Unchanging God

  • By Rev. Phil Kuntz
  • August 7, 2015
The Old Testament can be difficult to understand. Sometimes when we read stories in it, we dismiss them without a second thought. “What has that got to do with Christ?” we ask. We think, “Jesus wouldn’t flood the whole world;” “Jesus wouldn’t ask a father to murder to his son;” “Jesus wouldn’t enact cruel plagues upon a nation.” There are clear differences between the Old Testament and New Testament. We face the challenge, then, of deciding for ourselves what to do with the Old Testament. How shall we regard it? Does it have the same authority as the New Testament? Did God change since Moses’ day? What do Old Testament stories have to do with Jesus? Let us pray that God helps us make sense of these ancient, Holy Scriptures. The first, and I think most important, way to go about answering these questions is to recall the relationship Christ shares with the Old Testament Scriptures. They were his Bible. He knew them backwards and forwards. They deeply inform, even dictate, his ministry. Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” In other words, the scriptures contained in what we call the Old Testament are the essence of Christ’s ministry. All he did for us — the healings, the teachings, the sacrifice — are notions based on the Old Testament. We are indebted to it. It is holy. It is sacred. The church simply would not exist without it. I have to remind myself of these fundamental truths when I delve into certain Old Testament passages. One such passage is this week’s Old Testament lectionary  reading, 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33. In it, King David’s son, Absalom, dies. In one sense, Absalom had it coming; he was trying to overturn his father’s kingdom. However, in another sense, the text disturbs us. Close readers realize that Absalom’s death is not the result of his sins, but of his father’s. Earlier in 2 Samuel, David commits adultery, then covers it up by way of murder. God says to David, “I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house.” Absalom’s revolt against David’s kingdom is the result of David’s own sin. The most important connection between the Old and New Testaments, as I see it, is that both deal with the way humans understand God. The Bible contains centuries and generations of people trying mightily to explain why bad things happen, what role God plays in tragedy. In many Old Testament stories, especially before the exilic period, God punishes sin on Earth in visible, dramatic ways. It is a “tit for tat” sort of justice. Absalom’s revolt, and subsequent death, is David’s punishment. What could be worse than losing a child? As time goes on and generations pass, humanity’s understanding of God changes. Jesus’ ministry influences humanity’s view of God. Love and mercy emerge as key divine characteristics. To be clear, God never changes, just the way we understand Him. If it weren’t for David, we probably wouldn’t have Christ. Though Christ has given us an incomparable glimpse of our God, I believe we’re still on the journey today. We pray, O God, that You reveal Yourself to us.