- Tuesday, 9 May 2006
It occurs to me that Christianity may very well have the wrong end of the stick in their view of God. If nothing else, surely what the old testament and the gospels teach us is that God is a covenant God. Jesus said that his blood was the blood of the new covenant; looking back, the Mosaic law is described as the old covenant; he made covenants also with Abraham and David. Perhaps we should not think of God as one who simply sits in the clouds handing out laws. Rather, he is a God who makes covenants with his people; fellowship in return for blessing. . . .
With the people of Israel God made two covenants. The first was at Sinai, beginning with the ten commandments covering chapters 20 to 23 of Exodus. These are almost exclusively commandments of worship for God and social justice amongst the Israelites, with very little about sacrifical specifications or ritual purity. Chapter 24 describes the confirmation of this covenant and the people's agreement to abide by the terms written within the 'book of the covenant.' The second covenant was made in the lands east of the Jordan River, before Moses died and the people crossed over (Deuteronomy 29:1), and covers chapters 5 to 28 of Deuteronomy (with the earlier chapters being the preamble). Laws concerning such things as legal cases, the king, cities of refuge and warfare regulations (chapters 17 to 20) make it clear that this is essentially the constitution of the new nation of Israel.
How can it be that at one time it was "sinful" to sow a field with two kinds of seed, or wear a garment made of two kinds of cloth (Leviticus 19:19), yet Christians now would almost universally consider these to be silly and outdated concepts? Why did commands like that exist in the first place? I believe they were intended to ingrain into the Israelite people the concept of their separateness from the nations around them, to reinforce and strengthen their own national identity. But then, that same kind of practical purpose seems to obviously underlie the prohibition against same-sex relations too (or the exclusion of anyone who'd suffered genital injuries in Deut. 23:1): A small nation surrounded by enemies would likely need all its people breeding to maintain its strength. Crude and even cruel though those laws may have been, at least we might be able to glean a worthy intention behind them.
But the Christian concept of "sin" as it is usually expressed seems to be utterly blind to the fact that these were part of a covenant - an agreement - between God and Israel, one which the author of Hebrews declared to be obsolete. And according to Jeremiah the new covenant is not to be found in letters of stone or ink in a book; instead "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother, saying 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest" (Jer. 31:31-34). (See also my earlier thread Did apostles think they were writing the 'word of God'?)
Likewise Paul - though he himself remained hung up on homosexuality - captures the more individual nature of the New Agreement perfectly, even as he downplays the everlasting covenant of circumcision:
- Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. . . .
13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, â€œYou shall love your neighbor as yourself.â€� 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Romans 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before Godâ€™s judgment seat. 11 It is written: â€œâ€˜As surely as I live,â€™ says the Lord, â€˜every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.â€™â€�
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.
And if the essence of God's will is simply that "You shall love your neighbour as yourself," as Paul says, isn't homosexuality one of the most obvious examples in which freedom in Christ replaces the situational rules of Israel?
An example in fact where Christian attitudes often seem to be almost the opposite of love?