A few nights ago I caught the end of a conversation on the radio about whether the God of the Bible changes between the New Testament and the Old Testament.
“In the Old Testament, God seems wrathful, and meticulous in requiring laws and restrictions,” said one commentator, to paraphrase.
“In the New Testament, God is merciful, and more like a father than a judge.”
The conversation wound up in the usual discussion about the economy of law verses the economy of grace.
That’s certainly an interesting discussion, but I’ve always found it more interesting to examine how the God of the Bible differs from gods in other traditions.
For example, the Book of Genesis contains two accounts of creation. One is a little more primitive, but the other is more theologically sophisticated and demonstrates that God created the universe out of nothing. In theological terms they call this “ex nihilo.”
At first blush that may not seem particularly important, until one realizes how unusual that was in the ancient world.
For example, Babylonian creation myths speak of the god, Marduk, organizing creation out of elements that already existed. Daosim and some Polynesian creation myths still teach this. A variation of the idea can also be seen in Plato’s “Timaeus,” where creation essentially comes about through emanations from a kind of demi-god.
Matter, in myths like these, is eternal, and the whole point of the creation is myth is to explain the “how” of creation: Marduk dismembers his mother, and creates the world out of her carcass.
Christianity is much more concerned with the “why” of creation, even if Christians disagree about the “how.”
I don’t think that in my lifetime believers will resolve their differences over creationism and evolution. Some, like me, don’t see any contradiction between the idea that God created the world, and the fact that life seems to be evolving. Others, who interpret the Bible literally, think evolution topples the whole house of cards.
Christian creation stories reveal a profound truth: God created the universe, and humankind, for the sake of calling it all back to Godself in a loving embrace. Redemption and salvation are the reasons for creation. That may seem counterintuitive, unless one understands God as over-abundant love that cannot contain itself. God always acts in freedom, but the very nature of love is to create relationship, and in creating humankind God created a dialogue partner, an “other” with whom to share God’s love.
The gods of ancient, pagan religions were remote, distant from their creations, detached. Creation, for them, almost seems like whim. The God of the Bible is intimately involved in creation, thoroughly interested, and that intimacy reveals itself in the personal relationship God establishes between Godself and God’s creatures.
Perhaps there is a noticeable difference between God’s character in the Old and New Testaments, but the constants of the story are concern, interest and intimacy. Unlike Marduk, God creates for a reason, and we are living out the ongoing story of that love affair.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal