“The old testament is full of horror stories that paint a very evil picture of God, and which provide poor moral guidance for modern humans. There are far too many examples for me to give specifics.” (Barry Matson)
Stephen Fry’s preference – the Greek gods, “didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, capriciousness and unreasonableness, didn’t present themselves as all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. The god who created the universe is quite clearly a maniac, totally selfish.”
You can’t please everyone!
If you’re looking for MORAL GUIDANCE – More is learned from positive AND negative examples than from positive examples alone. [What we learn from Opposites, 20 August 2017]
AN EXAMPLE, King Claudius, (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3): “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
“For goodness is not recognized in its true character except by contrast with the less good and by the opposition of evil to it.” (Divine Providence, paragraph 24 [AC 4172.e.])
Accommodation. e.g. Parables.
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34)
Accommodation. Other examples, from culture and values of the ancient near-east:
- patriarchal society.
THE COVENANT AND The vassal covenant. A treaty or contract between two parties. Suzerain treaty, as found in Hittite documents of the time. NOT a parity treaty between equal parties, but imposed upon a weaker power by a stronger one. (See NJBC 77:79, p. 1297.)
1. the preamble. Identifies the overlord and gives genealogy.
2. the historical prologue. Describes the previous relations between the two parties, and is principally a recital of the benefits conferred upon the vassal by the overlord.
3. The stipulations imposed upon the vassal.
4. Provision for the deposit of the treaty in the temple and for periodic public reading.
5. List of witnesses (gods, in Hittite treaties).
6. Curses for violation and blessings for fulfilment of the treaty.
“The situation here is that the truth from God cannot be received by anyone unless it is adjusted to what he is capable of understanding, and so unless it is seen in a natural shape and form. For initially human minds can understand only earthly and worldly things, and not at all spiritual and celestial ones. If therefore spiritual and celestial things were made plainly visible they would be cast aside, as if they were worthless.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 8783, also 8760.2; 8920)
We like to think that God speaks in our language. Curiously, we think he ought to speak OUR modern language to the ancient peoples, while He needed to speak in THEIR language for scripture to be accepted in that time.
But that message has a greater purpose. The Bible shows God’s leading people and cultures from an imperfect, flawed system of thought to a better one. For example: worship practices; slavery; revenge / forgiveness; understanding of / relationship with God.
COMPARE the VASSAL TREATY, God as the superior power, who blesses obedience and punishes rebellion – with the more mature relationship described in John 15:15 – “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
When God brings bad news, news of destruction, we tend to blame Him for it – but is it a good or a bad thing to do?
* Ahab called Elijah a trouble maker – he always seemed to be around when bad things happened, although he wasn’t the cause of those bad things, he was seen that way by those who would rather not hear the news at all.
Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. (1 Kings 18:17,18)
* The Watchman – the warnings of Ezekiel: chapter 3, 33
We don’t like being told “home truths”: Does that mean we shouldn’t hear them?
God often appears to stand in judgment in the Bible. He is described as jealous, he becomes angry, takes revenge. BUT ONLY BECAUSE THAT IS THE WAY IT LOOKS TO US. The remorseless criminal may well blame the judge who put him in prison or the police who caught him, but who is to blame for his predicament?
But God’s purpose is reform, not punishment. Nevertheless, how are we to know our need of reform? First of all, we need to know the reality of the evils we find in ourselves.
“The Lord never judges anyone except from good, for His will is to lift all men, however many these may be, up to heaven, indeed if it were possible, up to Himself. For the Lord is mercy itself and good itself, and [these] cannot possibly condemn anyone. It is man who, in rejecting good, condemns himself. As a person has fled habitually from good during his lifetime, so in the next life he flees from it, and therefore from heaven and the Lord.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 2335, section 3)