Monday, May 12, 2008

“Shadow” and “Reality”

Hello Bloggerites,

In the last post we discussed Craigie’s view that one of the central purposes why God involved himself in using violence to establish and preserve Israel was to provide humanity with a negative object lesson: namely, nationalism and violence can never bring about the Kingdom of God. I agree with this perspective, but it seems to me Craigie’s thesis could be strengthened by showing how it's rooted in the New Testament itself.

In the book of Colossians Paul says that, in the light of Christ, all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament must be seen as “a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). The author of Hebrews teaches the same thing when he says that “[t]he law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves” (Heb 10:1, cf. 8:5). Now that "the reality" (Christ) has come, we can and must abandon the shadow. This is closely related to Paul's teaching in Galatians that the law was intended as a tutor to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:23-24). The law exposes our sin and thus reveals the truth that we cannot reconcile ourselves to God on this basis (cf. Rom. 7: 6-20). In other words, the law is a shadow that points beyond itself by providing us with a negative object lesson.

If Craigie is right, God's involvement in nationalistic violence can be understood along similar lines. As the law was intended to lead us to Christ by showing us how not to try to be reconciled to God, so nationalistic violence was intended to lead us to the true Kingdom of God by showing us how not to try to establish God's Kingdom. As the failure of the law points us to Christ, so the failure of nationalistic violence points us to the Kingdom of God. As the law is a shadow of the reality of Christ, so nationalistic violence is a shadow of the reality of the Kingdom of God.

In fact, one could argue that these two negative-object lessons are implied in each other, for the law structured the way Israel existed as a distinct nation and it was premised on divinely sanctioned violence. The failure of the law to bring us into alignment with God's will is thus related to the failure of the nation and its intrinsic violence to bring us into alignment with God's will. Both reveal that we are too sinful to reconcile ourselves to God and bring about his Kingdom. And God used both to prepare us to embrace a Savior who saves us by grace and whose Kingdom transcends all national boundaries and refuses all violence.

These reflections take us a long way in reconciling the Old Testament's God of war with Jesus' teaching to love our enemies and abstain from all violence. If the God and the ethics revealed by Jesus seem to at points contrast sharply with the God and ethics of the Old Testament's war tradition (and they certainly do), this is because they're supposed to! This is the point!

At the same time, we can't pretend for a moment that this explanation alone is adequate. For example, Craigie's thesis doesn't even address the issue of God's direct use of violence in the Old Testament. I'll address this and a multitude of other questions in future blogs.

Stay centered in his love