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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “What Lies Beneath”
The Tree of Harmony, introduced in personified(ponified?) form in this episode, is the closest thing the MLP:FIM universe has to a deity, and one line she had caught me for today’s devotional.
When she gives the Student Six their “test”, she caps it off by saying they must pass it or “here you will stay”. Obviously, the Student Six passed their test, and we find at the end that the Tree of Harmony might have been expecting them to pass all along.
However, I thought of something on rewatch…what if they hadn’t passed? She said “here you will stay”. What does that mean? That they’d be stuck down there until someone came to get them? That they’d have to repeat the test until they passed? That they’d be trapped down there forever? Would she, in fact, be punishing them for not realizing they were friends? And if she did, would that level of punishment be merited?
Thinking about that eventually led me to thinking about God again and, in particular, the inner conflict a lot of Christians have with their faith: reconciling God of the Old Testament with God of the New Testament.
While many Christians are able to think of the two as one, in my experience many Christians prefer to focus on the New Testament. Truth be told, most of what applies to the Christian faith is found in the New Testament, and there’s a lot in the Old Testament that’s genealogies, blueprints for palaces and places of worship, and the proper way to offer holocausts, peace offerings, and sin offerings—none of which really applies to the Christian nowadays. However, those aren’t the things that I think any of us honestly dislike about the Old Testament. There are passages that are far harder to digest.
I’m talking about when God smote the firstborn of Egypt, even the animals, (Exodus 12:29-30) after he made Pharaoh stubborn enough to refuse to let the Israelites go in spite of the plagues (Exodus 7:3-5). I’m talking about when God told the Israelites to annihilate the nations of Canaan down to the last child (Deuteronomy 15:16-18). I’m talking about how in the Mosaic Law the Israelites were told they could take women and children as “war booty” for themselves after killing all males when fighting other nations (Deuteronomy 20:12-14), and how, while Israelite slaves were to be released at an appointed time, foreign-born slaves were allowed to be retained forever (Leviticus 25:39-46).
I’d like to think any Christian who has ever praised and worshiped about the “never-ending, never-failing, reckless Love of God” and who believes God hates the evils of war, racism, and slavery would probably feel at least a little uncomfortable reading these passages. The fact is it’s a hard thing to reconcile. I myself read the Bible cover-to-cover in my own devotional life, and when I get to the New Testament and start reading passages about God’s Mercies I can’t help but think back to the Old Testament about God’s Wrath. At times, it makes me begin to doubt the former of the two.
I’ve seen Christians try to reconcile this in different ways. One way is simply denial. I know some Christians who rationalize that everything in the Old Testament was written by men of the time and biased, while everything in the New Testament is the “real” Word of God. However, most of us know that’s not true. Paul said it (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” [2 Timothy 3:16]) and, more importantly, if we start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and which parts are made up, then logically our whole faith and belief has to be called into question as there’s no reason not to think that Jesus’ Sacrifice and salvation aren’t lies as well.
An answer that’s more satisfactory for some refers to the fact of God’s omniscience. Naturally, we all believe God wants all sinners to come to repentance, and that only God knows the heart. Therefore, God himself is the best judge of when a person should be shown mercy and when judgment should fall upon them, and all will happen in its proper time according to his Will. Therefore, when incidents of violence and war happen in the Bible by God’s will, it was because it was “a time to kill” (Ecclesiastes 3:3); a point when mercy would no longer be effective and this was the only recourse.
I believe that, but leaving it at that can potentially raise new problems. How do we know when an act of violence, terror, or destruction is an evil to be condemned or is the Will of God? That is, after all, what groups like the Westboro Baptist Church endorse. They praise the deaths of American soldiers as divine punishment for the USA not outlawing homosexuality. It’s also what a lot of extremists who resort to murder to enforce what they think of as God’s Will believe. And if we do get to the point where we start concluding in the modern day that people can execute the Will of God as the ancient Israelites did through war and plunder, then I fear we start to tread dangerously close to one of the oldest Christian (and religious) dilemmas: the Socratic Argument.
The Socratic Argument is one of the primary logical arguments used against religion being morally right. The basic dilemma is: “Is something morally right because God says it is, or does God say it’s morally right because it is?” The argument some Christians make to me sounds much like the former of the two options, and that, to me, is a dangerous precedent to follow. Not only does it make good and evil arbitrary, something I refuse to believe God would ever condone, but it allows any pastor or self-proclaimed “prophet” to come along and say God told them something completely contradictory to the Bible and then say it’s morally right.
To me, God doesn’t tell us not to kill simply because he wants to “do the job himself”, but because it’s wrong. While there are always exceptions or special circumstances, such as defending other people or oneself, a rule is, the far majority of the time, a rule.
So how do I reconcile the two?
I’ll admit, some days I have a hard time doing it even now. However, the best practice that I currently have is trying to take the Bible in its entirety.
While I myself am not a Lutheran, one of the best pieces of theology I ever received from them was the idea that everything recorded in the Old Testament and the New Testament is for a purpose to the people living today. As such, although it is indeed divinely inspired, there are aspects of God’s nature that are accented and magnified in different sections of the Bible for the purpose of instruction rather than the whole picture of God being gained from just one passage, chapter, or book. First and foremost: the Old Testament is a message to sinners about the requirements of holiness and the wrath of God, while the New Testament is about the way to salvation and the mercies of God. One side emphasizes one aspect of God’s nature more than the other, but it’s still the same God.
It’s important to note that while the New Testament is heavy on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, it’s not without some “wrath” of it’s own. There’s the episode in Acts of the Apostles where Christians are struck dead for trying to cheat the community (Acts 5:1-11), and then there’s the entire Book of Revelation in which most of the terror and wrath comes from angels in Heaven.
Likewise, the Old Testament is far from being void of God’s mercy. Even in Genesis, God outlines how as little as ten righteous people in a city filled from top to bottom with evildoers would be enough to make him overlook their wickedness (Genesis 18:23-32). Jesus’ “new commandment” in the Gospels (John 13:34) is nothing more than a commandment from the Mosaic Law that was overlooked (Leviticus 19:18). In the Book of Jonah, God didn’t sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh with the intent of telling them all of their impending death but to save their lives by spurring them to repent, which they did. And to Ezekiel, God explicitly said he doesn’t take any pleasure in striking sinners dead. Instead, he takes pleasure in their repentance (Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11).
In both examples, the Bible shows that just as the God of the New Testament is the same God with terrible holiness and anger in the Old Testament, it also says that same God from the Old Testament possesses the mercy and love of the God of the New Testament. This I choose to have faith in as much as I have faith in Christ.
My prayer for today is that we all may never lose sight of the totality of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and that we are all able to accept all of the Word of God as useful for our own instruction and building up…even the difficult parts.
After all, if Christianity was meant to always be easy, Jesus wouldn’t have warned us about it (Matthew 10:22).
Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word as contained in the Bible and its message to all people—to the sinner, the warning of God’s judgment, the demands of the Law, and the sentence of condemnation; to the Christian, the victory of Lord Jesus, the overwhelming power of God’s mercies, and the promise of eternal life. Help me to cling to both and never embrace one so much I forget the other. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”