An Always Present Grace
Often, as we read through the Old Testament, it feels like God is some sort of angry deity. We read some of the stories and think, “Woah dude, chill out.” Yet, when we read closer, we see how many times God warns the people.
And then warns the people again,
Now it feels like a loving parent who has asked their kid to pick up their shoes for the 100th time and finally loses their cool. It seems like that's a more apt description of how God relates to the people in the Old Testament.
I wonder if we can hold that image in our head while we read the stories of the Old Testament, if we can begin to really understand the God who is,
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
- Psalm 103:8, NIV
This psalm, in particular, paints a picture of the gracious God.
What strikes me is this line, “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:“. When the people of Israel thought of the writings of Moses, they thought of the first five books of the Bible. It is in these five texts that we have the revealing of God to Moses. As I have read those books over the years, I have struggled to see in them a “compassionate and gracious” deity. Yet, recently, I've been reading them while trying to hold this image of a loving parent reminding their children of what they need to do. As I do, I see the “slow to anger” bit come to the forefront. Particularly so when I try to imagine that the narrative bits of the text are not moments after one another. But are likely weeks or months, or maybe even years apart!
Grace is not something that showed up with Jesus. Grace is all over the Old Testament in as many diverse ways as it is in the New Testament. The God of the people of Israel is understood as the all-loving, all-forgiving, all-gracious God. Jesus is the perfect display of that grace, compassion, and loving-kindness. But it's not as though grace burst onto the scene with Paul's writing about Jesus.
Consider the opening lines of this Psalm:
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
This is not from Romans or Ephesians. This is not from 1 Peter or James. No, this is a Psalm.
When we read the Old Testament, we have to remember that there is something bigger happening. This vision of God is the overlay for the entire Old Testament.
The next time you read a story in the Old Testament where it seems that God is an angry, judgmental deity, ask yourself, “What else is going on here?” I think part of our responsibility as we enter into the stories of the Old Testament is to try and understand why the people were writing the way they were writing about God and remember that the overarching narrative is that of a gracious, sin-forgiving, justice-working God.