I‘ve learned to love the Old Testament and its mess of stories and images so horrifying and heartbreaking that they’re difficult to reconcile with the picture of God we get in Christ.
But Jesus validates the Old Testament, and so I’ve come to a place where I enjoy wrestling with this inspiring (and often frustrating) collection of books. But there are ways that many churches and pastors handle the Old Testament that can exacerbate my issues with it:
1. We ignore the horror.
When my daughter was eight, she decided she was going to read through the Bible. As a pastor, I was thrilled. That was until she came down a couple nights later and wanted me to explain why Lot was sleeping with his daughters (Gen. 19:30-36) … awkward.
It’s humorous to me when Christians want to censor books, music or media because of the questionable content. I mean, seriously … HAVE YOU EVER READ YOUR BIBLE!? It’s full of crazy, horribly sexual and violent stories. Here are a couple that come to mind:
- God sends an angel to kill all of Egypt’s first-born sons—and livestock (Ex. 12:29).
- The Israelites slaughter the Amorites by sword, and God helps finish them off with large hail (Josh. 10:10-11).
- When Judah commands Onan to sleep with his brother’s wife and God kills him for throwing his semen on the ground (Gen. 38:8-10).
- When a concubine is gang raped by wicked men and dies, and her master cuts her into 12 pieces and sends her to Israel’s tribes (Judges 19:22-29).
Large portions of the Old Testament are a complete freak show. I think that to be honest with God, Scripture and ourselves, we have to sit within the dissonance that these stories create. We shouldn’t ignore them for the more palatable sections and we shouldn’t be so quick to explain them away.
It’s often not the difficulties in these stories that I find so hard to swallow but the ways that I’ve heard them reconciled and excused.
2. We whitewash OT stories for children.
I spent 15 years in the Christian retail industry, and I’ve seen almost every Bible storybook for children there is. You know what I haven’t seen in these books?
- Pictures of Noah’s ark surround by thousands of dead bodies in the flood
- Naked Noah passed out in his tent
- A young David cutting off a defeated Goliath’s head
- King Darius feeding Daniel’s accusers to the lions
- The 3,000 Philistines crushed by Samson in the temple
- Elisha cursing taunting youth with mauling bears
Yes, on some level I’m being facetious. Little kids don’t know how to process that kind of stuff. But we need to realize that the when we focus on Genesis 6’s cute animals and rainbows, we create problems for later.
Many kids who’ve gone through years of Sunday school and youth group Bible lessons grow into adults who have a very different and one-dimensional view of humanity, God and the Old Testament. When (if) they discover these stories for themselves, or when they’re confronted by a skeptic with the dark side of many of them, they’re surprised and can feel misled.