The God of the Old Testament
When we observe a feeling we stop feeling it, as CS Lewis said, and someone else said it before him. So when Atheists observe their spiritual feelings with uneasy shame they are able to intellectualise about them successfully ignore them. As Nietzsche discovered it is dangerous to abstract the intellect from the rest of Humanity and only use the ‘will’ to decide on ethics. Human experience does not arise from rational thought, it arises from biological instruction, unconscious spiritual perception, the morality of the heart, and our need for love and significance. The intellect acts as a filter for truth rather than a generator of truth. Even feelings follow a belief in something we value, either positively or negatively, they do not generate belief. For humans belief is the essence of their soul and the soul is divided into intellect and feeling. Intellect protects feeling from evil, and points it in the right direction, like a husband protecting his wife so that she can beautify her environment.
In the Old Testament God treated his people as a father treats his young child, even they did not understand much their job was to trust that their father knew what he was doing. Faith is possibly the most important and profound activity and ability we possess, more important than knowledge, although knowledge is necessary for discernment of truth. It is more important to live life fully than to understand it.
To understand the God of the old testament we need to realise that we all have an innate sense of spirituality and morality. That God has the right to punish and the moral responsibility to do so because he is the ultimate father figure, and because we enter a contract at birth because we live in his world. Even if you lived on the moon you would still go to the same afterlife where you will experience what you did right and wrong in this life. There are some things we just don’t get to choose. God’s contract with Israel was even more dramatic, he richly blessed them for exercising faith and obedience, and punished them severely for idolatry and unbelief.
Masculine – Feminine sides to God
One way to understand why God’s character in the Old testament appears to be different than the New is to view it as God expressing the two sides to his nature. Of course God has always been merciful and gracious, it is just that he appears to emphasise certain traits in order to establish a principle. His masculine side inspires, leads, challenges, judges and requests loyalty. It establishes order and distinction. His feminine side provides grace, acceptance and comfort (Isaiah 61). This metaphor can also relate to Right wing and Left wing politics, the right being masculine. The one seeks to establish distinction and lead by logic, the other seeks to establish acceptance and leads with feeling. Realistically we cannot bring up children with only grace and serenity, we must first establish order and self discipline before we can enjoy the fruit of it. The Old testament needs to come first. We cannot have mercy without judgement, and we cannot only have the carrot, we need the stick to motivate.
When God made Adam and Eve he made them in his image – male and female. Adam needed to come first, but part of his mission is to protect her beauty, imagination and feeling by directing her heart using reason and hard work. The masculine lays the foundation but the femainie is the purpose of life.
Trusting God for mercy is only one aspect of relating to his feminine side. It was never only about keeping laws even in the Old testament, it was about the deep connection with God and trying to find his value system. God gave them instruction and moral principles, which they could never live up to entirely, but which helped them relate to himself by pointing them in the right direction. Laws tell us what not to do, but grace tells us to do as much good as we can, with God’s attitudes and with his ability. When we have grace and truth in our heart we no-longer depend on the law.
Faith and Worship
I speculate that in our Western independence culture many find the idea of Worshipping God ridiculous and awkward. We do not object to worshipping famous people or nature but the worship of God carries a sense of submission, admiration and moral inadequacy that leaves us uncomfortable. We are hell bent on getting honor for ourselves and proving that our way is best, even though it is actually vital that we give up our values in exchange for God’s. God’s value system produces a climate in which we all honor each other; we honor God, he in turn honors us. We react with honor towards difficult people rather than vengeance, although often this needs to be mixed with discipline.God does not want us to always be grovelling on the ground in guilt all of the time, (however there are exceptional times for this). Humility is not about putting ourselves down, it is about exalting everyone else, and acknowledging God’s rightful place. Worship is surprisingly beneficial for us internally.
Faith inspires us and causes us to become like what we believe in. The Old testament can be summed up in one verse, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and dont trust in your own understanding. Yes this kept people simple but it also kept them happy and fully human. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not so much about knowledge as it was about moral independence and following our own values and beliefs. Once they had fallen they became self conscious and could experience guilt and shame. Their self worth became independent and individual rather than being constantly connected to God. We became like children separated from their mother feeling existential angst.
“Though he slay me yet will I trust Him.” This is the quality of trust that both Job and Abraham possessed through their connection with God. The currency is love and trust, not intellect and intelligence. In the light of this we can see how God might ask Abraham to demonstrate these qualities by being prepared to sacrifice his only son, especially considering he is the son that God had promised him would have millions of offspring. (All Jewish people.)
Deep feelings and the ability to make a good choice are part of what separates us from Animals and this is the part of us through which we connect to God. The mind is useful for understanding God’s character and for communicating this. Technology is fascinating and is useful on that level, but it also enables us to fix and heal problems that the intellect created in the first place. Disease, stress, anxiety all arise from our city based individualistic culture. If we lived in small communities, lived of the land and were not slaves to style and peer pressure we would be much healthier, with a sense of belonging. In the light of this it is not surprising that God did not want the whole human population living and working around the Tower of Babel and trying to become superhuman.
Atheists find the idea of one supreme human sacrifice to pay for everyone’s sin an abhorrent idea, but this is not the same kind of sacrifice that the pagans performed. Jesus was not forced, he was willing to lay down his life. As all ancient cultures, as well as innate natural justice tells us, all sin needs to be punished somehow. Because Jesus Christ dealt with the need for punishment and the separation from God, in the New Testament God was able to demonstrate his maternal side, the mercy he always wanted to show and to personally give us his perfect attitudes and motivation. The law is no longer useful, we now demonstrate as much charity as possible while trusting God to meet our needs.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
Genesis 19 is the first example of when God intervenes directly to destroy a people group who were beyond hope and were bringing down mortality in the Middle East. The other groups like the Canaanites, Amorites, Moabites, and the Amalekites God destroyed through the Jewish nation. This seems draconian to us, but back then destruction had been prophesied since Enoch on people that were evil and all people groups in the Middle East at that time were aware of the God of Adam, Noah and Enoch.
It is interesting that God did not want to look at their behaviour and needed to check to see it the reports from angels were as bad as they said. This suggests that while God is omniscient he has a kind of selective knowledge; he knows everything he wants to know. The important point to make is that Lott was not perfect he was just more moral than the rest. It was not a good thing that he offered his daughters to the mob, but in his eyes it was better than handing over the holy visitors. The angels wanted to stay in the town square over night anyway, so he created this scenario by insisting they stay.
Slavery in the Old testament
In my view slavery was tolerated by God but was not what God wanted. However we do see that hierarchy is something that God created especially for males, and embraces. There is even hierarchy within the Godhead, in my view; the Father being the authority and source. On the one hand God cares very much for the less fortunate but on the other wants to honor those who do good, and one kind of honor is to have authority over people and wealth. Often in the Old Testament the laws were to make the best of a bad situation, as in the rape laws. The Bible contains raw stories of rape in order for us to learn about Human nature and God’s dealings with people.
If an Israelite had a Jewish slave they were to be set free after 7 years and they also treated them justly. People became slaves because they owed money they could not pay, as we can see through Jesus’ parables, or if they were criminals or as the spoils of war. See more info here http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/slavery-in-judaism
It could be said that slavery was the old answer to the welfare system and the prison system, as if the poor and the destitute were not slaves they would have lived on their own or starved. (They would have gleaned from fields but that is not a great source of food.) A slave would have a roof over their head and enough food. They had a community to live in and a purpose. The only downside is that they had to work hard and were not free to organise their own lives. This is maybe better than prison life in the West, but we tolerate this kind of mental torture.
War and genocide
There are a couple of things to bear in mind. Israel was told to eradicate people groups only once it had become a nation, with laws and rulers given to it by God. Nations need to protect themselves from other countries, especially in that kind of harsh middle eastern culture. The Jews did not personally want to kill anyone, they were carrying out God’s judgment.
Judgment in the Old Testament was swift and strong. God had a right to punish win because probably everyone at that time know about the creator Yhwh who was known for punishing sin and rewarding righteousness. God was demonstrating his fatherly side, in which he leads strongly and inspires trust. Mothers care and comfort and remove distinction, God does this more in the New Testament.
This is how Fathers deal with their children to reinforce a lesson and to be a deterrent. When the child grows up the father can be less authoritarian because the child obeys out of respect and self discipline.
An ‘eye for an eyes’ is adequate judgement, but mercy and rehabilitation is much better.
There is also the idea that God wanted to wipe out the giants in that part of the world, even though by that time they had spread through the world. The flood wiped out the Nephalim who the hybrid human-demons, but it seems this kind of cross breeding may have taken place again after the flood producing giants with extra teeth and six digits on hand and toes. Some examples include, Og king of Bashan, Goliath and the former inhabitants of Canaan. The ancient Sumerians have stories of the god like Anukai who taught them technology and the Greeks had demi-gods, while the Indians had Krishna, but this is getting off topic.
Why God allows suffering
Many people have written on this topic, but here are just a few thoughts I’m toying with.
God did not stop the Satan from rebelling against him and trying to receive power and glory from humanity. He did not prevent him from deceiving and enticing humanity to fall. Even Satan had free will. God created the possibility of suffering, however God did not cause the fall to happen. Suffering and pleasure are two sides of the same coin here on earth. The darkness exists in order to shine light into it. Morality is unknown without imperfection, and there is no morality without love.
God is love and the source of morality. Love produces wisdom and justice. Love produces joy and peace. This World exists to demonstrate his morality in the face of opposition and selfishness. The quality of morality is measured by the attitude and intention behind it, rather than purely the action.