One of the things I have been really struggling with this second time through the Old Testament is the ease with which God seems to kill off anyone that offends Him. Yesterday, I read of the men from the Levite town, Beth Shemesh, who committed the very presumptuous sin of looking into the Ark of the Lord (I Samuel 6). Because of this, they were struck by God and killed. Just like that.
What?? Is this the same God whom we sing about, lauding His grace and mercy?
As I discussed this with my brother, Pastor Dean, he said something very profound. In fact, so profound, that I believe until we fully grasp a biblical view on this, we are going to really struggle with our concept of God.
We either believe–
People are good and God is evil.
God is good and people are evil.
We can’t have it both ways. If we believe people are basically good then what we see God do in the Old Testament seems harsh and cruel…and evil. But when we come to the understanding that we are born with utterly wicked hearts and are entirely dead in our sins and that God is perfectly Just, perfectly Righteous, and perfectly Holy, then what happens in the Old Testament starts to make more sense.
It really is impossible to believe that both God and people are good. Because if that is so, then we really have a problem–for how could a good God strike down intrinsically good people who simply made mistakes?
Even as I write this, I recognize the distaste that wells up inside most of us at this thought of people being born with zero righteousness. Even as Christians, this doesn’t sit well with us. Surely, we have some good to bring to the bargaining table? And yet scripture is clear–
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10b-12)
This intrinsic wickedness that is taught in scripture is just such a hard concept to accept with our Western, human rights thinking. I think many of us, even as Christians, drag our feet in fully admitting man’s sinful state.
But when we come to the understanding that God is good and we are not, then what we are reading starts to make so much more sense. A holy, just God cannot tolerate a unholy people. And so when the Israelites were prideful and disobedient, they paid dearly–many times with their lives. But we also see– over and over again–God’s generous mercy and grace when the people are humble and obedient.
Let’s fast forward a bit. When Jesus Christ died on the cross as a sacrifice for sins and then rose three days later, we moved into the age of grace–this wonderful time where God does not generally strike men down for their sins and disobedience.
But does that make our pride and arrogance any more tolerable? Or our disobedience any less offensive?
We are totally dead in our sins until we receive God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Once we receive this new life, our rock-hard hearts are softened, our desires changed, and we naturally take steps to live a humble, obedient life.
Is God’s plan of redemption starting to make so much more sense now?
This also helps us to understand why people are moving away from the scriptures as the basis of their faith and why so many choose to believe only parts of the Bible and not the whole. If we are honest, some of what we read in scripture is really hard stuff. We don’t like it. And we can’t wrap our brains around it. And, most importantly, it places demands on us that many of us find distasteful and unpleasant. “Fire insurance” is what most people are after– the call for self-sacrifice, humility, and obedience is certainly not a welcome part of the plan.
But choosing only to believe the happy parts and the blessings of scripture do not make the hard, difficult truths any less true, does it?
I would say that until we can recognize that all men are born sinners and without merit– no exceptions and no levels– we cannot fully grasp the fulness of our salvation. Reading the Old Testament is helping me to understand just how much God hates sin. It is giving me a much deeper appreciation that God, in His marvelous grace and infinite mercy, has given us a great gift in salvation and that through Jesus Christ alone can I be reconciled to God.
Because God is good and I am not.
Sure, I still have a few unanswered questions. But they are eclipsed by the wonderful insight and knowledge of God I am gaining as I read. I sure do hope that you are experiencing the same thing. If not, then just continue reading, praying each time before you start. God is so faithful. He will speak through His Word to a willing and humble heart. Not every moment. Not every day. Sometimes we read because it is the right thing to do. But you will be so surprised and delighted at the end of the year just how much you have learned!
Isaiah 55:11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
8 thoughts on “Which Is It?”
Profound insight. I, too, am struggling with my thoughts, internal believe system of right/wrong, fair/unfair, etc., as I read through the Old Testament. This post helps, a lot. When I’m struggling, I try to put my human view aside, knowing I will never understand fully. And then I remind myself that His justice, His wrath, His grace, His power, His purpose/plan, etc., – are beyond my comprehension. And then I give thanks that I have put my faith in a God that is all powerful, all knowing, and Almighty…He is not limited to human understanding. If we could wrap our minds around who HE is, he would not be God.
I know many people think we are foolish and naive for being at peace with unanswered questions but you address that perfectly– if we understood than He wouldn’t be God. Thank you!
God is Good! I am asked sometimes why God allows bad things to happen to “good” people. It is hard to explain, but it all comes down to trust – do I trust God is good?
And that leads to this question: Do we trust His Word or not? The subtle undermining of scripture certainly has taken a toll on biblical Christianity!
Just about everyone that I know who has read through the Old Testament, has struggled through portions of the Old Testament. One incident for me is, why did God allow Aaron to live? He was the high priest and he makes a golden calf, builds an altar to it, worships it with offerings, and then lies about it’s origin. No repentance there. Three thousand men die because of it, but not Aaron.
Then in Leviticus 10, his sons, Nadab and Abihu, are killed instantly, without opportunity for repentance, for what “seems to me” to be a much lesser sin. They disregarded the command to use only fire from the altar.
Not much long suffering there. 2 Peter 3:9.
There is none that doeth good, no not one. Psalm 14:3 According to that verse, we are all deserving death and hell and it is a miraculous thing that God would save any of us.
But He does, and in Exodus 33:19b the Lord says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” Another very good or very hard verse depending on whether one was living in the days of the Law or in the Age of Grace. Like you, I am thankful for Jesus and His sacrifice for us, and that I am living in the Age of Grace, where folks are not struck down immediately for sins, but God is long suffering, patient, not willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance.
Oh, what a great point about Aaron. I struggled with that, as well. Why exactly was he allowed to live? It certainly doesn’t make human sense, that’s for sure! There is definitely a need to release our sense of “fair” as we read the OT. And I am sure there are things we just don’t know– things that weren’t written. Perhaps Aaron was really repentant but God chose not to record it? Who knows but God?
Thank you for this and all the articles you write..This makes so much sense..uh oh! Is that a bad thing? Seriously, We are totally dead in our sins until we receive God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Once we receive this new life, our rock-hard hearts are softened, our desires changed, and we naturally take steps to live a humble, obedient life.