Old Testament God and New Testament God

 

The God of the Old Testament can appear harsh, judgmental, unpredictable and dangerous, particularly on cursory reading. The degree to which this is true has arguably been exaggerated by Christian commentators, intent on magnifying the distinction between the older and newer divisions of the Bible. There has been a price paid, however, for such plotting (and I mean that in both senses of the word): the tendency for modern people to think, when confronted with Jehovah, “I would never believe in a God like that.” But Old Testament God doesn’t much care what modern people think. He often didn’t care what Old Testament people thought, either (although He could be bargained with, to a surprising degree, as is particularly evident in the Abrahamic stories). Nonetheless, when His people strayed from the path–when they disobeyed His injunctions, violated His covenants, and broke His commandments–trouble was certain to follow. If you did not do what Old Testament God demanded–whatever that might have been and however you might have tried to hide from it–you and your children and your children’s children were in terrible, serious trouble.

It was realists who created, or noticed, Old Testament God. When the denizens of those ancient societies wandered carelessly down the wrong path, they ended up enslaved and miserable–sometimes for centuries–when they were not obliterated completely. Was that reasonable? Was that just? Was that fair? The authors of the Old Testament asked such questions with extreme caution and under very limited conditions. They assumed, instead, that the Creator of Being knew what he was doing, that all power was essentially with Him, and that His dictates should be carefully followed. They were wise. He was a Force of Nature. Is a hungry lion reasonable, fair or just? What kind of nonsensical question is that? The Old Testament Israelites and their forebears knew that God was not to be trifled with, and that whatever Hell the angry Deity might allow to be engendered if he was crossed was real. Having recently passed through a century defined by the bottomless horrors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, we might realize the same thing.

New Testament God is often presented as a different character (although the Book of Revelation, with its Final Judgment, warns against any excessively naïve complacency). He is more the kindly Geppetto, master craftsman and benevolent father. He wants nothing for us but the best. He is all‑loving and all‑forgiving. Sure, He’ll send you to Hell, if you misbehave badly enough. Fundamentally, however, he’s the God of Love. That seems more optimistic, more naively welcoming, but (in precise proportion to that) less believable. In a world such as this–this hothouse of doom–who could buy such a story? The all‑good God, in a post‑Auschwitz world? It was for such reasons that the philosopher Nietzsche, perhaps the most astute critic ever to confront Christianity, considered New Testament God the worst literary crime in Western history. In Beyond Good and Evil , he wrote:[81]

 

In the Jewish ‘Old Testament’, the book of divine justice, there are men, things and speeches on such a grand style that Greek and Indian literature has nothing to compare with it. One stands with fear and reverence before those stupendous remains of what man was formerly, and one has sad thoughts about old Asia and its little out‑pushed peninsula Europe.… To have bound up this New Testament (a kind of ROCOCO of taste in every respect) along with the Old Testament into one book, as the “Bible,” as “The Book in Itself” is perhaps the greatest audacity and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience.

 

Who but the most naive among us could posit that such an all‑good, merciful Being ruled this so‑terrible world? But something that seems incomprehensible to someone unseeing might be perfectly evident to someone who had opened his eyes.

Let’s return to the situation where your aim is being determined by something petty–your aforementioned envy of your boss. Because of that envy, the world you inhabit reveals itself as a place of bitterness, disappointment and spite. Imagine that you come to notice, and contemplate, and reconsider your unhappiness. Further, you determine to accept responsibility for it, and dare to posit that it might be something at least partly under your control. You crack open one eye, for a moment, and look. You ask for something better. You sacrifice your pettiness, repent of your envy, and open your heart. Instead of cursing the darkness, you let in a little light. You decide to aim for a better life–instead of a better office.

But you don’t stop there. You realize that it’s a mistake to aim for a better life, if it comes at the cost of worsening someone else’s. So, you get creative. You decide to play a more difficult game. You decide that you want a better life, in a manner that will also make the life of your family better. Or the life of your family, and your friends. Or the life of your family, and your friends, and the strangers who surround them. What about your enemies? Do you want to include them, too? You bloody well don’t know how to manage that. But you’ve read some history. You know how enmity compounds. So, you start to wish even your enemies well, at least in principle, although you are by no means yet a master of such sentiments.

And the direction of your sight changes. You see past the limitations that hemmed you in, unknowingly. New possibilities for your life emerge, and you work toward their realization. Your life indeed improves. And then you start to think, further: “Better? Perhaps that means better for me, and my family, and my friends–even for my enemies. But that’s not all it means. It means better today, in a manner that makes everything better tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and a decade from now, and a hundred years from now. And a thousand years from now. And forever.”

And then “better” means to aim at the Improvement of Being, with a capital “I’ and a capital “B.” Thinking all of this–realizing all of this–you take a risk. You decide that you will start treating Old Testament God, with all His terrible and oft‑arbitrary‑seeming power, as if He could also be New Testament God (even though you understand the many ways in which that is absurd). In other words, you decide to act as if existence might be justified by its goodness–if only you behaved properly. And it is that decision, that declaration of existential faith, that allows you to overcome nihilism, and resentment, and arrogance. It is that declaration of faith that keeps hatred of Being, with all its attendant evils, at bay. And, as for such faith: it is not at all the will to believe things that you know perfectly well to be false. Faith is not the childish belief in magic. That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being. It is simultaneously the will to dare set your sights at the unachievable, and to sacrifice everything, including (and most importantly) your life. You realize that you have, literally, nothing better to do. But how can you do all this?–assuming you are foolish enough to try.

You might start by not thinking –or, more accurately, but less trenchantly, by refusing to subjugate your faith to your current rationality, and its narrowness of view. This doesn’t mean “make yourself stupid.” It means the opposite. It means instead that you must quit manoeuvring and calculating and conniving and scheming and enforcing and demanding and avoiding and ignoring and punishing. It means you must place your old strategies aside. It means, instead, that you must pay attention, as you may never have paid attention before.

 

Pay Attention

 

Pay attention. Focus on your surroundings, physical and psychological. Notice something that bothers you, that concerns you, that will not let you be, which you could fix, that you would fix. You can find such somethings by asking yourself (as if you genuinely want to know) three questions: “What is it that is bothering me?” “Is that something I could fix?” and “Would I actually be willing to fix it?” If you find that the answer is “no,” to any or all of the questions, then look elsewhere. Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it. That might be enough for the day.

Maybe there is a stack of paper on your desk, and you have been avoiding it. You won’t even really look at it, when you walk into your room. There are terrible things lurking there: tax forms, and bills and letters from people wanting things you aren’t sure you can deliver. Notice your fear, and have some sympathy for it. Maybe there are snakes in that pile of paper. Maybe you’ll get bitten. Maybe there are even hydras lurking there. You’ll cut off one head, and seven more will grow. How could you possibly cope with that?

You could ask yourself, “Is there anything at all that I might be willing to do about that pile of paper? Would I look, maybe, at one part of it? For twenty minutes?” Maybe the answer will be, “No!” But you might look for ten, or even for five (and if not that, for one). Start there. You will soon find that the entire pile shrinks in significance, merely because you have looked at part of it. And you’ll find that the whole thing is made of parts. What if you allowed yourself a glass of wine with dinner, or curled up on the sofa and read, or watched a stupid movie, as a reward? What if you instructed your wife, or your husband, to say “good job” after you fixed whatever you fixed? Would that motivate you? The people from whom thanks you want might not be very proficient in offering it, to begin with, but that shouldn’t stop you. People can learn, even if they are very unskilled at the beginning. Ask yourself what you would require to be motivated to undertake the job, honestly, and listen to the answer. Don’t tell yourself, “I shouldn’t need to do that to motivate myself.” What do you know about yourself? You are, on the one hand, the most complex thing in the entire universe, and on the other, someone who can’t even set the clock on your microwave. Don’t over‑estimate your self‑knowledge.

Let the tasks for the day announce themselves for your contemplation. Maybe you can do this in the morning, as you sit on the edge of your bed. Maybe you can try, the night before, when you are preparing to sleep. Ask yourself for a voluntary contribution. If you ask nicely, and listen carefully, and don’t try any treachery, you might be offered one. Do this every day, for a while. Then do it for the rest of your life. Soon you will find yourself in a different situation. Now you will be asking yourself, habitually, “What could I do, that I would do, to make Life a little better?” You are not dictating to yourself what “better” must be. You are not being a totalitarian, or a utopian, even to yourself, because you have learned from the Nazis and the Soviets and the Maoists and from your own experience that being a totalitarian is a bad thing. Aim high. Set your sights on the betterment of Being. Align yourself, in your soul, with Truth and the Highest Good. There is habitable order to establish and beauty to bring into existence. There is evil to overcome, suffering to ameliorate, and yourself to better.

It is this, in my reading, that is the culminating ethic of the canon of the West. It is this, furthermore, that is communicated by those eternally confusing, glowing stanzas from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, the essence, in some sense, of the wisdom of the New Testament. This is the attempt of the Spirit of Mankind to transform the understanding of ethics from the initial, necessary Thou Shalt Not of the child and the Ten Commandments into the fully articulated, positive vision of the true individual. This is the expression not merely of admirable self‑control and self‑mastery but of the fundamental desire to set the world right. This is not the cessation of sin, but sin’s opposite, good itself. The Sermon on the Mount outlines the true nature of man, and the proper aim of mankind: concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is right in front of you–but do that only after you have decided to let what is within shine forth, so that it can justify Being and illuminate the world. Do that only after you have determined to sacrifice whatever it is that must be sacrificed so that you can pursue the highest good.

 

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Luke 12: 22–34)

 

Realization is dawning. Instead of playing the tyrant, therefore, you are paying attention. You are telling the truth, instead of manipulating the world. You are negotiating, instead of playing the martyr or the tyrant. You no longer have to be envious, because you no longer know that someone else truly has it better. You no longer have to be frustrated, because you have learned to aim low, and to be patient. You are discovering who you are, and what you want, and what you are willing to do. You are finding that the solutions to your particular problems have to be tailored to you, personally and precisely. You are less concerned with the actions of other people, because you have plenty to do yourself.

Attend to the day, but aim at the highest good.

Now, your trajectory is heavenward. That makes you hopeful. Even a man on a sinking ship can be happy when he clambers aboard a lifeboat! And who knows where he might go, in the future. To journey happily may well be better than to arrive successfully.…

Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and the door will open. If you ask, as if you want, and knock, as if you want to enter, you may be offered the chance to improve your life, a little; a lot; completely–and with that improvement, some progress will be made in Being itself.

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

 

 

  

    

 

RULE 5

Дата: 2018-09-13, просмотров: 47.