The Old Testament is an amazing document, written by dozens of authors over a period of more than a thousand years, containing literature as diverse as civil codes and love songs. Its cast of personalities is equally diverse, from the humble and devoted Ruth, to the power-hungry and pathetic Saul, to the emotional and pleading Jeremiah, on and on; all of them deeply flawed and intensely human. Its style is minimalist and understated, earnest and intentional, poetic and beautiful.
Many people think that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is mostly about rules that stuffy old men, and a stuffy old God, made up to ruin everyone’s good time. To the church’s detriment, too many Christians think and act in a way that supports this impression. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you read the Old Testament, you will find it is full to the brim of life, the stuff human life is made of, the good and the bad together. It is full of the God who is passionate about human beings and intensely involved in the life of his creation, loving good and hating all that is evil, all the sin that rots and destroys the good world he has made.
Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it Yahweh-Shalom, which means “the LORD is peace.” Judges 6:34 (NLT)
Some pervert these good things with carnal indulgence, which the church is well-known for rejecting. Others pervert them in another way, however: by forbidding the gifts of God with artificial regulations and rules. Paul said,
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23
Elsewhere he wrote,
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4
One of the many reasons I love all the stories and poetry of the Old Testament is that they include all the elements of human life, “everything created by God,” giving our lives real dignity and validating our diverse experiences. They are spiritual, but – rather, therefore – concerned with this life. This list serves as just a small example:
- Love and sex in marriage – Song of Songs
- Family life and children – Genesis, Proverbs
- Artistic creativity – Psalms
- Intense sorrow and depression – Lamentations, Jeremiah, Psalms
- Searching for meaning in life – Ecclesiastes
- Friendship – Ruth
- Work and leadership – Ezra, Nehemiah
- Facing obstacles and opposition – 1 Samuel, Esther, Daniel
- Suffering and oppression – Exodus, Micah, Amos
- Questioning God – Job, Habakkuk, Psalms
The church ought not deny or belittle authentic human experience, ever. Christianity does not stifle; Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). A biblical view of the world gives life to, is inspired by, illuminates, and celebrates all the stuff life is made of. God gives redemption and raises our eyes to heaven so that we can be truly human in the very fullest sense of the word, for his glory, for our joy.