“you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.” (Deut. 1:31)
Richard Dawkins, the most prominent apologist of atheism in the world today has said,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Dawkins isn’t the first to say such things about God, just the most adamant. He is above all a propagandist, with a deep-seated antipathy to the Christian faith. For a Christian—even the most brilliant one—to reason with Dawkins on these points would be like two generals trying to parley before a battle, when one of them has dedicated his life to destroying the other.
As a former atheist recently said to me, “I read Dawkins’s God Delusion, and concluded that if arguments so weak, so circular, given by a man who obviously has a serious problem with God—if this is the best atheism has to offer, then God must really exist.” She later became a Christian. She admits though, that she still has her problems with the Old Testament. So do many Christians. At times they can be nearly as critical of God as Dawkins is.
After all, isn’t the God of the Old Testament the same one Who:
- Destroyed the earth with a flood?
- Called for the death of the first born of Egypt?
- Called for the extermination of some of His own people?
- Called for the extermination of all the Canaanites?
- Let David off scot-free after he planned the death of a man then took the man’s wife into his harem?
Correcting our focus
All of these questions have answers. But we will never be open to them if we approach the Old Testament with our own, infallible expectations. More importantly, if we continually focus on our problems with the Old Testament, we will miss the opportunity to find out some very, very wonderful things about God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I will only mention one, found at the introduction of this writing:
The LORD your God carried you as a man carries his son.
This is a claim made nowhere else among the gods of the ancient world. Other gods of that time and afterward were like the people who worshiped them. The gods of Canaan, Baal and Anat, were powerful, power-hungry, adulterous, abusive, and vindictive. They did not “love” their worshipers. One thousand years later the Greeks were telling how their female gods seduced men, their male gods raped whatever women they pleased, and all killed whoever got them jealous. None of them ever “carried” a Greek state. But Yahweh, the God of Israel said,
I carried you, like a father carries his son.
When was the last time you watched a father carry his son? What did you notice? Was it the love of the father for the son? Was it his responsible action? Or his strength? Was it the security of the son? Was it the son’s satisfaction? Perhaps even his pride? That is the picture that God was trying to present to Israel about Himself.
We find the picture of a father carrying his son charming if the child is compliant. Many years ago in Reader’s Digest there was a story about a boy who continually made disturbances in a church service. The father finally perched his son head-backwards on his hip and carried him out a side door. On his way out, the boy called to the congregation, “Ya’ll pray for me now!” Even that story is a gentle one compared to how God at times carried Israel. God’s people were stubborn, rebellious, and ungrateful. More than once they attempted to kill His appointed leaders. Israel was often more like the angry little boy in his father’s arms, squirming and screaming, “Put me down!” Repeatedly, only painful chastisements brought God’s people to their senses. The picture was anything but charming.
Yahweh’s love for Israel during their 40 wilderness years was incredible. Reflecting on God’s care, Isaiah says: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old.” God felt Israel’s pain, even as Israel was making life painful for God. There are amazing stories and rich imagery in the Old Testament about God and His love. This surely is one of the greatest:
I carried you as a father carries his son.
New Testament Christians
What about New Testament Christians? Does the Bible actually say that God carries us? Not in those words, but the New Testament does say this: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (NIV, 1 John 3:1). Would we then expect our Heavenly Father to love us less than Israel? On the contrary, Paul calls God’s love “the great love with which he loved us,” (Eph. 2:4) and that the love of Christ “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). God does not have to rewrite the Old Testament into the New to let us know just how He treats us. The God who carried Israel also says to you and me, “I carried you.” When Israel was tested God carried them. When we are tested God carries us.
It is true that the New Testament believer has a different relationship with God (based on the New Covenant) than Old Testament Israel (based on the Mosaic Covenant). The New Testament believer possesses an automatic maturity not known to Israel (Gal. 3:21-24). But there is also an aspect of the child-father relationship which for us will never rise above that of Israel. Our strength and wisdom will always be incalculably small compared to God’s. We will always be children. We will always need to be carried. The blind Fanny Crosby, who was also a great student of the New Testament, understood the point well, saying, “In His arms He carries us all day long!”
It is really a didactic point in Scripture that God most often talks in the past tense when He says that he carries His children. On one occasion God told Israel He would carry them as long as they lived (Is. 46:3-4). On another, God said, “Underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27). Otherwise, He says, “I carried.” We usually understand the meaning of a difficult experience better after it happens than in the middle of it. Afterward we have time to reflect: “God was carrying me.” If God carried us in the past, He will carry us in the future. The trial will not be greater than the Father’s strength and the waters of sorrow will not rise above His mighty arms.
The poem, Footsteps, which has been an inspiration to millions and whose surprising ending we all know so well, is true. It is Bible. It is God.
“I carried you.”