Archives For God

As America recovers from yet another massive natural disaster – or “act of God,” in insurance company lingo – the inevitable question resurfaces in Christian circles: Why is God crying? What is God angry about?  What did we do?

It’s a popular topic every time a storm hits, especially if it hits where we don’t live. Usually, the apparent target of God’s wrath is a particular situation or people group about which the person claiming clarity happens to feel very strongly (“It’s the abortion doctor! It’s because of international policies! It’s the greedy Wall Street 1%! It’s evolution in our schools! It’s for someone with whom I am displeased!”) There’s quite a list that gets generated in the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy. Apparently, God has lots of options.

This is not new information. Even Jesus pointed out that the net we cast for sin gathers in quite a large catch.  Jesus was once asked if a tower’s collapse in Siloam was a judgment from God on a particularly bad group of people.  Jesus’ response: 

“Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? No! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4-5) 

If we are trying to figure out who deserves judgment, we should start with ourselves. Many Christians today don’t cast the net as widely as Jesus did.  Like those who observed the tower of Siloam fall and assumed God was not pleased with a particular target group, Frankenstorm clearly means God is seriously upset with a particular target group, right?  “Thank God it’s not me!” (said all those who lived far enough away).

This perspective blatantly ignores the perspective of Jesus. If Hurricane Sandy is for some, it’s deserved by all. Ignoring that fact is bad enough, but there is a more fundamental question that needs to be addressed: Does God use natural disasters to punish America? Continue Reading…

In the previous posts, I noted two key points in relation to Old Testament law. First, the laws cannot be understood apart from their context and purpose. Second, many of the laws that seem unusually restrictive served an important purpose: God wanted a people who understood what it meant for something to be “holy” – separate, undefiled, and distinct.  God used laws governing seemingly insignificant things to help the Israelites understand what it meant for them to be distinct from the cultures around them.

Even with these caveats, it’s hard to read the Law without cringing at more morally significant mandates, such as those concerning slavery or the treatment of women.

It is important to note that while the Israelite Law was a solid move toward a better world, the laws were usually incremental instead of complete.  The laws were intended to show a redemptive movement in the broader context of the world.  In Christian terms, this means God at times used progressive revelation to reveal truth.  The cultural climate of world was at a particular place; God used the Law to begin a redemptive movement away from injustice and toward justice.  It was a cultural shift that can only be appreciated by understanding what God was pulling people from and what he was pulling them toward.  The Old Testament shows the beginning of a restorative work in a very broken world through a particular group of people. This was the start of that process, not the finished product.  Continue Reading…

As noted in the previous post, Old Testament law is not meant to be read in a literary vacuum.  We need to consider context and purpose in order to understand what God was trying to accomplish in the world.  While this may not make Exodus and Leviticus leap off the page, this will hopefully allow us to more clearly see a God whose desire was for humanity to flourish.

In some ways, the flourishing brought about by the Law was a very practical one.  The dietary laws God gave Israel have proven to be remarkably good even by 21st century standards.  Laws for cleaning mold out of a house sound a lot like the processes we use today. Laws about quarantine were insightful from a medical perspective.  So in one sense, many of the laws were simply instructions on how to stay physically healthy. (Even the laws for more controversial issues like slavery and marriage point away from human subjugation and toward a society in which people are intended to flourish – but I will address that in the next post.)

I believe, however, that the fundamental purpose of the law was much greater. God intended for the Law to help the Israelites understand holiness in every aspect of life.  The  laws emphasize that  holiness is “separateness.” God is holy, and by extension His people are to be holy. They are “called out” or “called away” from things that could corrupt them.  The law was intended to create a wholeness within the community of Israel and a distinctiveness from the surrounding pagan cultures.

This idea of separateness goes back to Genesis One. Over and over, God separates and categorizes the natural world.  The creation account brims with the language of dividing, gathering, and classifying. This orderliness reflects a fundamental reality of creation: there is a nature to things such that they exist best inside of boundaries.  Without this understanding, there would be chaos. What’s good for humanity’s universe is apparently good for humanity, too. God seems determined that every time His people did anything, they would be reminded of order, wholeness, and completeness.

We see an example of this in the Old Testament dietary laws. Continue Reading…

Christians have long struggled to fully understand the Old Testament. The narratives contain many stories of hope and grace, but there are also plenty of stories of violence and despair.  To complicate matters, Christians claim that the Old Testament reveals  truth about not only about world, but also the character and nature of the God who made it.  Since our understanding of God is on the line,  I believe it is important that we seek to understand the Old Testament to the best of our ability.

In a previous series, we looked at the issue of war in the Old Testament.  In this series, we are going to delve into Old Testament laws. The Apostle Paul was adamant that all of Scripture is inspired and is useful (2 Timothy 3:16), and the “all Scripture” he referred to was the Old Testament.  The “inspired” part caused little controversy among the Jewish population; the “useful” part, however, created immediate tension.  In fact, the first church council at Jerusalem convened because of this issues involving the Law (Acts 15:24-29).

Over the next few centuries many Christians began either to reject the Old Testament completely or to make it allegorical as a way to find something meaningful without the uncomfortable task of wrestling with the literal meaning. One early writer, for example, interpreted the food laws of Deuteronomy 14:7 in the following way. “The clean animal symbolizes a true Christian who is able to both chew the cud (=meditate on the Word) of God, the Bible) and be cloven-footed (=walk in the world while not being corrupted by it and in the Spirit at the same time).”

Can we all agree on something? God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament is daunting, uncomfortable, and confusing at best. But if the Bible is God’s revelation to the world, then something about that revelation should give us a picture of who God is and what He calls us to be. Laws reflect the giver of the law; it is important that we understand God’s laws so that we do not misunderstand God.

As with all forms of communication, there are at least three crucial aspects of the laws that we must remember. Continue Reading…

If you have been patient enough to read the previous series, you have read several key insights that help us understand God as he is revealed in the Old Testament:

So why does all of this matter to us today? Continue Reading…