The "Hammering Process:" Too Hard, Too Soft, or Just Right?
The 39 books of the Old Testament paint a picture of what C.S. Lewis calls the "hammering process—" centuries of God's hard-line training program to show Israel just what kind of God had chosen them and what He expected of them.
"Hammering" seems like the right word. I mean, I'd be the first to admit that the Old Testament account, while bound together with the theme of God's tireless mercy and lovingkindness toward sinners, can also seem pretty, well . . . harsh. Those of us who are familiar with some of Israel's ugliest moral blunders know that God was never lax on sin: retribution was usually swift and always painful, sometimes to a degree that we might be so presumptuous as to call overkill.
And it is presumptuous. I want to establish that fact first of all. For us—thousands of years after the fact, completely devoid of context and infinitesimal in our understanding of the universe—to question God's methods on the grounds of excess is arrogant, and honestly, absurd. God is God. He can do whatever He wants, and His character is consistent with the moral code He literally embodies. So before we tie ourselves into self-righteous knots by critiquing God's disciplinary methods, let's remember the source of our reasoning powers, and give Him the honour He is due.
That established, a thought struck me recently. Thinking about the Israelites' time in God's training program, a program we so often view as harsh, I was reminded of something else C.S. Lewis says in his radio series, Mere Christianity.
Lewis points out that people will always find an excuse to avoid answering God's call. Frame the Gospel in its simplest terms, and some will call it a fairytale, a story for little kids but not for people of intelligence. Frame the Gospel in all its nuanced complexity, and it'll be far too complicated, and surely if God were real, He would make it all much simpler, wouldn't He?
The point is clear: if people don't want God, they'll find a way around Him. And it made me think—would we play the same games with God's character if we didn't have the Old Testament?
Over the course of the Bible, we see God address sin in two major ways. In the Old Testament, He provides explicitly clear instructions against sin and punishes those who violate those explicitly clear instructions without excuse. In the New, he transfers that punishment onto Jesus, His Son, freeing us from the retribution we deserve and replacing that retribution with grace. Now, what if we didn't have both sides of the story? What if we just had one or the other?
If all we had was the "hammering process" of the Old Testament, I can just imagine what we might say. That God is too harsh, that maybe if He'd tried to be a little more lenient, more people would have followed Him.
But then there's the flip side. If all we had was the Gospel account of Jesus, our message might be the opposite. If God expects us to follow Him, He needs to be more forceful—we need discipline as humans. We need structure. We need an authority to lay down the law if we're ever going to change.
See the dilemma?
Though this is speculation on my part, I think it's realistic. But instead of dwelling on what it says about us, I find myself marveling at what it says about God.
See, God didn't allow this dilemma to exist. He didn't give us an out in this sense—an excuse for ignoring His call on the grounds of His over-harshness or over-leniency. He showed us what happens when sin comes with a swift and tangible price: people thumb their noses at Him and go their own way. And He showed us what happens when sin is taken onto the shoulders of a willing sacrifice, when grace is offered instead: people thumb their noses at Him and go their own way.
I think this is incredible. God's understanding of human pride is unmatched. The saga of human history is not Old or New, but one testament to God's infinite wisdom and grace and love and sovereignty over humans too fickle to accept what's right in front of us. Those of us who are His children can find comfort in His grand design, in the greatness of an Author who knows the flaws of His readership and accounts for them. And to those who aren't His children, I hope my point rings true.
God didn't leave us much room for excuses, so if you're still trying to find one, maybe it's time to ask yourself why.
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