Friday, May 28, 2010

Why is God closer to us in the New than in the Old Testament?

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

The early Old Testament, to some degree, seems to show a gradual distancing of mankind from God. While we once lived in intimacy with Him, as in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1–3, we gradually became alienated so that God only spoke on occasion to individuals such as Noah or Abraham. By the time we get to Moses, the people of Israel no longer even remember the God of their ancestors. However, God demonstrates His perpetual commitment to His covenant by speaking through intermediaries such as Moses, Samuel, and Nathan. Some books of scripture attest to this closeness. For example, the Psalms frequently attest the love of God for man and man for God, and The Song of Songs represents the relationship between God and humanity on the most intimate of human terms.[i] However, in all of this, God is completely other, Creator and Law-giver, of whom no image can be made, lest we create Him in our own image and commit idolatry. In addition, God’s ways are beyond us (Isaiah 55:8), unattainable by us under our own power. As St. Paul notes, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Romans 8:3). Paul speaks in Galatians 3:24 of the law being our custodian or our pedagogue until the coming of Christ, and the Catechism speaks of this divine pedagogy (CCC 53) as a gradual revelation of God to His people, Israel.

The New Testament is about God reaching down, in the Incarnation, to share in our humanity. In Christ, we have the full revelation of God the Word. As He takes on flesh, He bridges the distance between God and Man, uniting both Divine and human natures in one prosopon or hypostasis, the doctrine developed in part by the early Church Fathers, St. Cyril of Alexandria[ii] and Pope St. Leo,[iii] and later confirmed at the Council of Chalcedon[iv]—both consubstantial with the Father in His Divinity and consubstantial with us in His humanity.[v] In the New Testament, Jesus comes to share in the experience of humanity, to be like us in all things but sin, and to suffer with us. As Ashley notes, many people think that a loving God wouldn’t allow people to suffer as they do. Yet our God demonstrates His love in that He came to suffer with us.[vi]

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 7A—Lesson Thirteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00313.htm.
ii. William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3., (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1979), 230.
iii. Ibid., 268.
iv. Ibid., 270.
v. Ibid., 207.
vi. Benedict Ashley, “The Theological Virtues: Charity,” Moral Theology: Biblical Foundations, (Catholic Educational Television, 2006).
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