This is a follow-up to my last post, Atheists: Forget the Old Testament, in which I introduced the concept that the Old Testament paints an imperfect picture of God. The writer of Hebrews makes this point, as well as the Gospels of Matthew and John.
John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Logos – the Word – of God. (Interestingly, Aristotle’s concept of logos was “to argue from reason.”) Logos was also identified in later Greek philosophy with the creative force of the universe. In the first chapter, John states:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Logos (who was “in the beginning”) became flesh. In verses 17 & 18 we read,
17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
Here John makes an interesting contrast: In the OT, we have the Law, and a God whom no one has seen. In Jesus, we have grace and truth, and God is now known through Jesus. The implication here is that even though the Law does testify to God’s holiness, it doesn’t give us a good picture of God (the Father). Only Jesus, the Logos, “God the one and only,” has made God (the Father) known.
Now, the Old Testament contains some great stuff; however, whenever we start to get an idea of God from the OT, we should stop and ask, “What would Jesus do?” Assuming the Bible authors were correct in that God does not change, and that Jesus indeed is a perfect representation of the Father, we need to compare our Old Testament notions of God to what we know about Jesus. If there’s a conflict, who do we believe? On one hand we have an imperfect, incomplete revelation of God, on the other, a perfect revelation.
This is not to say we now know and understand everything; Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor. 13 that we don’t. However, we have the testimony of 4 Gospels as to the character of Jesus. We saw his reaction to sinners, and his reaction to the self-righteous. We saw his emotion concerning death, and his anger when confronting hypocrisy. How dare we take an Old Testament stand on issues where Jesus would seem to have taken the opposite stand?
Interestingly, Jesus held a higher standard than the Pharisees did when it came to sin; not only is action sin, but so is desire! However, whenever Jesus confronted someone caught in sin, what was his response? He forgave them, he healed them, and he had dinner with them!
What this tells me about the seeming contradictions between the “old, mean” God and “gentle” Jesus is that it may not be our perception of God which is the issue; perhaps it is our perception of the nature of sin. Time and again Jesus spoke of and dealt with sin as if it were a sickness, a plague from which humanity was suffering. Come to think of it, so did the God of the Old Testament!
The problem with the WWJD test is that we end up with seeming contradictions which we are unable to resolve. What do we do then? My personal opinion is that we hold to what is clear, and wait for the fog to lift on the rest. We have to get used to the fact that we still see only in part. We just have to remember, Jesus’ own words, “no one knows the Father except me.”
There are those, of course, who will insist on holding on to the OT sketch of God, especially if there’s someone to condemn, or if you need a God to hate. Choosing an imperfect picture of God over the Logos tells me more about the person doing the choosing than about God.