In the comments to a recent post Rob threw out a topic for discussion: “Deuteronomy 28: 15-68 The God of Jesus?” He went on to explain:
I can’t get the verses from Deut. that I cited out of my head. I can’t reconcile the horror expressed in those lines to anything in the New Testament, or even in the Koran. Certainly, IMHO, this is not the God to whom Jesus prayed…
I haven’t read Deuteronomy and, frankly, as I slide toward vacation I don’t feel like starting now. But I kind of dealt with a similar problem back when I was blogging Exodus, where I got into an unusually acrimonious debate with Telford about God’s persecution of the Egyptians.
I don’t think I specifically addressed what the relation to Jesus could be, since I don’t think I have as strong an opinion about Jesus’ character as Rob does. Despite having a lot of great lines, Jesus doesn’t appear to me as the image of perfect goodness and holiness that he seems to be to most Christians. Nonetheless, there’s obviously enough there to keep me interested, and to make real the sort of problem that Rob brought up.
I don’t have an answer, but Mark’s recent post seemed to me to be thematically related. Mark was reacting to a recent discussion among Catholic bloggers about praying for one’s enemies, and noted a recurring phenomenon:
But I’ve noticed in this and in many recent issues that there is a tendency to throw up one’s hands in frustration and wonder if some revealed truth is now so distorted or taken so literally or not taken literally enough that we’re now in a kind of theological la-la land. I’m thinking of comments like:
Okay then, when could there ever be a just war!
So are you suggesting that somehow everyone is saved?
If that’s really what the pope said, then I’m jumping ship!
Or my favorite, something I ran across when I started reading blogs over a year ago, a post, I think on . . . well, let’s do a search on it since I think it had “neck” in it and I think it was over at relapsed catholic. . . Ah yes, here it is from April of 2002:
Jesus said that some evils could only be driven out by prayer and fasting.
Yup, God help me: I’m a pretty hard-hearted gal. So I can’t go along with some of my fellow Catholic bloggers, who support the U.S. Bishop’s church-wide Day of Reparation for sex abuse crimes.
The idea that “we are all guilty” is a trendy modern notion, but one I can’t square with the words of Christ. It would be better if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, he said about anyone who destroyed the innocence of a child.
Implicitly, someone has to stay dry. And do the tying. I’m delighted to volunteer. . .
This is a perfectly understandable opinion and it’s clever enough to have stuck in my head from so long ago. But I think most would agree that someone staying in the boat to do the tying of millstones on necks and then shoving the millstone laden folks overboard may not quite be the point of the Gospel passage. I don’t think the point is something like, “many are called, few are chosen, and some get to tie millstones around the necks of others.”
I had to smile at the last one because, even though Jesus is a murky figure to me and I profess little understanding of the Gospels, there are certain times when I think, “Wow, that reading is just wrong!”, indicating that I have more opinions than I think.
But anyway, I think we’re talking about a similar problem here. The conservative Catholics Mark addresses tend to be more concerned about insufficient punishment of the wicked, while Rob and I tend to be more put off by all the smiting and stoning in the Old Testament, but the issue is the same: sometimes God just seems to go against our internal moral compass.
Many people I know respond by saying that therefore, Christianity is wrong. Mark takes a the opposite tack, quoting an amusing line from M.D. Molinie:
We must accept the fact that one by one our poor little ideas are gently being splintered in the tender darkness of God.
In other words, we should conform to God, not vice versa.
I, as usual, feel somewhere in the middle. I am very attached to my internal moral compass. I am too familiar with the temptation to compromise. That was why one of the ironies of Bible blogging is that, while liberal secularists such as myself have a reputation for moral relativism and evangelical Christians are supposed to be moral absolutists, it was Telford who kept pleading with me to be more flexible, and me that kept refusing to budge.
On the other hand, I also know very well what Mark is talking about. I gather that many of the cradle Christians he refers to have to fight the assumption that what God believes, and what the subculture they grew up in believes, and their own internal morals are all the same, but I can make no such assumption about myself. Simply going on this quest goes against the grain of a lot of things I was brought up with. And more to the point, I recognize my own limitations. If I felt that my own will, feelings and attitudes were enough to guide me through life, I would not feel this lack, this “God-shaped hole.” I have followed them thus far, and they’ve gotten me somewhere but not really where I want to be. I know that something’s going to have to get splintered if I am to become more than I am, and that is the most appealing and the most frightening thing of all.