From Love to Hate and Back Again: Part 1

From Love to Hate and Back Again: Being OK with the Hebrew Canon on it Own Terms
One of the most interesting things about a recent conversation that I was having about love and hate in the Bible was the degree to which the two different ways of seeing things just couldn’t come together. It was like watching oil and water in a jar. You know, they were both in the same container, but for some reason they refused to blend. Or rather they couldn’t, and yet, they were still together?!
In its own terms, the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament to Christians, tells the story of a community seeking to survive. As if regularly coming up against enemies and deities wasn’t enough, the community for whom the HB chronicles a history was also having to come to an understanding of how the world worked from the perspective of their own God. Learning to trust God to keep their enemies at bay wasn’t always that easy, especially when faced with reconciling the injustices which they were experiencing.
Now any reader of the HB will find one thing as certain: it doesn’t seem wrong to threaten or to assume the threat of vengeance from one’s deity if you are the people of God. In fact, this hatred, as some would call it, is very common through the canon of these scriptures. Yet many readers of the Christian Bible (Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament) want to dismiss the language of destruction and vengeance as wrong or somehow to be taken less serious due to the compassion towards enemy sayings of Jesus. Yet, what does that say about those books and prophets whose words have been canonized right along side those of Jesus’? Are they to be taken less than serious? Are Jesus’ words, though heavily influenced by the teaching of the former canon, to become the new authority by which to live? Or is there a blending of the two that is necessary if one is to have one book of scriptures and avoid the old fashion gnostic dualism?
And what is wrong with taking the HB on its own terms as a story of survival, worship and persecution? A novel about war, infidelity, worship, and famine? A book about how god’s did battle with God and how people really threatened one another with the judgment of their deity in the age to come?
In many ways is this so different from today? When civilized countries seek out those to keep at bay through fear or war or threat in order to protect those whom they love at home? In many senses isn’t this what the journey from love to hate and back again is all about? You know, that whenever we hold closely those we love, it is always in comparison to those we don’t. And at the moment those we love are threatened by “the other” they automatically become an enemy to be defeated? Isn’t this what love and survival is all about? Is this what is really going on in the HB?
And, what if one were to take the canonization of threatening and vengeance seriously? Not in the “lets go and do something about it” realm, but in the “lets hope, pray, and trust that just as we have been done wrong, so will it be upon the heads of those who have harmed us.” Is this so wrong? To hope that justice does win out?
At the end of the day, Christians live in a world where they genuinely believe that they ought to love their enemies, but as people of a Book (not two books) they must also come to terms with the fact that if they are to take loving their enemies as serious, they must also hope that what threatens their existence must also be wished upon those enemies who would threaten their existence.
Plotting goodness,
joshua c

2 thoughts on “From Love to Hate and Back Again: Part 1

  1. Definitely an interesting topic. In the Methodist church in which I grew up, most of the messages were to basically disregard the teachings of vengeance in the old testament in favor of the teachings of the new testament. It always struck me as odd that my teachers were instructing me to “disregard” a part of the Bible. I suppose that the teachings of the old testament should be viewed as another example of the duality of life. We can’t know good without knowing evil, success without experiencing failure or forgiveness without vengeance.

  2. Ok…I’m about to swim off into deep water where I probably don’t belong (not being a theologian nor Bible scholar nor anything close)…but here goes:
    It has occured to me after reading your reponse that there is a disconnect here somewhere. If we don’t follow the gnostic path…if we as Christians believe that the Old and New Testaments to have the same author, there must be a way to reconcile these messages.
    Could it be that the messages, while from the same author, are meant for dramatically different audiences? The Old Testament tells the story of and speaks mostly to the “nation of Israel”. It certainly has stories about individuals, but is not nearly as personal as the New Testament. If I’m not mistaken, many of the Jewish faith follow the Old Testament teachings as a type of “civil law”. A nation must have laws and must have punishment if those laws are broken.
    Whereas, the New Testament seems not to be speaking to a nation, but to the individual. Jesus speaks to each of us and our personal relationship with God. I’m terrible with quoting/finding specific verses, but I do remember that Jesus said that his teachings did not supercede the laws of the Old Testament but rather add to them and expand on them. The Ten Commandments still stand, but now rather than getting publicly stoned to death for adultery, one has to deal with God and find forgiveness on a personal basis.
    Is this the integrated way of thinking that you referred to, or is there more?
    Glad I found your website, Josh…this is intriguing. 🙂

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