One of the biggest questions Christians face is how to square the message and life of Jesus with the portrayal of God in the Old Testament.
Jesus taught nonviolence. Jesus chose to lay down his life and die on a cross rather than fight back. Christians believe Jesus was not just a great teacher, but was (and is) God in the flesh. Thus, Jesus is the Word of God.
But…the Bible is the Word of God too, right? And God in the Old Testament often commands the slaughter of lots of people.
I’ve wrestled with this issue and read many books. The best, and most thorough, is Greg Boyd’s two-volume Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Boyd knows the easiest method would be simply to toss out the Old Testament, but his convictions on the inspiration of scripture do not allow that. Instead, he takes seriously all of scripture and seeks to figure out a way to interpret it all that honors God and centers on Jesus.
The biggest take-away (or one of them) from Boyd’s work is this question – do you believe Jesus is the final and definitive image of God or one of many images of God?
If we take Jesus as the Word of God against which all else must be measured, then we know that whatever the rest of scripture means, we know God does not command murder. But if Jesus is just one of many words of God, as if sometimes God commands murder but sometimes love, then we reduce Jesus and our Trinity really is God the Father, the Bible and the Spirit. Further, it becomes difficult to answer how we do not know God may never command murder again.
Boyd’s solution to the violent portrayals rests too in the person of Jesus. In Jesus, we see God allowing humans to do evil against him. This becomes programmatic – God has always allowed humans to do and say evil or wrong things. So in a culture where everyone believed their gods commanded murder, God allowed the Israelites to believe this too. There is more to Boyd’s interpretation method than just this, but this was the biggest new idea to me.
Overall, this is not a perfect book. When Boyd tries to bring in his Open Theism and engage with Aquinas, even an amateur understanding of Classical Theism sees the problems. Apart from that, if we take Jesus as who Christians have always believed him to be, there is not just nothing here wrong but so much here that falls into place and makes sense. I am greatly thankful for this book.