“The Bible” is the name of a TV mini-series that aired on the History Channel earlier this year and proved to be extremely popular. A husband and wife team produced it. They are actress Roma Downey (of “Touched by an Angel”), and reality show producer Mark Burnett (who produced “Survivor” and “Celebrity Apprentice”).
The show became a powerful introduction to the Judeo-Christian biblical story, but its violence has unsettled quite a few people, including a good Catholic woman who called me to say that she was frightened by the program’s depiction of God as a merciless tyrant.
I explained that the most important concept to remember when you’re studying Scripture is this: The New Testament is not the Old Testament. That’s an important distinction for any child of God to remember.
The literal depiction of God in the Old Testament can indeed be frightening. People living in primitive times often thought that every cruelty of nature was a form of direct punishment from God. Jesus, however, brought mitigating words of mercy, as he taught us about God’s love. We must also remember that God’s mercy also is revealed in the Old Testament.
Remember that the words, “Do not be afraid,” and similar phrases of comfort, are repeated hundreds of times in the Bible.
Jesus taught us to interpret sacred Scripture with mercy. We must never forget that God is love and that justice must always be tempered with mercy. One of the best stories to exemplify this concept is the one about the woman accused of adultery in John 8.
“Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
“‘Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?'” (It was a trap designed to trick Jesus into challenging the words of the Bible.)
Jesus calmly said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus was wise and compassionate in the way he interpreted the law. So, too, were many of the Hebrew sages. After the woman whom he saved was left alone, Jesus said to her: “Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore.”
Fear is not a bad thing. We need to respect God’s almighty power. He is after all a God of justice, and life is consequential. But love, not fear, is the central message of the Gospel.