Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Would I follow the Old Testament God?

I'm a Christian, so I've always had to pretend to be okay with it. I've always had to pretend that everything God did in the Old Testament was just peachy.

In college, at bible studies with other Christians, it was okay to ask questions like "why does this seem so terrible?" Any question was okay. But all the while, in the back of my mind, I had the assumption that by the end of the night, we'd have to slap some answer on it- some "this is perfectly okay because..." like a band-aid. We could ask the questions, but it seems we weren't allowed to insist that those answers were inadequate and frankly, terrible. That's the assumption I had at the time, anyway.

And when I invited non-Christian friends to study the bible with me, it was hard to pick Old Testament passages to study. All through the Old Testament, people keep getting killed, and I won't know what to say if my friends ask why. Dude, I'm trying to show them that the God of the Bible is great and totally worth believing in. But if he's a God who kills people for no good reason? Yeah, my friends would probably want to stay as far away from that as possible.

But I don't have a choice, because I'm a Christian. I have to pretend it's fine- that it's even, somehow, a good thing.

But now, for the first time in my life, I'm willing to ask this question: If I was unbiased, if I wasn't required to profess love for him, would I choose to follow the God of the Old Testament?

If I just read the Old Testament like it was any other book, would I think, "wow, I hope this is true- I really want to follow a God like this!"?

Let that sink in for a moment.

"They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it- men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys." Image source.

To be honest, Psalm 80 reads like a desperate cry for help from someone emotionally tangled up with and dependent on another person who doesn't care. Yeah in the past, things were good ("You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it") but now, where is God?

And God hurts them ("Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish") and doesn't answer and doesn't save, and yet the psalmist is so wrapped up in this idea of God's care... he has nowhere else to go. He's helpless. He feels his only option is to beg God for help- a God who is under no obligation to answer or do anything.

If I were an outside observer, would I start asking excitedly "oh man, how do I convert to this religion?!!!"

Image source.

To be honest, there's so much I love about the Old Testament. How people are made in the image of God, and God called it "very good." How he set up laws to help the poor. The prophets who spoke against oppression. The verse that says God wants us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. And all of Isaiah 58. Etc.

But you have to sift through a lot of horrifying violence- much of it commanded by God- in order to find those fantastic bits.

Is it worth it?

I guess I need to find out. I guess I need to read the Old Testament all over again, but this time without making excuses for God's behavior.

I've heard Christians say many times that God wants us to be honest with him. 

Let's see just how far I can push it. Let's see if the Old Testament God is any good.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 80. To read other people's posts, click here: Make Your Face Shine on Us.


  1. I think it's only fair to also ask, "Could I be an Old Testament person?" Because if we couldn't understand and find a way to live in that society (and I'm sure that as I am now, I couldn't), maybe it's not quite fair to judge how they viewed God, what they wanted from God, etc., according to our modern mindset.

  2. Wow, I can't believe I didn't think about this. So perhaps God works differently in different situations, so first it's necessary to understand what everything was like then.

  3. Yes, that's what I think, anyway. The ancient tribes of Israel in Moses' day, for example, wanted God to be a tribal diety who would fight their battles and help them punish their enemies. I think God's revelation is progressive, and that God accommodates it to the mindsets of the particular humans He deals with, with a mind to lift them up (as they can handle it) closer to His vision of love and fair-dealing.

    That doesn't mean morality is objective, but humans cannot be objective or complete in our understanding of it, and I'm sure God puts up with thinking in the church today that He hopes to lift us out of, too, though He deals with us on terms we can understand.