Yes and no.
What are we to make of God instructing King Saul to kill all of the Amalekites - men, women, children (including infants) and all their animals (1 Samuel 15)? Or the Psalm which asks God to bash their enemies' babies' heads against the wall (Psalm 137)?
Isn't this barbaric? Yes, of course.
In theological college I studied Professor John Bright's book The Authority of the Old Testament. He expounds three classical Christian solutions to this problem:
First, some like Marcion reject the OT altogether as an authority for faith and conduct; or (eg. Bultmann) insist on the subordination of the OT to the NT. But these ideas fail to deal with the issue of Jesus' view of the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Others (like some of my Orthodox and Brethren friends) read a 'Christian' meaning into much of the OT, by allegory or typology. The church father Origen blessed this approach, but many (including myself) reject it, because, as Bright says, it leads 'into the exotic jungle of fanciful interpretations'. Luther said this approach has 'a nose of wax' (because it can be twisted into any shape).
Most modern Christian scholars tend to make a value judgment about the OT based on the teachings of Jesus. They suggest that there is a developmental or progressive approach to humans' understanding of God throughout history, and that the mind/teaching of Jesus is the ultimate/final measuring device for all truth. Put me into this category.
John Bright says that Israel's history is 'a theatre of God's activity': it records real history and a theological interpretation of it. But at the same time it is clearly an incomplete collection of writings, a history with no ending.
The OT is the record of an ancient people's responses to war and suffering and other human conditions. It describes real feelings of rage, guilt, joy and hope which are validated by their inclusion in Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Modern Jews like Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who lost his family in the Nazi Holocaust, can teach us - from the OT - some valuable lessons about dealing with life's mysteries with 'hopeful amazement'...
Watch this space for more...
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
We know what's true through our senses, or via the 'authority' of someone we trust. But what about phenomena outside our sensory experience, and/or that of our trusted authority-figures? For example: What is God like? Does God actually exist? Will I live forever - and what will that be like?
Now nobody I know has actually seen God, or experienced a verifiable out-of-body experience, or been to heaven and come back and told us about it.
So Christians have to answer this broad question by submitting to 'outside' authorities, like the Bible, or Jesus, or the Church, or 'traditional belief-systems' or our reason, or, occasionally, personal 'peak experiences' which, for some, open a window through which they see beyond what their senses can verify.
Actually all these 'authorities' can be reduced to three: Scripture, Tradition, and Rationalized Experience.
Another question: how am I supposed to know not only what to believe but how to behave? What's 'normal' here?
My favorite preacher John Claypool tells the story of a small boy who was given a 'quarter' (which meant he was American) to go to the circus. He went downtown and saw the circus parade - animals, gymnasts, clowns - and was so excited by it all he gave one of the clowns his quarter and went home. After questioning by his parents he learned that he'd not been to the 'circus' but only to the parade.
Life's like that. We live on a level which is well this side of our ideal. We fall short of what we in our better moments would like to be. We read about someone like Francis of Assisi and feel we could never be as saintly as that great man. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who disagreed with the State Church in Nazi Germany about how a 'normal Christian' should behave. (He was executed aged 39 on April 9, 1945, and later that year the war ended). Both of these Jesus-followers combined personal holiness with a passion for justice - as their Master and Lord did.
So a good way to be both rational and good, is to encourage in yourself a 'healthy skepticism' sometimes about where others' or societies' standards might be. F W Boreham said the best way to see how crooked a stick is would be to place it next to a straight stick.
Annie Dillard in her Pulitzer prize-winning book Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek wrote: 'We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.'
Watch this space for more...