I remember sitting in his office. I remember a church member peeking in, “Pastor, there’s someone on the phone for you.” He told her to take a message because he was busy, was having an important conversation.
That conversation was with 17-year-old-me.
I treasure the memories of those hours. I wish I remembered how he answered every question, but that’s lost to an imperfect memory. I do remember how I felt in that room: listened to, understood, valued, and important. He never even implied that my questions were too much, silly, strange, or anything except what they were: the heart questions of a young woman who just wanted to understand God.
I didn’t hold back either. Most of my questions centered on the Old Testament; more specifically, the Old Testament God. Why was He so mean? Why did He demand so much rule following? The pastor’s answers made sense and spoke directly to my heart; it’s still taken time for me to experience the truth and to see it for myself from Scripture’s pages. But first: God bless Pastor Shane for answering my questions with the patience and care of Christ. It did more than I can say to guide me in this life of faith I now live. I still reread his emails every once in awhile.
Contrary to the apparent set up, this is not a piece that fully explains the difficult texts of the Old Testament. Maybe one day I’ll go down that path, but for now, I want to focus on one piece: what does God want?
I know my parents read this blog, so I wouldn’t dare say that I have always been an obedient child (sorry, beloved parents! Thanks for always loving me anyways). I can say, though, that at least after the age of 10 or so, I always wanted to be an obedient child. I remember doing stupid things, but I don’t remember ever wanting to rebel for rebellion’s sake, or had a craving to be known as an edgy or bad kid. I only remember wanting to be obedient. Good.
When hearing sermons and presentations, I got the sense that the Old Testament was all about externals: wearing certain clothes, eating certain foods, sacrificing unblemished animals, etc; and that the New Testament was all about the heart: trusting in Christ’s sacrifice, loving your neighbor as yourself, and thinking merciful thoughts towards others. I heard that so much that I came to accept it as fact. And this led to other conclusions: the God of the Old Testament expected nothing less than perfect obedience — without it, you’re out! The God of the New Testament was much more gracious — kind, loving, and understanding.
Then, I started reading the Old Testament for myself and I learned the truth. It’s crazy how much you can learn by simply going to the source!
There are pages of verses I could include, but I’ll focus on Deuteronomy 30. In the previous few chapters, Moses has outlined to the Israelite nation their two options: follow God or rebel against Him. He then outlines what will follow in choosing one of those two options: the blessings and the curses.
In Deuteronomy 30, Moses tells them that this decision is accessible to them: it’s not too hard for them to understand or to choose. Then he reiterates the decision. Notice the language:
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, but walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply…but if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess…Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, ESV)
I know it’s a longer passage, but take the time to read through it. There are commands of obedience and rule following, but do you see what leads all of it? What you love. Where your heart is.
A relationship with God has always been about our hearts, our affections, and our love — Jesus wasn’t bringing some new teaching to the table. Instead, He was pointing to what was originally said by God, but had been muddled by years of legalism and confusion. The God of the Old Testament wants the same thing as Jesus: our hearts. Our surrender. Our completion in Him. And a surrendered heart leads to obedience. It’s a natural progression when we surrender to God — in both Old Testament and New Testament alike.
I invite you to read the Old Testament. You don’t have to read it linearly, but it sure has brought a lot of clarity and peace for me in doing so. Remember that Jesus and the God of the Old Testament are One: same in character, goal, and deep love for humanity. With that mindset, learn more about this beautiful God that is ours through the words of the entire Bible.