If we get past Sunday School moralizing what do we discover in the Old Testament? We read about remarkably immoral people loved by God. The Old Testament is one long history of God's reckless love for unlovable sinners. Godless Abraham. Murderous Moses. Arrogant, womanizing Samson. Tyrannical Solomon. Sneak more than a peak at our "heroes of the faith" and what do we see? A rogue's gallery.
Even the apple of God's eye, King David, was a murderous adulterer. And that's not even the worst of his transgressions.
Why then do we turn God's story of salvation into a series of moral lessons? When did faith and morality become synonymous? How could we turn pimps, fugitives from justice, whore-mongers, and child-murderers into moral examples and heroes of the faith?
It's simple. When old Adam gets ahold of the Bible he turns it into a personal story of self-salvation. A love story to biographical righteousness. When old Adam organizes his commentary on the Old Testament it goes like this:
Chapter One: Adam & Eve - How Not to Fail The Test
Chapter Two: Obedient Like Noah.
Chapter Three: Faithful Like Abraham
Chapter Four: Moses pt 1 - Leaders Like Moses
Chapter Five: Moses pt 2 - Living in Obedience to God's Commands
Chapter Six: The Prophets - Preaching Judgment to Godless People
Chapter Seven: The Psalms - Praying Like David
Chapter Eight: Suffering For Righteousness Like Job, And The Rewards You Will Receive
Chapter Nine: Submissive Like Ruth (A Model For Christian Women)
Chapter Ten: Obedient Like Young David - Overcoming Our Personal Goliaths
Chapter Eleven: Faithful Like King David - The Apple of God's Eye
Chapter Twelve: Following The Old Testament Saints' Example - How to Pass The Test
Old Adam makes the Bible about himself. God is pushed out of the spotlight. The Bible isn't primarily about God's salvation of those who call him "enemy." God isn't running the verbs of salvation. Old Adam runs the verbs. God is made to sit on the bench. The Bible becomes a story of salvation written by men and women who've got a lot to lose if it doesn't conclude with a happy ending. The old Adam tries to turn his tragic biography of sin and death into a heroic narrative.
This is also why, having worked his way through the Old Testament to the Gospels, old Adam finds an unacceptable Savior in Jesus.
Jesus doesn't seem brave like Joshua. He's not dangerous like Gideon. He's not strong enough to take on our enemies. Where's a savior like Ehud when we need one? What good's Jesus? He suffers horrible pain and death. He's a servant. We don't need a servant. We need a conquering hero. We need a godly example to follow.
When old Adam comes out of the Old Testament, he’s looking for the greatest moral example and hero of the faith in history. What he finds in Jesus is nothing but disappointment.
We're just trying to find a better version of ourselves in the Bible. "New Me v. 2.0." The "me" that doesn't need to suffer and die. The "me" we can look at in the mirror without fear, guilt, and revulsion. The "me" we wish Jesus would be for us. Good me. Brave me. Undying me. God-me.
If we can get past Sunday School moralizing what we discover in the Old Testament are thirty nine books about remarkably immoral people loved by a promise-keeping, gift-giver God. Far from being about saintly morality and heroic faith, the Old Testament is one long history of God's reckless love for unlovable sinners.
The Bible doesn't invite us in to search for examples of self-salvation. It reveals a God who pursues the godless. Every word of Scripture testifies to God's work for sinners. God running the verbs of salvation. God creating faith and life where before there was none. And as Jesus says, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about me..." (John 5:29) Every page of the Old Testament proclaims "Christ! Christ!"
The Bible isn't a Greatest Hits of moral examples and heroic faith. It's a police blotter of immoral, unlovable sinners whom God pursues, turns, and loves, not because of what they've done, but because of who He is: God is love.
The Bible is God's love song of Salvation.
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.