Posts Tagged ‘hermeneutics’

Anger=Love? The God of the Old and New Testament

Scanning through some more blogs, I came upon this blog post, which I thought was very well written. It got the mind ticking, and I wrote a rather lengthy response to it in the comment section, which I’ve reposted here. For those who have no interest in or not enough time to read the blog post, the topic was how to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament, for the OT God seems at times very much like an angry, violent and intolerant God, while Jesus is soft-spoken, meek, humble and loving. Below is my response. Any additional insight others might be willing to lend would be fantastic–even those non-believers who occasionally peruse my blog.

What a great post, as it hits on one of what I believe to be the two main theological issues Christians are faced with in this post-modern world (the other being the problem of suffering).

My wife and I are reading through the Bible this year, and as such we just finished Jeremiah a few weeks ago (never realized that the first 9 months of my year would be devoted to the OT; lot of stuff in there to cover!). You’re right; there does seem to be a lot of raging against nations that isn’t seen in the NT. It is enough to make one question, “why the difference?”

Luckily for me, our church also just went through the book of Hebrews. I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the establishment of the context between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. But to me this provides a reasonable explanation for the different responses of God in the OT versus the NT. Our pastor taught (and maybe you agree with this, maybe not) that the purpose of the Old Covenant was to demonstrate to people that they are inherently sinful and deserve punishment for that sin as a result. That’s why the establishment of the law was necessary–to show man that there are objective moral values, and that God is firmly on the right side of them and must respond justly to any actions that fall on the wrong side of them, in accordance with His nature. The New Covenant is to demonstrate to people how to live in light of that sin and to recognize that there is a means of salvation from this punishment. Naturally, salvation sounds plenty better than punishment, so God of the NT sounds a lot better than the God of the OT.

I don’t think the God of the OT went away though; He couldn’t have, otherwise He would not have the characteristic of immutability. One has to wonder if God rages against nations today; I would submit that it’s probable–it’s just that all nations reject Him to some degree, so it doesn’t seem targeted to any one country (i.e. Pakistan doesn’t get hit with more natural disasters than the U.S., let’s say) by our post-modern standards.

The problem that most people shaken by the God of the OT (and this includes both believers and non-believers) is rooted in a mis-understanding that God must be only loving all the time. The nature of God essentially mandates Him to constant righteous anger against sin. This still happens even today. It’s the salvation that exempts us from the execution of this anger that makes it not only a loving gift, but a precious one also.

So the OT to me provides excellent context for the NT, as it shows the reader what God’s nature is bound to, and it emphasizes how loving of a God He is in providing a way to be fit for heaven in spite of our unworthiness and undeservedness. Those who feel like the God of the OT is “capricious, spiteful, hate-filled and war-mongering” also carry with them a certain sense of pride, like God owes them an explanation. I don’t know if that necessarily applies to the person you spoke with, as this person seems more curious than proud. But when we realize that God must act this way to be consistent with His nature and that we are owed NOTHING by Him, it makes a lot more sense and is a lot more understandable.

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Back When I Was Your Age…

“Let them sacrifice thank offerings,
and tell of his works with songs of joy.”

Psalm 107:22 (NIV)

One of my previous endeavors in study was to touch a little bit on hermeneutics. Those of you who have studied hermeneutics know that one of the key things in this type of study is context; this meaning that if you want to understand the meaning of a verse, you have to look at the whole passage around it to get what the writer is trying to communicate. Sometimes this extends through multiple chapters to understand the key point of the message.

Since I’ve done this previously, I find myself often looking past one single verse to interpret the whole meaning. In this case, I was doing some work for the Bible study “One True God” by Paul Washer, and he referenced this verse. In reading this verse, I got so much from it that for this post it doesn’t warrant going any further.

The first line says to “sacrifice thank offerings.” Having read through the books of the Law earlier this year, I understand somewhat the significance of the different types of offerings, so seeing “thank offerings” here makes sense to me. But in present day, thanks to the New Covenant, we don’t sacrifice offerings anymore. So how does this apply?

To me, this phrase carries two-fold significance. The first involves offering thanks, which is a vital part of prayer. As much as prayer should be asking Him for guidance, it should also be to thank Him for the blessings that are evident in our lives. And importantly, there should be a balance between the two. While I sometimes fall into this trap, I think realistically that you can’t petition without recognition. Thanksgiving and praise come before requests.

The second part is sacrifice. That part should be somewhat self-explanatory. After understanding His greatness, we can’t help but submit ourselves to His will. Still, as easy as this may be to see, it’s a lot harder to do, and we all know that. It doesn’t mean that we can’t give back of ourselves from what He’s given us. Ultimately, to submit to His will and power is the least we could do.

The other phrase in this verse is of no less importance. It says to “tell of His works” with “songs of joy.” Worship is a huge part of why we were created. Praise and thanksgiving can and should be included in worship of our Lord. However, when I first read this, it hit a little deeper than that to me.

When the verse says “tell of His works,” the first thing that came to mind was sharing what he’s done. Now of course we can share with each other what God is doing and has done, but how much more important is us to pass down God’s work to future generations. I know that things tend to hit me more powerfully when they happen to people I know, so I can only imagine that our children and grandchildren would be more affected if we were to tell specifically of the works God has done in our own lives than if they were to read the Biblical accounts. That’s not to undermine the importance of what is written in the Bible; but for personal application, if we’re not passing along testimony about what God has done in our own lives, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to really affect the personal relationships the next generation of men and women will be having with the living God.

Perhaps this is why songs are so powerful. There’s an old saying that if you put someone in a song, they are immortalized forever. We still listen to songs created by the previous generation; they were handed down to us by our parents and by friends we have who were around when they were present day. If a Beatles song can have such staying power, how much greater can the songs telling of the great wonders and works of our Lord endure?

As a musician, this speaks power to me. I’ve written some worship songs in the past, but I guess I never realized until now how important worship songs were to pass along to my daughter. It makes me grateful that every day WIFE has our daughter watching Praise Baby DVDs, so someday when she hears the words and asks me what they mean, I might be able to tell her of some of the great works God has done for me personally. And that’s something worth offering thanks for.