Summary: "Why does God allow it?"************* The Old Testament is the tadpole, the New the frog!
I wonder how many of our eyes go glazed when we hear this: “The Old Testament Reading is taken from the Book of Exodus”!? Someone, in a Lent Study Group, once asked me: “Why should we pay attention to the Old Testament? Isn’t it’s teaching out of date?. Isn’t the New Testament all we need?” For a while I was stumped for an answer until I remembered that he taught Biology at School. That’s when I said, “If you want to know all about the frog you also need to study the tadpole? It’s the same with the Bible. If you really want to understand the New Testament you need to study Old Testament as well”.
Let me give you an example:
In the OT there’s a very strange story about Moses. Moses had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt where their lives had been a burden – they had longed to escape, so God delivered them with mighty miracles.
At first they were grateful to God, but, as they wandered in the wilderness, they began to grumble “Is this the best that that God can offer. We were better off in Egypt”. Please don’t condemn them, because they were only being human….. all of us are like that at times…………. When life’s going well and we’re not facing problems. it’s easy to believe in God, and to be full of thanks and praise. But when the hard times come, well we’ve got to find someone to blame, and it’s often God who gets the stick - “What kind of a God allows things like this to happen” we say. I heard lots of people say it at the time of the tsunami, I heard it said when the Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans I’ve often heard it said when someone is seriously ill and then they die. It seems natural to blame God when hard things happen – part of our natural human response.
Well that’s what Moses was wrestling with, he was wrestling with our natural human response – and it was getting him down. And the carping and the complaining was spreading . Much later St. James put it this way. “A great forest can be set ablaze by a very small fire…. And our tongues can be like a fire”, so, when the grumbling multiplied and Moses asked God for help, we’re told that God decided to discipline his children in a very strange way. “ Their gossip, their complaining, their grumbling, and their unthankfulness was spreading like a fire, was it? Right he would send a plague of deadly, fiery serpents to punish them” – and He DID.
And, the story goes, “The people cried for mercy.” And God, who is always willing to deliver us from the stupidities we bring upon ourselves, told Moses to make an image of a Serpent…… and to hold it in the middle of the camp, and anyone who looked at the Serpent was…………….. HEALED!.
Now this is a very Jewish story, this story of the Serpent. This is how Old Testament Jews thought of God. They saw Him as a God who imposed Laws upon the Jewish Nation and punished them if they broke them.
To the Jews He was a Judge who brings JUSTICE UPON A CRIMINAL - a DEMANDING GOD. If you wanted to get into His presence you had to pay the price that God laid down.
It was hard for any Jew to think differently – to think of God, NOT as a JUDGE WAITING TO EXACT A PENALTY nor a task-master waiting to jump on their slightest mistake, but as a Father who longed to have His erring children come home to Him.
It cost the life of Jesus to communicate this fact It was the death of Jesus which opened the minds of those who saw it to the possibility that God was not a vengeful God pouring the fire of destruction on His people, but who was actually there to heal them.
That day St. John was standing at the foot of the foot of the Cross, looking up at his dying Master. Was it then or was it later that he remembered Jesus saying two things: , “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to myself”, and “As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”. His mind went back to that ancient story of the Serpent. He saw that, just as the fire of man’s anger had been poured out on Moses and on God, so now it was being poured out on Jesus.
But he also saw this - that the fire of man’s anger was hurting man himself, it was being turned in against himself - the ones who are destroyed by grumbling and criticism and crucifixion are not the ones we grumble against and criticise and crucify – It’s US who are hurt, it’s US who are destroyed by the fire of anger that burns within us. It’s like a poison spreading through our system, which kills our spirit and destroys our joy….. and we need to be saved from it – we need to be saved from what we do to ourselves.