(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. These are some further thoughts from days 13 and 14.)
“Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha.” (1 Kings 19:17, NLT)
“I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.” (Habakkuk 3:16b, NLT)
Most of the readings from #adventbookclub have been positive, helping us during this time of Advent to prepare for the coming of Jesus, and to reflect on our lives. But in the last couple of days there have been some notes that I, at least, find a bit disturbing.
Habakkuk is frustrated at waiting for God to act, with no sign of it happening; although he does exhibit remarkable faith and faithfulness in this time. But what is he waiting for? It sounds like revenge: punishment for the foreign armies who dare to invade the promised land, killing and taking captive God’s chosen people. He wants to see a calamity, a disaster.
Elijah, in is encounter with God in the “still small voice”, is given some comfort, some words of hope, and some tasks for the future. Yet there is also a message of death and destruction, presumably for those people who have “bowed the knee to Baal”.
How do we reconcile such sentiments with ideas of grace, forgiveness, and Jesus’ own command that we should love our enemies, even asking forgiveness for those who crucified him? Is it possible for the good things we have been waiting for to come without bad things happening to others? It’s easy to say, “well, they deserved it”; but don’t we all, to a greater or lesser degree?
It is verses such as these (and the more explicit chapters on wholesale destruction) that result in people talking of “the God of the Old Testament” being different from “the God of the New Testament”. But this isn’t the whole story of God, even in the Hebrew scriptures. And more importantly, it is not that there is a different God (how could there be?); rather, it is people’s ideas of God that are recorded in the Bible; these change over time, and sometimes even within one person’s lifetime.
I don’t think it’s for us to condemn others whose ideas of God seem more primitive than ours. For one thing, we would need to experience what they went through in order to get an understanding of why they said certain things. We can, though, rejoice in the glimpses of God in new and surprising ways that we read about.
More importantly, we need to make sure that our own ideas of God do not remain fixed; that we are always open to the still small voice which moves us forward, leading us to greater understanding. May this Advent be a time when this happens for all of us.