beginning of the story. For that’s what the Bible is, it is a story, it is history, as in HIS story, describing how God plans to bless all nations through the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son.
Depending on where we fit in story, in that timeline, we will all view things differently and have many different and similar questions. The more I read the Bible, the more I can see one thing in particular common to all peoples at all times: God is there and waiting to be found by those who seek him. So ask, think, ponder, doubt, talk to others, and even celebrate about what you think it all means. Thinking, meditating, questioning and seeking is a privilege – a God given one. What question is on your mind?
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.Matthew 6:33 NLT