Opinion: Old Testament God vs. New Testament God

Opinion: Old Testament God vs. New Testament God

As a man with deep convictions and unsettling questions about faith, it was interesting to see the article “The Scandal of the Old Testament God” in the May 2014 edition of the Banner. “Finally,” I thought. “Somebody is tackling this issue.” That’s just what the Old Testament (OT) has become to modern Christians: an issue. The genocidal, wrathful and sometimes despotic actions God ordains in the OT are, as the author of the article states, not the “stuff of polite conversation” and provide a stark juxtaposition to the loving, accepting and forgiving God of the New Testament.

I looked for some answers (or at least general ideas) in this article, but the ones I found were insipid at best. Realizing the task which the author, Amanda Benckhuysen, tackles, I can appreciate the challenge of answering some of the questions raised in the article. These are, after all, questions which Biblical scholars, humanists and ordinary people have struggled to answer for centuries, if not millennia. However, if the issue of the OT God is raised, then analysis of the subject should be equally challenging and direct.

The best hope we have of understanding the OT and NT juxtaposition, as the author gives it, is to adopt a “divine accommodation” understanding of the OT. This idea presents the belief that, basically, “God does not change, but how God reveals himself to us can change.” Hence, God is presented as a warrior in a time when “commitment to the utter destruction of one’s enemies [was] solidly attested.”

While establishing a firm, basic accommodation of God’s disturbing, angry OT portrait with his accepted, loving NT portrait, Benckhuysen’s rhetorical contrivance provides a confusing understanding for the God of the 21st century. For instance, if God doesn’t change, but his revelation of himself does, should we adopt a type of dress-up image of God, where he changes his clothes to match the different moralistic styles of the centuries? How will we know when God changes? Is God today a hermaphrodite figure, accepting of all cultures without any real enemy, much unlike the detested enemies of the OT?

With a general message of “we are all fallen” or “this is a fallen creation,” it is rather easy to see some of the fruits of sin. Pornography, domestic violence, sexual assault, war, disease, poverty, etc. — the list grows and grows. However, when issues cross from the overarching bad (i.e. wars), and we start to discuss the gritty details of these bad fruits, our perceptions of what is good and bad falls apart at the seams. When we ask “why,” instead of “what,” well, we’re in a wholly different, relativistic ballpark.

Today, many of us at Calvin and the world agree that the extermination of a class of individuals is wrong, regardless of the reason for their extermination. Genocide is wrong. This is why we shake our heads at the latest ISIS beheadings, why we pray for those in South Sudan and why the world looks back to the Holocaust and collectively shudders. After all, these acts are or were perpetrated in the name of security, self-preservation and in the name of a deity. We often hail the acts of these individuals as the fruit of a fallen creation, so why do we treat the Jews and the OT God differently?