Out Growing The Old Testament?
It has become very popular to ridicule and mock the Hebrew Bible, what christians namely call "the Old Testament.” I am not fond of calling it the “Old Testament,” it makes it sound like my grandmas old record player (though these are apparently hip now), outdated by time. After all, Jesus did not have a New Testament, he had his relevant scriptures, the scriptures of his ancestors, the sacred writings. There have been many who have hurled insults at the Hebrew scriptures, calling it names, saying it’s misogynistic, evil and should be done away with completely. What I want to propose is this, “Are we really that much better than the people in the Hebrew writings?” I mean, as a society, have we really out grown tribal cults and identity markers? In America alone we have death sentences for criminals and evil people, we have prisons and society markers that say, “you have crossed the line,” we have been through multiple wars as a nation. In fact, we had a war against each other over slavery and many issues, and although sad, it is true that people are still mad that they lost their right to own people.
My Answer to the question "have we outgrown these things?" is this: No with a big fat N. We still have tribal identities. Take music for instance, look at the punk rock scene (which I came out of); for someone to be punk rock it becomes who you are, and you hang out with people just like you listening to the same music, dressing the same and acting the same (What is your music identity?). Think about any tribal identity, because they are everywhere and yes, they are in our modern apparently enlightened educated society (a tribal identity is not just some remote tribe living in the woods eating bugs and drinking river water). Human beings naturally cultivate around other human beings who share the same ways of living as they do, who talk the same talk, who love the same things and think the same. This is what makes humans formulate communities, of which I have called "identity markers” things of which make us stand out amongst those we view as “the everyone else but not us club," and anyone who opposes our tribal cult we have labels for this, bigot, heretic, poser, you can fill in the _____ …..
What I want to propose is this; what if the bizarre ancient writings Christians call the "Old Testament" and of which Jews call the "Hebrew Bible" have a lot to teach us as Believers? I mean, Jesus was very fond of his ancestral writings, so much so that he quotes and alludes to them multiple times. What if in our process to grow past the Hebrew Bible because we find it uncomfortable and weird, we are in danger of actually growing past the God who inspired these writings for his people? Many reading this are probably thinking,”really, did he just say that or take it there?” Yes, I did. The Hebrew Bible records not just wars, and desert people wandering meaninglessly in a desert just waiting for bushes to catch fire so they can hear voices, but it actually tells us about the journey of faith and the God who is always present with us despite us and our bizarre scary behavioral habits. To make my point that much more clear, the Hebrew writings speak about wars, tribal identity markers (food laws, clothing laws, etc) just like our own weird American identity markers that make us true “Americans", namely eating cheeseburgers and watching sports while drinking beer. Trust me, as a guy like me who is gluten free and has many dietary restrictions, I often feel like a canaanite at the parties. One of the things I love about reading the Hebrew Bible is this, it makes you come face to face with our broken attempts at truly being “human." It does not cover up our ugliness or shy away from pain, suffering and brokenness. Every character in the script of the Bible has some embarrassing episode that could be on Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil. Think of the father of our faith (Abraham) lying about his wife while allowing the Egyptians to take her as their own. There are so many examples I could point out, that it’s well, embarrassing. But lets talk about us who have outgrown these tribal characters of the past, have we as a society really done any better? I would recommend checking out the statistics before answering yes and amen.
Underneath the people in the Hebrew Scriptures is this belief that God is with those who have faith, who trust him despite their present circumstances, even with all the good the bad and the ugly in our lives. The Hebrew writers have many things to say about God, and each writer expresses their faith differently. We have books like Job that deal with theodicy (the problem of suffering), while having psalms that are full of singing and praising (though psalms have laments as well). We have books that talk about everything being meaningless and with no bright sunny future ahead (Ecclesiastes) and then poetic and prophetic books that paint vivid pictures of a hopeful future and vision for those trusting God (Isaiah). The Hebrew Bible is about a people who are on a journey discovering what it means to be humans functioning in communities that are attempting to worship the God who is what he is, the great I am, the one bigger and better than anything we can think or imagine, the incomprehensible one who is full of light, truth, justice, righteousness, holiness and perfection with a capital P. This God was everything to the Hebrews, so much so that they wanted to give themselves fully devoted to him, and separate themselves so they could reflect the better image (tribal identity). After all we are all devoting our time, energy, to the things we believe in, even if these things have no "god," or religious background to them. Our beliefs define us, because we are what we believe in and trust in.
My last point, I promise (I know your yawning)......
Let us be very careful to not dismiss the Hebrew scriptures as outdated irrelevant writings. If we approach the Hebrew Bible with humility, just maybe we will see their journey as our journey, their longings as our longings, their hope as our hopes, their messiness as our messiness, their attempts at being holy as our attempts at being holy, their pursuit of justice and truth as our pursuit of justice and truth. Because in all of this, Jesus some how saw himself wrapped up in this large body of writings by entering into the large religious world called "Judaism." If we want to know Jesus, I suggest we start reading the scriptures that shaped him from boyhood until he reached manhood, and just maybe we will hear God’s voice by reading this vast body of ancient literature called “The sacred Hebraic Scriptures." - Casey Dayton