Q How can the Old Testament God who helps the Israelites destroy their enemies be the same as the New Testament God who numbers the hairs on our heads and tells us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek?
A Genesis 15:13-16 provides an important key to your question. “Your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land; they will be slaves there and will be treated cruelly for four hundred years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and when they leave that foreign land, they will take great wealth with them. You yourself will live to a ripe old age, die in peace, and be buried. It will be four generations before your descendants come back here, because I will not drive out the Amorites until they become so wicked that they must be punished” (TEV).
We must remember that in the Bible God is revealed as a merciful God as well as the righteous Judge of all nations. This is true from Genesis to Revelation. In the text above, God talks about punishing Egypt for its cruel treatment of the Israelites when they were in Egypt. He also speaks of not punishing the Amorites (inhabitants of the promised land then) until their sins reached their full measure in the days of the Conquest. The judgment of those peoples was a result of their sins. And Israel became God’s instrument of punishment. God was not helping the Israelites to destroy their enemies; God was using them as instruments of his judgment.
We must remember also that later on in the history of redemption, when Israel rebelled and sinned against the Lord, God used other nations to chastise Israel (for example, read the book of Habakkuk). And Israel’s suffering was as harsh as what other nations experienced (see Lamentations). The Old Testament narrative and the Prophets are full of passages that address the same issue. And it is not absent in the New Testament (see the book of Revelation).
Yet even when God was judging the nations, God’s mercy and concern for them were clearly revealed. The lives of the nations were also precious to God, just as the lives of the Israelites. The end of the book of Jonah is quite significant for this matter:
“You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. . . . But Nineveh [the oppressive and cruel Empire of those days] has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:10-11; see also Matt. 9:35-38).
Dr. Mariano Avila is associate professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Q I tend to be an artistic person and need creativity in my life. But my Christian friends criticize me because I spend money on what they think are frivolous things. How can I be a Christian and still love beautiful things?
A This is a complex question, one that vexes many Christians who know that the everyday choices they make reflect the
meaning their faith holds for them.
On the one hand, Christians know that God created beauty in the world. On the other, we know that obsessing over material things leads our attention away from God and godly living.
Maybe the key is to look at the relation between your artistry and use of money. Do you commit money to clothing and house decorating that belongs to tithing, Christian school tuition, household bills, or long-term savings?
If you’re not spending above your means and life commitments, I find nothing wrong with using resources to increase the level of beauty in your life. However, I would strongly encourage you to be thoughtful about these choices.
How about using your resources to create beautiful things? Plant a flower garden and create bouquets from it. Take your family’s used clothing and make re-purposed clothing, quilts, potholders, or fabric collages from it. Get a piano or some other sort of instrument and learn how to make your own music.
If you aren’t creative in those ways, how about focusing on supporting other artists? Instead of buying framed reproductions from a department store, why not barter some work or save up to buy from a local artist? A great way to do this, with modest outlays of money, is to buy art from local high schools or colleges.
When you can look at yourself and your home and see the handiwork of people you know, including yourself, the richness of your life grows. Art that connects with life reflects God’s creativity and love for the world. There’s nothing wrong—and a great deal right—with that!
Dr. Helen Sterk is chair of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.