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What We Know After Six BooksNow that we have completed six books of the Bible, as well as the Psalm that Moses wrote, it is worthwhile to take stock of what we have learned about God and man in light of what is usually taught in today’s church sermons. The Bible can be a very complicated book, of that there is no doubt. It is sometimes made even more so by the fact that many Christians today seem to want to cut themselves completely off from the Old Testament. It is easy to see why there is a natural reaction against what is portrayed in the Old Testament, given the multitude of difficult passages that are there, especially given how they conflict with the ideas and concepts most of us believe to be true relating to God’s love and mercy.
But it is important for Christians to know what the Old Testament teaches, not only because it is the first impression that God has given, and therefore the first things that He wants us to know about Himself and about our own natures, but also because opponents of Christianity read the Bible (sometimes more frequently than Christians do) and are adept at taking verses out of context and imputing the worst possible meaning to them. If you are not familiar with the difficult passages, then not only are you unable to respond to a skeptic, but you may find yourself in danger of becoming a skeptic yourself. For that reason, I believe it is a huge disservice to the church that so few who take on the name Christian ever read anything from the Old Testament.
So this is not the place to sugar-coat or try to dilute the truth. Let us engage in the entire truth that we have revealed so far. It is abundantly clear that God is a sovereign God. He created all things and He rules all things. It is also clear that there are aspects of His nature that seem, to us, to be arbitrary. A lot of this is because God does not explain Himself to us, and indeed points out that He need not do so. Instead, God behaves as one who has the right to do as He pleases because…well, He does have that right.
But God’s sovereignty goes to uncomfortable places. Places that, if we are to be Biblical Christians, we must go as well. God commanded the deaths of people we see as innocent. God sent plagues to kill thousands of His own people when they sinned. God Himself, through the angel of death, killed every single firstborn of Egypt—including those who were infants. This is not something that we can pretend never happened by simply ignoring the passages where we get uncomfortable.
God destroys certain people actively, such as Pharaoh who was raised for that very purpose or Lot’s wife when she was turned to a pillar of salt. Others, He destroys indirectly, such as when He permitted Satan to use various evil people to kill Job’s children. Others, for seemingly no reason—and He even says it is not for anything in them—God decides to save. He makes covenant after covenant with them, forgiving their many sins though they are not any better than the nations God is destroying. Again, from our perspective, this looks arbitrary because He does as He pleases simply because He is God.
It would be tempting to think that if God is sovereign then we are bound to some kind of view of fatalism. Yet while God acts in His creation, He almost always acts through secondary means. This does not mean He never acts directly, for I have mentioned many ways already in which He has acted directly, but it is clear from many passages that more frequently than not He uses compatibilistic methods. God is in complete control of what happens to such an extent that He is even said to be sovereign over the evil that occurs, and despite that the freedom of individuals is not harmed. Indeed, one could say that it is actually established because God ordains the means to His ends, not just the ends in isolation.
Men are responsible for their own actions, even though God has divinely determined what those actions will be, and that includes evil actions. We see some of the tension that can bring about is resolved when we grasp that, as in the case of Joseph’s brothers, what people may mean for evil God means for good.
In the end, when we sift through everything that we’ve read so far, we are left with a question that we must answer honestly. Is the God that you have read about in Job, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Psalm 90 the same God who you worship today? If He is not—if your God would never do what God is depicted as doing in these books, including all the difficult passages—then I hope you realize that the God you worship is not the God of the Bible, and therefore is not the real God but instead is an idol you have fashioned for yourself. And while God is merciful, He has also shown that there are consequences for sin, and that one of His primary concerns relates to how He is worshipped. If you find God as He’s demonstrated Himself so far in the Bible to be repulsive, I urge you to consider if you really follow Him. He wanted everyone to know these things about Him first and foremost, after all. There must be some reason for it.