by Josie Smith.
Who saith that that’s what the Lord saith??
I don’t believe half the things the Lord is supposed to have ‘said’ in the Old Testament, where ‘The Lord’ comes across too often as a cruel, vengeful deity. Not at all the sort of Being one would want to approach, and closely related to those mythological pagan gods who had to be appeased and placated all the time, preferably with the sacrifice of a few cattle, sheep or unravished maidens.
What deity in his right mind would first promise descendants without number to an old man and his wife who was recognised as being past childbearing age, then a few years later demand that he take the improbable resulting child up a mountain and kill him as a sacrificial offering? No number of convenient rams in thickets are going to convince me that this is the God I should worship. ‘The promise’ was to make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants. How was this to happen if God then demanded that Abraham kill Isaac and thus invalidate the whole scheme? If Isaac did not live to adulthood how could the promise be kept? What a terrible dilemma for Abraham. Was he to disregard God’s earlier promise, and thus change the course of history by doing as God was ‘telling him’ to do this time? Isaac would be removed from his abusive parents by Social Services and placed in safe keeping if this were to happen here today. (Abraham had of course done a bit of procreating elsewhere, which complicates the story but does not I think invalidate my argument or ease Abraham’s agony.)
And what about the bereaved wives and children of those Egyptian charioteers who were drowned to protect the escaping people of Israel from being caught? Didn’t God make Egyptians too? Did he not make the people of Canaan who were so ruthlessly ethnically cleansed when the Israelites reached the Promised Land?
Many of the Psalms need to be approached with caution also – too often we read of a deity who will allow us to suffer all sorts of harm, but it will be all right in the end because of course God is on OUR side and will smite the enemy most horribly and painfully and thereby save us.
I just can’t cope with this sort of understanding.
And yet some of the most powerful preaching comes from a study of the Old Testament, prayerfully set alongside the New Testament in countless studies and on countless kitchen tables, as preachers wrestle with the Bible and try to work out what the ancient history of another culture has to say to us in our culture. We are not so different. There are still tyrants getting their way because they can, still refugees fleeing for their lives and being harassed on the way. Still people enslave other people. There are still sick people, sick in body or mind or soul. There are still those who go hungry at the doors of food banks. And there are still rich people resisting paying their taxes, out of which others could be cared for. Young men fear for their own lives and carry knives for protection which so easily turns to aggression.
But always there are counter-cultural people – prophetic voices, even if they do not actually say very much, and are not necessarily signed up to any doctrine or party – who remind us that there is another way of seeing the world. We know them when we see them – people who put their own welfare on the line and stand resolutely (often alone) for what they know to be right.
Who would your list include?
They need not be people in the public eye. They might not even be noticed. They don’t thunder ‘THUS SAITH THE LORD’ at us. They simply act as though what the Lord is saying to them is common sense. They just get on with pointing towards a world run on love, not fear; on giving, not grasping; on serving, not enslaving. And some of them are young (‘what can she know about real life?’) and some of them are very old, (‘it’s different now – he’s past it – he doesn’t understand’) and perhaps some of them live among you. Doing justly, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
Thanks be to God.