“The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
One of the most essential foundations of the Christian faith is the Word of God, also known as, The Bible. Christians believe that the Bible, is God’s word given directly to mankind with the purpose that humanity may know and understand Him, and, in turn, through this understanding of Him and His will, we may have a relationship with God, Himself, and live with Him for all eternity. Without this understanding that scripture brings to mankind, we would not know when, how or why God is communicating with us. Despite its importance, many people question the accuracy and legitimacy of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Many Christians believe in the accuracy of the New Testament. After all, it contains the most essential elements of our faith: salvation, justification, sanctification and glorification. Yet, the Old Testament does not openly express any of these indispensable faith elements. Therefore, many modern Christians push aside the Old Testament as they would an old and useless college textbook. Some even question its accuracy, its inerrancy and its purpose in today’s modern world. This is cause for concern because the Old Testament fills almost two thirds of the Christian Bible. So, discarding such a large portion of a book that is believed to be God’s direct word to mankind is, in fact, ignoring a large portion of God’s message. Therefore, it is essential to understand the importance of the Old Testament and revive the message that God is trying to speak to us through this powerful section of the Bible.
Last week was a major milestone for my life. I accepted a job offer out of my home state. This job has huge potential for me and the goals I have for my life. During my first week at this new job, I came home after a long day at work and sat on my bed, exhausted. As I was sitting in my apartment, I began to think about everything that had brought me to this milestone; every decision I had made, every action I took, as well as, every mistake and triumph. I began to realize that without my specific past filled with all of its errors in judgement, accomplishments, and decisions, there is no way that I would have such an incredible opportunity as I do now to pursue what God has called me to pursue. Without my history, I could not possibly understand my future.
I believe it is important for all Christians to understand this same principle. The Old Testament is a book of history. Now unlike what some would have you believe, the Old Testament is not meant to be a book on which we base every detail of history upon. Genesis does not talk about the science that was involved in creating the universe, Isaiah does not discuss what the ancient Chinese were doing at the time of his writing, and Psalms does not contain the poetry of the ancient African communities. Yet, the Old Testament is instead meant to be read and studied with the idea that it is a continuous story from history with a very specific purpose. As I recently grasped the importance of my history and its role that it plays in my own understanding of my future, I realized that Christians must understand the importance of the Old Testament and its role in helping us to understand our future rather than solely seeing it as a book of history. Therefore, one must look at the overall message of the Old Testament, rather than individual stories, in order to truly see its purpose.
The Heart of Man
One of the main themes in the Old Testament is the heart of man. Over and over again, story after story, mankind treats each other and God with injustice and malice in its heart. When God created the universe, this was not what He had planned. Genesis tells us that God created the universe and it was good. Good was God’s intent. Yet, when mankind disobeyed God, evil and malice were brought into this universe. This world was no longer centered on the goodness of God but the corruption of this original good. In the Old Testament we see mankind turning what was good into something that is not. We see murder, adultery, betrayal and chaos. Yet, God could not allow such corruption to reign in His world. So He revealed to mankind what is good through his law. However, we find that even after God openly reveals who He is to mankind, humanity still fails to measure up to the expectations of God and His goodness. We continue to find murder, adultery, betrayal and chaos, even though God showed humanity what was expected of them. This continuous theme reveals the heart of Man. Since the first moment that sin, a corruption of the original good, entered the world, the heart of man turned from God and toward selfish desire. No matter how much mankind tried to meet the expectations of God, it always failed and continued in its corruption. This is one of the most important themes of the Old Testament. Mankind will always fail to meet the standards of God on its own. No matter if we are kings or paupers, emperors or fools, we will all fail God. If Christianity is to truly understand the New Testament we must embrace this essential theme of the Old Testament, the heart of man is full of corruption and selfish desire and we can do nothing on our own to fix this.
The Heart of God
In my own Christian walk I heard from many different people the same opinion about the Old Testament. They say that the Old Testament reveals a distant and enraged God who calls for the destruction of many different people, including those He chose as His own. Most people continue to say that, in comparison, only the New Testament shows the heart of God by revealing through Christ a love like no other. However, the Old Testament reveals more about the heart of God than most give it credit. As mentioned above, one of the key purposes of the Old Testament is to reveal the heart of man without God. The Old Testament is filled with stories of suffering, sin and injustices. Yet, it is also filled with God’s reaction to such wrongs. In one of my favorite theology books, The Prophets, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, Heschel brings to light the importance of the Old Testament revealing God’s reaction to man’s injustice:
“The predicament of Man is a predicament of God who has a stake in the human situation. Sin, guilt, and suffering, cannot be separated from the divine situation. The life of sin is more than a failure of man; it is a frustration of God.”
In the Old Testament stories about sin and suffering, we see God’s frustration with injustice. The Old Testament shows that God cannot silently observe from his throne above, but must insure His justice reigns supreme. Heschel states:
“Events and human actions arouse in Him joy or sorrow, pleasure or wrath. He is not conceived as judging in the world in a detachment. He reacts in an intimate and subjective manner, and thus determines the value of events. Quite obviously in the biblical view, man’s deeds may move Him, affect Him, grieve Him or, on the other hand gladden and please Him.”
The actions of the created cannot be separated from its creator. It is God’s heart to be intimate with His creation, and this intimacy is exemplified in His actions and reactions to the actions of man found in the Old Testament. God more than simply loves His creation. He wants an intimate and involved connection to it. Thus, the stories of His wrath, of His protection and of His concern for His creation are not merely harsh actions of a detached God. They are, in fact, the opposite. His actions in the Old Testament reveal His intimacy with His creation, His concern for those who are wronged, His love and joy for those who do good, and His intimate heart for man.
Why should I care?
In the 21st century, it is difficult to read the Old Testament. Stories of cities we have never heard of, Men we honestly don’t care about, and crazy talking animals, makes this portion of the Bible hard to relate to. Yet, it is important for us to read this part of the Bible as often as one would read the easier to relate to New Testament. The Old Testament tells the story of mankind’s constant and continuous failure to live up to the standards of God. It also tells the story of God’s intimacy with His creation. Both of these elements are things of which we must constantly remind ourselves if we are to truly understand the New Testament. The Old Testament shows us the reason for the events in the New Testament. We, as mankind, will always fail to live up to the standards of God, just like the people discussed in the Old Testament. But God deeply desires to be intimate with us. He is so intimate that He is in every action and decision that we make, just as He was with the people of the Old Testament. However, God designed mankind to reflect His goodness and not our own corruption. He desires to be more than simply involved in our lives. It is His desire to have a true relationship with us. This is why He sent His son to die for our failures and to fulfill His desire, as well as ours, for an intimate relationship with our God.
In my time in the world of Christian Theology, I have heard many different opinions about the Old Testament as a whole. Some say it is stolen literature from other pagan cultures, some say that it is simply filled with allegories, and, yet, others say that it is meant to be read as literal as possible. This debate has caused some churches to simply ignore the Old Testament, altogether. Yet, Christianity has a deep need for the Old Testament, especially today. We need to be reminded that mankind can never measure up to the standards of God, no matter how “good” we think we are. We need to be constantly reminded that God is intimately involved in every situation on earth, especially with His beloved people. We need a constant reminder that whether or not the Old Testament is literal or allegorical, it still reveals to humanity the most important message we can receive, that humanity desperately needs God and that God intimately desires to be a part of our lives. Christianity needs the Old Testament just as much as the New Testament, for without the reminder that the Old Testament gives us, we cannot possibly understand God or His reason why.