The Old Testament is Our Story
At the table recently with some eloquent friends I had just made, the after-dinner chatter meandered through international politics and culture. We eventually settled on religion and scripture. I was disturbed by what I heard.
The person seated across from me criticized the Church for continuing to offer public readings from the Old Testament. She argued that it was the “book of the Jews,” not ours. That it presented a vengeful God who had nothing to do with the God we meet in Jesus Christ. That it was full of fanciful fairy tales that should be jettisoned as misleading. Our book, so I was informed, is the New Testament, and all that we need to know is contained therein. She taught her children that the message of the Gospels is truth, but that the story of Adam and Eve is false.
Her ideas weren’t new. They were familiar, too. I’ve heard them from Marcion. I’ve heard them from Tuebingen. They were around a long time ago. Apparently, they still are.
The reason it disturbed me so much is that I am deeply moved by the beauty of what we refer to as the Old Testament. These are the Holy Scriptures that Jesus referred to, that Paul quoted eloquently, that the Apostles revered.
These are the words that are the foundation of our faith, from the same mouth that created the universe by speaking. They reveal a story of triumph and hope, of the joy that God brings to his people. I love Leviticus because it reminds me that God is interested in every single detail of my life. I love the Psalms and the Song of Solomon for its passionate poetry and imagery. I love the prophets, who point the way to what is to come with such obviousness, at least in hindsight, that their message trumpets even louder and with more potency than they themselves even realized.
I view the Old and New Testaments as two love letters. The first tells the story of how we fell in love, how it almost fell apart, how hard it was at the beginning, trying to stay together in the midst of so much heartache and misbehavior. The latter reminds us just how far the one who loves us would go to prove he means it.
Without the first story, the second is still powerful, but we miss out on the why. We miss the stage being set. We miss understanding why our forebears ached so much, and why we ache sometimes, too, just like they did.
There is a reason the Church appoints certain services for the reading of the Old Testament. There is a reason we remember Moses leading his people out of bondage (like Jesus would), Elijah raising a widow’s son from the dead (like Jesus would later) and his ascent into heaven, Jonah’s three days in the deep (like Jesus did), and Daniel’s friends in a Babylonian furnace (selected for the day we commemorate Jesus’ descent into hades), God’s prophecy to the serpent that his head would be crushed by the eventual progeny of the woman (gee, ya think?)…
But what it does even more is that it calls us into the narrative. It’s not a story about the other guy. It’s a story about us, who we are, how we got here, why we’re like this.
This glorious record of divine literature has been left on our doorstep for us to immerse ourselves in, to let it permeate us, to bring us closer to the bosom of God and fall ever deeper in love with him.
I like it.
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