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Loving and Forgiving

Has anyone else noticed our tendency to look at God almost as if he’s two people, or suffers from multiple personality disorder? The “Old Testament God” is angry, judging, passing out laws and punishing those who don’t follow them. But the “New Testament God” is different God, all full of love and care and forgiveness. What’s up with this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde view of God?

Is it possible that the “New Testament God” (the “God is love” one) is actually there in the Old Testament too?

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy is one of my favorite stories in the whole epic about Moses. Here’s the set-up: Moses has been up on the mountain with God, getting the Law, and it’s taking a long time. A really long time (40 days and nights). And, it turns out, that the ancient Israelites aren’t any more patient than people are today. They start to think that Moses isn’t coming back, or maybe he died, or maybe the whole God thing was a lie anyway. So they build a giant gold calf, and decide that will do for their God. And they get into a bunch of other really bad behavior. Finally Moses and God are done with the 10 Commandments meeting, and Moses comes down the mountain, only to discover the shenanigans God’s people have gotten up to while he was gone. Moses throws a fit, God throws a worse fit and is ready to kill them all and start over. But Moses “lay prostrate before the LORD” for another 40 days and nights, begging God not to destroy the people, willful and sinful as they are, deserving of death as they are. And God listens! God changes his mind; he forgives the people, because Moses asks. Hhhhmmmmm….

Psalm 51 is the song David writes after he has run head-long off the path of right behavior (a great soap opera style story full of lust, adultery, conniving, murder and lies), breaking at least three of the Big Rules for Life God has handed down through Moses. God isn’t at all happy with all this– and he sends Nathan the prophet to tell David so, promising death and destruction as the penalty for David’s behavior. But David repents, admitting his sin, and immediately, before David can perform any of the required sacrifices or do anything else, Nathan says “The LORD has taken away your sin.” God forgives him, right away.

Turns out, apparently God is loving and forgiving in both sets of stories. Turns out, he’s most interested in having the hearts of his people, in reaching out to us, even when we turn away. Turns out, he’s always right there, just waiting for us to turn back. And maybe, sometimes, tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that he’s there, waiting, loving us, ready to forgive and welcome us back with a giant hug, just as soon as we ask.

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