There is a reason why so many preachers focus so heavily on the New Testament. It’s the same reason that people publish pocket New Testaments, but decide to throw Psalms and Poverbs in for good measure.
I understand those little things are designed to be compact, but they still bother me a little. Sure, when you’re talking about scripture you can pick out whatever verse or chapter suits your topic, without quoting the entire thing. But to print and bind a book called the Bible, while leaving out the “less important” half just seems a little, I don’t know… haughty.
But it’s not just that it’s deemed less important. It’s a real stumbling block, both for unbelievers and seasoned Christians… even preachers. And that’s why they tend to avoid a lot of it. Sure, it has a lot of great stories, and those are easy to pick out and use at one’s convenience, but even then you have to gloss over some gory details. Noah’s Ark seems like a happy little story until you realize that it involves the violent destruction of more people (and animals) than all the most gratuitous Hollywood action movies ever made. Read some other examples here.
So it is nothing new to Christianity to have a tenuous relationship with the Old Testament, and to have our doubts about the God presented in it.
The result for many has been to see Jesus as the rebellious hero… a sort of Robin Hood figure. He noticed his dad was behaving pretty harshly, so he snuck out of his room in the middle of the night, climbed down the tree and incarnated himself into a human before papa could notice his absence. Then he systematically revised God’s moral code, gave him a P.R. makeover, and died so that people would actually have a shot at appeasing an otherwise impervious deity. In other words, Jesus double-crossed his Father, to our great benefit.
I can understand why people would want to believe this. But it’s not hard to see how incompatible it is with the most well-known verse in the Bible: “For GOD so LOVED the WORLD that he GAVE his only-begotten Son…” That doesn’t sound like Jesus sneaking out the window to me.
Yesterday was, as you know, Father’s Day. And I took the opportunity to think about our relationship to God as our Father, and about some of the words we use to describe that relationship. Fear, for example.
Think about what a “good father” really is. It’s not the same as a “cool dad”, is it? Not to say that a good father can’t be cool from time to time, but the two concepts are certainly not synonymous. A good father does what is best for his children, whether or not they find it pleasant. And a good father will even, in a way, be feared by his children. He will never inspire terror, but shouldn’t a child have to think twice before disobeying out of fear of angering his father? One step further… shouldn’t a child possibly even fear that his father will require him to do something unpleasant, or move the family to another city, where their lives will be uprooted?
There is a fine line between healthy and unhealty fear. If the child is afraid to approach his father, or losing sleep worrying about what he will do, that is over the line. The fear should be just enough for the child to realize, “Wow… my dad is in control of my life. He can do whatever he wants with me. But you know… he loves me, and I trust him. Even if he causes me pain, I know it’s for my good.” (Assuming the child is mature enough to really grasp this. Most adults aren’t even there yet.)
Although you can’t put a price on a love like this, it is not the fullness of love that we need as humans. We also need tenderness and compassion. We need someone to come alongside us in love, in addition to one who condescends in love. A good father recognizes this, and (using the father-daughter example) will do his best to make sure his daughter marries a good man, who can give her the other half of love, that cannot come from a father. In older cultures, the father would literally give his daughter a husband.
When I started to think this way, it made much more sense to me how God the Father and God the Son truly are compatible. The Father loves us in a fatherly way… a way that can inspire fear, reverence and awe. And the Son, our bridegroom, loves us in a husbandly way… on our own level, having been born as a man, he loves us firmly, yet gently.
And I believe we misunderstand God entirely unless we can see the broad smile and happy tears on his face as walks us down the aisle, and gives us away to his only Son, our bridegroom.