When I first became a pastor – now almost a quarter century ago – I huddled weekly with six other men of the cloth. Our self- prescribed mandate was to pray for one another and keep each other accountable.
One of the pastors had a special zeal for this last bit. He
crafted a series of meddlesome questions, to which each
of us in turn was required to give a frank reply.
I only vaguely remember the content of those questions – were we spending adequate time with our spouse
and kids, handling finances with integrity and frugality,
abstaining from various substances and the like.
But the last question I remember precisely. “Have you
in the past week looked at any printed material (this was
before the Internet) that could compromise your faith?”
Every week this question came round, and every week we
all dutifully answered No.
Then a new pastor joined. We were all humming along
nicely with our weekly interrogation
when the star chamber’s lights fell on
him. He started well. And then came
the last question.
His answer: “Yes.”
Our heads snapped up, abrupt, and
a shrill wind of shock whistled through
us. The pastor who’d devised the ques-
tions stiffened. His face darkened. His
eyes narrowed. Chastisement pitched
his voice all thin and cool.
“Perhaps,” he said, “you’d like to
share with the rest of us exactly what
compromising literature you’ve been viewing?”
“Sure,” the new pastor said. “The Old Testament.”
I chuckle every time I think of that. But it’s not really
that funny, and I don’t think the man meant it entirely, or
even mostly, as a joke.
Indeed, that same week I’d been reading Exodus – fixing
to preach a series on it – and found myself morally agitated.
Much of the book vexed and stumped
me. God’s brusque and dangerous intimacy, then His foreboding aloofness. His
quirky demands. His short, brute temper.
At a lodging place on the way, the Lord
met Moses and was about to kill him.
But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off
her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’
feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom
of blood to me,” she said. So the Lord let
Him alone (Exodus 4: 24-26).
I was out of my depth. How could I,
to borrow the poet John Milton’s phrase,
“justify the ways of God to man,” when
this was surpassing strange? What man-
ner of deity was this, ambushing His own,
Was this the same God Jesus knew
and preached and revealed – the same
God of whom Jesus was the “radiance
of [his] glory and the exact represen-
tation of his being” (Hebrews 1: 3)?
Was this God of seeming caprice and
tantrum also our Father who art in
heaven, tender in mercy, slow to anger,
abounding in love?
I never did preach the series on
Why Is God So Grouchy
Exodus. And though I resolved these questions in time,
it took a journey. It required a deep immersion into both
halves of the Good Book. I had to soak myself in both
covenants until I could meet God at any lodging along the
way – the road to Emmaus or the road through the Red
Sea, the path up to Golgotha or the path up to Moriah,
the trail down to still waters or the trail down to an empty
Mark Buchanan wades into the theological quandary of
why God seems so, well… different in the Old Testament
compared to the New – and comes out the other side
in one piece. By Mark Buchanan
in the Old Testament?
Much of the book vexed
and stumped me.
God’s brusque and
then His foreboding
aloofness. His quirky
demands. His short,