God and Choice Theory: Some Thoughts
A few days ago I posted a question on why the God of the Old Testament seems to behave so differently than He does in the New Testament. Was the God of the Old Testament a choice theorist? Several of you commented on this topic – thank you, Paul, Bob, and Tom for helping us with this conversation. I, too, will attempt a comment. What follows is my two cents worth –
Comparing the behavior of God in the Old Testament to His behavior in the New Testament has challenged the thinking of theologians for centuries. There seems to be such marked differences between the two, yet we know that the same God was centrally involved both before (during) and after the Cross. Why the difference?
I don’t claim to have the answer to this vital question. Since coming into an appreciation for choice theory I must admit that I have thought about the question with greater interest. In the process, I have come to recognize the importance of the power of choice and the freedom with which God created us. And since we are created in His image I have to believe that these are qualities He values a great deal. With that in mind, I offer the following ideas to the discussion –
1) The Old Testament Had Its Flaws
Heresy, you may say, but hold on. I actually got this idea from Jesus. A significant section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48) is devoted to Jesus pointing out that “You have heard that the law says . . .” whereupon He comments on things like anger, murder, adultery, divorce, vows, vengeance, and relationships. After stating what the Old Testament law supposedly demanded, He surprises us by continuing with ” . . . but I say unto you . . .” whereupon He shares a much different response, a decidedly different way of being. Don’t return violence for violence, he encourages, but instead give your cheek to be slapped if that will help. Don’t only want to be in relationship with friends, he offers, but instead behave in a way that will even show love to people you consider to be your enemy.
Jesus, who is the God of the Old Testament, must have had a huge challenge communicating with the human race. I think we really don’t understand the gulf that sin created between us and heaven. Only God coming to our little outpost called earth, and showing us who He really is and what He is really like, would begin to shed light on the events of the Old Testament.
2) We Struggled with LSL (Love as a Second-Language)
As a result of sin, the gulf between earth and heaven was wide, and our ability to commune with God directly was broken. Not severed, but seriously damaged. God’s primary language, which is love, became foreign to us. Communication was an issue. Some of the Bible writers seemed to get this language of love; others not so much. A passage in Genesis is relevant here.
“And the LORD told Moses, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go.” Ex 4:21
I don’t think that God reached down and forced pharaoh to be obstinate. Most of us agree that God simply knew in advance how pharaoh was going to react to Moses’ demands. This seems to be an example of the kinds of misleading passages sometimes found in the Old Testament. Bible writers said it the best way they knew how, and maybe said it in the way they thought their hearers or readers would understand, but something was lost in the translation.
Many Bible writers did “get” God’s love language, though, and the Old Testament is full of such examples. Take, for instance, a passage from the Psalms.
Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings.
O Israel, if you would only listen to me!
You must never have a foreign god; you must not bow down before a false god.
For it was I, the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.
But no, my people wouldn’t listen. Israel did not want me around.
So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas.
Oh, that my people would listen to me. Psalms 81:8-13
This description reveals a God anxious to fill people with good things, and hurt and frustrated that His people didn’t even want Him around. Instead of fire and brimstone and threats and punishment, it simply says then He let us follow our own stubborn desires and live according to our own ideas. To me, this writer is capturing a more accurate picture of God; a picture that emphasizes His love for us, and at the same time reminds us of our ability to either embrace Him and what He stands for or to tell Him to take a hike. And even in the midst of our telling Him to take a hike, He continues to love and support us; to seek us out; to save us.
Language is important. And the words we choose are important, especially so when they depict the character of God. An obvious theme throughout scripture is the theme of choice. God created us with the ability to choose and He has sought to maintain that freedom from the beginning. Let’s keep this theme in mind as we read the messages of scripture.
C.S. Lewis commented on this topic when he wrote in his classic book, The Great Divorce, “In the end there will be but two classes of people—those who say to God, Thy will be done, and those to whom God says, thy will be done.”
Of all our choices, this really is the ultimate choice.