"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is God a Moral Monster? -- Redemptive Movement of Scripture; Holiness Gap; God Involved in Everything

Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan

On a page leading towards a discussion of "The Redemptive Movement of Scripture," the author wrote these words. 

Note too that common ancient Near Eastern worship patterns and rituals -- sacrifices, priesthood, holy mountains/places, festivals, purification rites, circumcision -- are found in the law of Moses.  For example, we find in Hittite law a sheep being substituted for a man. In his providence, God appropriated certain symbols and rituals familiar to Israel and infused them with new meaning and significance in light of his saving, historical acts and his covenant relationship with Israel.  This "redemption" of ancient rituals and patterns and their incorporation into Israel's own story reflect common human longings to connect with "the sacred" or "the transcendent" or to find grace and forgiveness.  In God's historical redemption of Israel and later with the coming of Christ, the Lamb of God, these kinds of rituals and symbols were fulfilled in history and were put in proper perspective.

Instead of glossing over some of the inferior moral attitudes and practices we encounter in the Old Testament, we should freely acknowledge them.  We can point out that they fall short of the ideals of Genesis 1-2 and affirm with our critics that we don't have to advocate such practices for all societies.  We can also show that any of the objectionable practices we find in the Old Testament have a contrary witness in the Old Testament as well."  (pg. 62)

1. What do you think of the idea that God used common ancient Near Eastern worship patters and rituals and gave them new meaning and significance?

2.  Can you think of any objectionable practice having "a contrary witness in the Old Testament"?

3.  Do you agree that we should freely acknowledge "inferior moral attitudes and practices" encountered in the OT?  How do you handle them when talking to scoffers or even when trying to make sense of them to yourself?

Serious-minded Old Testament Jews were regularly reminded of the gap between God and themselves. To approach God was no light thing, and throughout an Israelite's daily life were many reminders of defilement, impurity, and barriers in worshiping God.  Attentive Israelites routinely experienced a "holiness gap" that existed between them and God.  ...  The law -- with all its purity requirements and sacrifices -- actually revealed human inadequacy and thus the need for humans to look beyond their own resources to God's gracious assistance.  (pg. 85-6)

The author reminds us that Paul called the law a "tutor" that leads us to Christ. 

4.  What do you think about this "holiness gap"?  Do you agree that the Law revealed inadequacies or do you believe keeping it all should be good enough for God and He should appreciate the effort?

5. Why do you think approaching God is "no light thing"?  Do you agree or disagree?

The author states that the underlying rationale for everything -- even the detailed food laws -- shows that God wanted His people to be different (holy) in every aspect of life.  "Living under God's reign should affect all of life... God isn't cordoned off to some private, religious realm."  (pg. 75)

Reminder:  Paul told the Corinthians, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  (10:31)

6. What do you think of God wanting to be involved in all aspects of life?  Do you think most people live this way or do they put God on a shelf like an insurance policy and only take Him out and use Him if something bad happens?  Why would people not want God involved in their lives? Are there certain areas perhaps that they don't want His input? 

Any other thoughts or comments on these topics?


mezba said...

I had always read (from Christian sources) that the God of Old Testament is a Punishing God and the God of New Testament is a Loving God - and this has always been used to prove Christianity is a "Loving" religion.

To me it didn't make sense because God is God and both the Testaments are pertaining to the same God!

I hold the theory that God cannot be Loving all the time and must have a Punishing aspect as well otherwise what is the point of being a good citizen in this life?


daniel said...

I just briefly want to take a stab a a few select questions you posed:
1. What do you think of the idea that God used common ancient Near Eastern worship patters and rituals and gave them new meaning and significance?
I would have to study this out further, but my first thought would be to question why one assumes the idea of sacrificing a sheep is pagan to begin with? Genesis records that God mad clothes of animal skins for Adam and Eve so they more than likely beheld the slaughtering of the animal that gave his covering to them. Abel also offered a sheep to God. It seems to me that the idea of sacrifice was originally instituted by God to show the atrocity of sin and it’s consequences and pagan men distorted the original meaning. I don’t think God gave NEW meaning to worship ritual, but restored the original.

4. What do you think about this "holiness gap"? Do you agree that the Law revealed inadequacies or do you believe keeping it all should be good enough for God and He should appreciate the effort?
I believe the law is to make us aware of the gap by showing us what God calls good. Because it is tied to the character of God, I do not think it is a thing we are not required to observe; but I do not think that observing it merits our forgiveness. It is a silly thing to think that we are to measure ourselves by the law before we are saved. There is a view that one must repent of breaking God’s law in order to be saved, but then is not bound to observe any of it afterwards. I would ask them what was to repent of in the first place if this is the case?

5. Why do you think approaching God is "no light thing"? Do you agree or disagree?
Very simply – God is the Creator and Holy while I am a creature and unholy. The more one understands that, the more weighty approaching God becomes.

Amber said...

1. I think it makes sense. People are more comfortable and more likely to adopt a change that is at least passingly familiar. If you can take an existing ritual or place and attach new meaning to it the chances of your meaning sticking are that much greater. It's the same reasoning behind the placement of many saints' shrines in Italy. In the majority of cases they used to be old Roman pantheon shrines that were taken over when Christianity rose to power.

In addition to the practical aspects, since God is saving not just the spiritual but also the physical, there's a nice parallel with Him making holy practices that had been pagan before.

2. Wouldn't the consequences of the objectionable practice be the contrary witness? So, off the top of my head, the adultery of David with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband to conceal the sin. The plagues that struck all of Israel (the king *is* the land) and the death of their child would be the contrary witness, imho.

3. Yes. What on earth would be the point of trying to justify some of the things done in the OT as 'good'? It's morally questionable and intellectually dishonest to boot. People are flawed. That's just a fact of life and no matter how hard we try, our prejudices and uglier sides will come out and influence us at times. That doesn't, fortunately, mean that nothing good can come out of a flawed person.

4. I think it's a real thing. It's in the nature of man to believe that we are the best, the absolutely most superior thing ever. Being reminded, daily, hourly, minute by minute even that we are not, that there is something out there that is actively perfect is, hopefully, humbling and would shine a sharp light on our flaws and make us work to correct them. I think the Law highlighted failings, but also that God appreciated the effort. Not that the effort saved, but that it showed that the people were seeking Him, that they did *want* to rise above themselves.

5. It's not a light thing because it's God. I mean...*hands up* how would you even think that was something you could do lightly, 'Oh, hey, God, did you see that game yesterday?' What? No. There's a gap between creation and Creator. It's like meeting royalty or a head of state. You don't just roll on up and sit down. Even if they've invited that kind of relationship...there's a gap. It's reverence.

6. I find it uncomfortable to think of God being involved in all parts of my life. I'll admit that. There are plenty of things I would rather think God didn't see or hear. :) I think most people, to varying degrees, have God as an insurance policy, or something to blame when things go wrong, or just something that only goes in certain parts of their lives.

sanil said...

Interesting post. :) I may be too long-winded here and won't touch some of the questions, but I had thoughts on a few.

4 & 5 - I don't believe the Law revealed inadequacies. In the part you quoted, the book points out that the Law was copied from the laws of surrounding nations. The Law was simply the constitution, it gave them a way to live as a new nation and keep order that helped the others to thrive. The idea that the Law brings or reveals guilt isn't one I've seen in Judaism, and I think that view developed after Jesus as a way to explain why the Law wasn't necessary for their society.

The idea that the divine is removed and separate from humanity is also not a Jewish idea. It is an ancient idea, one that arose in all or at least most ancient religions. We see sacrifices done in Israel just as they were done in other ancient cultures. It seems ancient people as a general rule believed that the god/s had to be approached in a specific way, so priesthoods and temples and rules surrounding that were created to protect the people and enforce proper piety, and Israel was no exception. I'm not sure why the ancients felt that way or why that has changed in today's world, but that would make an interesting study.

Sarah said...

I'm enjoying these posts, this was a book I was interested in when you mentioned it a while back. :)

I think "freely acknowledging inferior moral practices" is a good approach. I just find it hard to see where God was in the process if the law of Moses is acknowledged to be (to a great extent) a recycling of pre-existing traditions. That is the way I feel about Islam too - I don't really see much in it that Muhammad couldn't have got from pre-existing traditions, so I'm left wondering what exactly was divinely revealed.

Becky said...

I enjoyed this post, especially the part of God wanting Her people to be 'different' (holy - kaddosh) - ties in with the part of A History of God that I recently read.

Sorry I don't have much thoughts on the rest right now, my mind is a bit mushy :)

Susanne said...

Mezba, welcome and thank you for your interesting comment! Yes, I think we often cringe at the "OT God" because He seems a bit "questionable" at times, but you are right. God is God and this book is helping me better understand some things. I've always appreciate the compassion of God and I DO see that in the OT although at times I think "wow, He is harsh." (like when someone dies for touching the Ark of the Covenant.) I've always been glad to NOT be one of the children of Israel because God held them to really high standards. Or it seemed that way to me. :) I appreciate your reply!

Daniel, I like your observation about God restoring the original meaning! Good thought! Actually I enjoyed all that you had to say. Really happy to read your thoughts on this post. Thanks much!

Amber, great answers. I liked this:

"In addition to the practical aspects, since God is saving not just the spiritual but also the physical, there's a nice parallel with Him making holy practices that had been pagan before."

That whole renewal-of-creation thing. Or do you prefer "saving"? I like both.

Thanks for your contrary witness examples. I also thought of David. I guess Moses not being able to go into the Promised Land and also the way polygamy causes problems with bickering and hard feelings between wives. Also there is Samson.

LOVED your answer to #4!

"There are plenty of things I would rather think God didn't see or hear. :) "

*giggles* What? You?? But you're so sweet.

Susanne said...

Sanil, as always you bring in interesting thoughts! You always make me wish to know more about stuff! Thanks for all you added and how some of those ideas weren't Jewish ones, but developed later. Hmmmm *thinking*

Becky, don't think I didn't remember your post when I was talking about holy! :D Actually it's neat to me how so many things I'm reading lately are connected and helpful! Sorry for the mushy brain! :) I appreciate your comment!

Sarah, fantastic observations. I don't know if this would be helpful, but I was just reading a (long) blog post and the author mentioned this. I'll copy a portion for you and share the link in case you are interested in more. It's under Purpose of the Law on this page. http://therebelgod.com/cross2.html

I'm glad you are enjoying the posts. Always wonderful hearing from you!


He goes on to explain that the law was put there as a "caretaker" or a "tutor" to protect and lead us to Christ (v. 24) Just as a child needs clear rules and borders at first but later as it matures learns to be responsible, so the law by setting borders leads us into maturity and beyond the tutelage of a system of rules into a responsible relationship with God through a life of following the Spirit. The law thus acted as a transitional measure to restrain and curb a people's destructive and hurtful tendencies, and to lead them to maturity as they internalized the love and compassion that the law pointed to. "The entire law is summed up in a single command: "love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14)

The law was not an eternal blueprint from God for all time but a specific relational word spoken into the already existing sinful culture of the Hebrews to point them towards God's true way of compassion. As Gilbert Bilezikian explains,

God's word was applied to sinful conditions such as polygamy, patriarchy, adultery, and so on, not to condone or endorse such evils but to limit the damaging effects of those inevitable results of the fall. Likewise was violence curbed. By placing a limit on retaliatory practices (only one eye for an eye, one tooth for a tooth, only one life for a life, cf. Exodus 21:23-24 the Old Testament legislation attempted to bring under control the murderous tendencies of fallen human nature (cf. Genesis 4:23-24 without endorsing violence as a way of life among humans. Jesus and the text of the new covenant make it clear that the restoration of the creation purposes of God in the new community has invalidated many provisions of the Old Testament legislation by fulfilling their intent. In the community ruled by love, the law of the talion (Exodus 21:23-24) becomes superceded and is therefore abrogated (Matthew 5:38-39). The same is true for Old Testament regulations limiting the evil impact of polygamy, patriarchy, adultery, and so on.

It bears repeating: the law was not an eternal model but was a relational word spoken prescriptively into an existing fallen culture to curb their hurtful and abusive behavior and ultimately point them towards God's way of love in a personal relationship. The law was never intended as a substitute for a relationship with God, for "If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law" (Galatians 3:21) But rather the law points us to faith: "Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law" (3:25)

Suroor said...

Very interesting book and post!

I think this book is confirming to me the thought I have recently been entertaining that all religions are based on previous religions and all religions reflect the personality of the person propagating it. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging it but of course it is a very non-traditional approach and line of thought.

So I think (personally) that the God of NT is kind because Jesus was kind and that is how he taught us about God, the Father. The distant God of the OT who was "I am" becomes a personal God of the NT, a God with whom we can have a relationship. He is the Father. Surely, the Father gets upset and threatens bad behaviour with Hell but his Grace is stronger than his threats if one commits themselves to enter a relationship with him.

I assume this level of sophistication of thought was not available to Moses. Jesus referred numerous times to the Law with the words "you may have heard ... but I tell you..." saying that he was fulfilling the Law, not undoing it, but I think he was doing something far more sophisticated than just that. I think he was teaching his disciples to enter into a relationship with God.

You have often asked, Susie, why Islam "regresses" to Judaism rather than progressing from Christianity and I think the answer lies in the fact that out of the three Abrahamic religions, it was perhaps only Jesus who focused more on relationship than law. When you are in a relationship with someone you love them so much that you don't want to hurt them; it is not fear of Hell or the allurement of Heaven that makes you obedient but it is the relationship that makes you want to do what is morally right. It is not surprising then that the "moral attitudes and practices" of the NT are superior because they are based of Grace that is more universal than Law which is culturally specific.

God is God but everyone's God is not the same :)

Getting off my soapbox. Thank you for allowing me to comment.

Becky said...

Wow Suroor! You managed to express my thoughts much more eloquently than I am capable of myself! That is pretty much exactly how I'm starting to think of religion these days. Thank you for sharing.

Susanne said...

Suroor,of course you are always "allowed" to comment on my blog! :-P

Thanks for what you shared. I enjoyed it. So are you saying Jesus had a better relationship with God than, say, Muhammad (or even Moses) and this is why his teachings were based more on relationship than law?

Good to see your comments. I miss you when you make yourself scarce! You are always ALLOWED on my blog! :D

Suroor said...

Hehe, thanks Becky. I am blushing.

Susie, you asked “So are you saying Jesus had a better relationship with God than, say, Muhammad (or even Moses) and this is why his teachings were based more on relationship than law?”

I can’t judge anyone’s relationship with God; it is something so private and so well-hidden from public, but I think Jesus focused more on relationship and Grace and Moses and Muhammad focused more on Law. Relationship is subjective and gives room to a believer to move around easily in a relationship with God. Law is pretty objective – you have the commandments, you have a checklist, yet ironically one who lays down the law can go wrong which is why we have people questioning how moral is it to whip someone who drinks rather than reforming his behaviour (which takes time and patience) or chopping off the hand of a thief. Imagine what Winona Ryder would look like with one arm!

On a serious note, I don't think anyone can go wrong with loving God and entering into a relationship with him. If I erred like that and was punished like that, I may become too scared to steal again and may even fear God, but I don’t think I would want to have a relationship with him. Children are scared of strict parents but they don’t always love them. It was this thought that compelled the verse out of Rabia Al Basri's lips "my Lord, if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; and if I worship You from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your own sake, do not withhold from me Your Eternal Beauty."

Susanne said...

Yes, I always admire her for that verse. Amazing! I hope to have this same attitude!

Becky said...

I absolutely love that quote by Rabia as well, I think I actually quoted her on here recently as well.

Susanne, your captcha phrase is naughty! I'm not joking it's: focku !

Susanne said...

Oops! :D

Becky said...

Yeah your blog is corrupting me ;)

Suroor said...

@Becky, I quote Rabia so many times she must be shaking her head at me in her grave and Susie must be sick of my broken record :) This is freaky - you and I have so much in common! No wonder I love you so much - you remind me of my youth :-D Haha!

Susie, I told you I get all naughty words to type on your blog - not complaining ;) You up to something we don't know??

Becky said...

Awwww thank you Suroor, love you too! I'd be honoured and blessed to turn up as well as you.

Susanne said...

No, I don't mind hearing that verse over and over again! It's the way we all should be!

Sorry for corrupting you, Becky! :-P