5 ways of approaching the God of the Old Testament (adapted from Alden Thompson):
1. Avoidance – only the New Testament is read devotionally and we try to shut out of our minds stories such as the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah. The commands for genocide become a distant memory . . . the rape of the Levite’s concubine is forgotten, etc.
2. Idealizing – we use the Old Testament but try to put a glossy spin on every story. The positive story of the patriarchs is told while neglecting their practice of polygamy; the positive story of David and Goliath is told without considering the violent decapitation, etc.
3. Idolizing – we wish that the violent God of the Old Testament would show his muscle more today. “Destroying our enemies by fire – now that is what a real God is supposed to be like . . . someday he will come and vanquish our enemies like he used to!”
4. Mocking – the God of the Old Testament is not seen as worthy of worship and we join Mark Twain and Richard Dawkins in mocking the stories:
“Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness… It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light…by contrast…To trust the God of the Bible is to trust an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master…” – Mark Twain
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal…pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins
5. Realism – we recognize the distinct differences between Jesus and the God of the Old Testament. We allow this uncomfortable contrast to become evident and to even disturb our theological paradigms. Perhaps if we linger here long enough, however, we may come to better recognize the incredibly violent time and culture of the Old Testament. We may become driven to re-read the stories of the patriarchs once again and to understand how far even many of our heroes of faith had fallen from the ideal. In this journey, we may come to understand that God stooped to use violent words as the only means to reach a violent people…we may come to see that God is often described as doing what he instead allowed to occur…we may come to see that, for their own protection, God’s enemy is virtually left out of the story in the Old Testament even though he is actively a part of it…we may come to appreciate how far God stopped to maintain contact with the human race…and perhaps when we hear Jesus say, “You have heard it said eye for an eye, but I say love your enemies” we may finally come to appreciate that the entire Bible is a book that points to Jesus as the climax and the true revelation of God’s character. Perhaps then, the Old Testament can even become part of the evidence used in the defense of God’s character.