Isn’t the God of the Old and New Testaments different? In the Old Testament we appear to encounter a vengeful, wrathful God who is jealous for worship alone, whilst in the New Testament, we apparently see a God of Love portrayed in the person of Jesus. How can this possibly be the case? I think the answer lies in the relationship between what holiness is and what love is.
I’d first like to thank my wonderful friends Heidi, Peter, Nicola and Mathew who, through their responses on a recent Facebook meme I posted, helped me to shape my thoughts surrounding the whole issue. And to Emma who encouraged me to take my comment from a reply on the thread to a blog post where more may read and engage with it.
When reading the OT one might be forgiven for majoring on the battles, bloodshed and that sort of thing. But at the same time written in there are words about being loved with an everlasting love, forgiveness.
Even in the famous John 3:16 which read
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” – John 3:16
The sentence starts with God before the incarnation of Jesus as being a God who loves the cosmos, but we often forget to add verse 17 after (maybe because placard banner wavers only know v16, or maybe it’s because they seek to condemn the passers by themselves?):
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:17
So we see the fulfilment of the Old Testament laws requirements in the person and work of Jesus, the God-man. This salvation comes not just to human beings, but the whole planet, which eagerly groans in expectation of the final day when heaven and earth combine harmoniously, and any discordance is removed.
“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” – Romans 8:19-22
The universal hope of the follower of Jesus Christ is that one day the state of things, the corruption of power, the land, people, everything which exists that has been corrupted due to its attempts to live without outside of the harmony of God will be released into that harmony once more.
However, we have to understand that God is infinitely holy (“something else” than the Creation), whilst being at the same time infinitely loving. The curse that came upon the creation was not the result of a vengeful God throwing a temper tantrum and thunderbolts from the sky at those who brought displeasure. The curse comes as a result of the discordant activity of human beings upon the land; it comes from rebellion against our created purposes – both for humans and non-humans. Time and again we read in the Bible that the land is defiled by the terrible actions of humans, and I believe this may lead to oppressive spiritual activity in certain places as a result. However, I digress and that’s another blog post on curses and blessings for another time, I’m sure. The curse mentioned there is a result of our rebellious activities, bringing disharmony within the creation. If you commit atrocities (upon human beings or non-human beings), the land will vomit you out – not Gaia hypothesis, but words from the Bible itself, and evidenced in the stories of the people within it.
Holiness is about seeking to remove that which is spiritually corrupting and damaging to the very creation, both human and non-human. It is love which is the prime motive behind holiness. Love for God, human and non-human life. There are laws, deep magic, written into the fabric of the universe which if broken lead to discord in the harmony of the universe. Holiness is about seeking to restore that harmony through an understanding of those laws and effecting change through the power of the One who chooses to work relationally with the Creation in order to restore that harmony.
But, like an orchestra conductor with a symphonic orchestra, where some people may choose to play a different tune from the one intended by the conductor and the rest of the orchestra, why should the conductor allow them to disrupt the performance of beautiful music for the enjoyment of the audience, conductor and other players? The holiness of God is there for the benefit of all, be it God, human and non-human. Ultimately the Creator will reconcile all things to himself and everything will once more be in harmony – with humans though this is an impossibility, but with God all things are possible.
In the orchestral analogy, there are many different instrument players, all skilled in different things. For me, this represents the various different people groups in time and space, and even the very creatures, plants and rocks of the earth. If they seek the guidance of the conductor (even if they might not fully understand who that conductor is (and I don’t fully understand God)), and seek to live their lives in the rhythm and tune of the Cosmos, then why shouldn’t the Great Conductor be pleased with them?
In the end, my understanding is that I see through a glass darkly (what I understand is a mere shadow of the ultimate reality of the universe and its Creator).
I understand the love of Creator God loving the world enough to be completely engaged with it through the emptying of his “otherness” (though not divinity) into the full life of a human:
1. The vulnerability of an unborn child in a society which would have harsh “man made” penalties for women who became pregnant out of full wedlock (and so could have ended up with him and his mother being killed – no wonder he intervened in the way women were being treated by society). God associates with the outcast completely as human.
2. The vulnerability of a young child when there was an attempt to kill him – and the subsequent fleeing into exile in Egypt. God associates with the immigrant and refugee completely as a human being.
3. As a young rabbi who shows the fulfilment of the law in both himself and in the counter-cultural ways of radical love shown towards “sinners”, the diseased, the half-half people racially (Samaritans or Mudbloods in Potterspeak), the other culturally (Romans), the hated (tax collectors) and so on. The one who summed up all the hundreds of laws into the universal law: Love God holistically, body mind and spirit, and love your neighbour (the entire ecosystem) as yourself (the Universal Rule). God is on the side of the Creation, calling its attention to the Great Conductor, Jesus Christ.
4. He then chooses to allow the biggest injustice of all – the humiliating death by crucifixion. Allowing himself to be subject to human injustice means God fully and experientially knows what it’s like to receive the injustice of human systems.
5. But the deeper magic of God, the law of self-sacrificial love means that when one who is without blemish gives themselves up in place of one who rebels against the universal laws, who sows discord into the Great Harmony, death unwinds and life is resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus, the God-Man means that new life is promised, not just for human beings but for the whole planet.
6. This Jesus then ascends into the higher dimensions to fill the entire universe with himself.
“He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” Ephesians 4:10
He now underpins, infuses and upholds the entire existence of the universe – there really is no place Jesus is not. And for me, that’s why he is the ultimate expression of the Green Man found in the carvings of many ancient cathedrals and in the great mythologies of this world. He is truly the “God of Green Hope”.
“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” – Romans 15:13 (Msg)
The God of the Universe isn’t a far off, uncaring God who is to be served out of fear of hell-fire (though some sadly do teach that, and actually, that’s how I came to Jesus – out of fear (this has since been remedied!)). We are called back into relationship, into harmony with the Creator, with the Creation and we do it out of complete love for who Jesus is and what he has done as the God-Man, exhibited by his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We are called to dance and play in harmony with every part of the creation as it attempts to sing the praises of its Creator, resonating to its very best ability with the Great Harmony.
Certainly some may not want to recognise the authority of the Great Composer and may like to jazz things a bit, and I believe the Great Symphony does have scope for jazz. I do believe that the earnest musician, however they like their music may be drawn alongside by the Great Composer and helped to develop their skills and talents in their own way to be able to craft something which is still harmonious to the greater whole though. We have a gracious and loving Composer who has made us each with different interests, tastes and talents in the Great Symphony.
I choose to worship and honour the Great Composer and follow the Conductor not because of a fear of hell-fire, but because by doing so I seek to live in accordance with that Universal Rule, to play harmoniously in the Great Symphony. I do this because the Composer loves me enough to model what it means to be the fully spiritual human being in tune completely with the harmony of God and the Universe; this Composer knows what it’s like to be an instrumental player himself. I will not be in tune completely without following the leading of the incarnated Great Conductor, Jesus, whose life exemplifies what it means to be in tune with the Creator of the Great Symphony.
How many people really can hear the sacred music as it sounds across our sacred land of old?
Take some time to stop what you’re doing now, and listen deeply in the Silence, where you may hear the delicate strains of the Great Symphony, and the attune yourself into it through the teachings of the Composer, recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Every blessing in the Name of the Great Composer, Conductor and Music.