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Friday, November 7, 2014

Hug 'em or tear 'em to shreds?

The contrast between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is nowhere more apparent than in the Divine attitude toward children. The Old Testament portrays a God that is unyielding and harsh where children are concerned, but the New Testament portrays Christ as being interested in children and naturally affectionate with them. Are these very different images of God's attitude toward children compatible? Is God a stern parent who stands ready to punish "His" rebellious children? Or is God a compassionate parent who is always ready to embrace "His" little ones? Which image of the Divine Parent is most compatible with the overall image we have of God's Character?

In the book of Second Kings, we have an interesting account of an incident involving the prophet Elisha and a large group of children from Bethel. We read: "Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. 'Go away, baldy!' they chanted. 'Go away, baldy!' Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them." (II Kings 2:23-24)

In reviewing this story, I couldn't decide which was more disturbing: The story itself or the writings of Christian apologists seeking to justify it. In an article entitled Elisha and the Lads of Bethel (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/134-elisha-and-the-lads-of-bethel), Wayne Jackson says that the Hebrew words translated as "little children" in the King James Version of the Bible are "an unfortunate rendition." Mr. Jackson then proceeds to remind us that the "young men" of Bethel did mock Elisha (a very serious offense in his opinion). And, since Elisha's curse was pronounced in the Lord's name, he suggests that God was ultimately responsible for what happened to the "young men."

According to Blue Letter Bible (http://www.blueletterbible.org), the Hebrew word qatan indicates someone who is young, small, insignificant or unimportant. In the King James Version, it is translated: thirty-three times as small, nineteen times as little, fifteen times as youngest, fourteen times as younger, ten times as least and a few times as other words reflecting similar senses. The Hebrew word na'ar is said to indicate a boy, lad, servant, youth or retainer (same source). In the King James Version, it is translated: seventy-six times as young man, fifty-four times as servant, forty-four times as child, thirty-three times as lad, fifteen times as young, seven times as children and a few times as other words reflecting similar senses. Hence, we can see that the two words used in conjunction with each other would seem to leave little doubt that the author was talking about young boys.

Having established that the folks making fun of the prophet's bald head were immature children, I find it hard to believe that God would have regarded this incident as described with anything other than amusement. Moreover, a good many things have been done in the Lord's name which I'm quite confident that God wouldn't have touched with a ten foot pole! Finally, we have to ask ourselves: Is the God portrayed as a party to Elisha's curse consistent with the image that John painted in his writings of a God who was/is the epitome of love? (I John 4:8, 16)

Now contrast this story with one that is recounted in three of the four gospel accounts of Christ's life. In the Gospel According to Mark, we read: "One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, 'Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.' Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them." (Mark 10:13-16)

If Christ was the most perfect representation of the Divine parent that this world has ever seen (Hebrews 1:3), then God must really love and accept children. Think about it, Christ said that only those individuals who exhibited the qualities of a child would be allowed entrance to the Kingdom! Christ was angry with his disciples (the adults). He was dismayed by their dismissive attitude toward the children. He scooped the little ones up into his arms and blessed them. That is a picture of complete acceptance and LOVE.

What kind of a parent is God? It is evident to me that Christ portrayed God's real attitude toward children. Thus, if the Elisha story really happened, I have to conclude that he was acting on his own initiative on that occasion. I can imagine the God of Jesus Christ saying something like this: "Lighten up Elisha! You are kinda shiny on top, and they're just kids!" What do you think?

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