15 April 2008

How Blessed the Day When The Lamb and the Lion...

For an initial entry, I considered introducing myself in more depth or giving some sort of preface. Perhaps one or both of those will come about in a subsequent post, but instead, I choose to begin with some thoughts regarding this line from a beloved Latter-day Saint hymn (#2), "The Spirit of God." I have reflected on the line "How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion shall lie down together without any ire." This phrase is traditionally, and accurately, understood to refer to the millennial era when it will be literally fulfilled. At the Lord's coming, an era of peace and paradise will ensue, during which the Lord's creations will cohabit without enmity.

However, I have been giving thought to an alternative interpretation. When we as Christians analyze the Bible, many of us see a distinction in the way God is perceived in the two testaments. Whereas the God of the Old Testament manifests Himself, and His people proclaim Him to be a God of vengeance, war, plagues, and the like; the New Testament draws on some of the less dominant Old Testament themes (i.e., Isaiah's Suffering Servant) and presents Jesus as a seemingly different God of the New Testament or covenant--a meek (though not feeble) and graceful presence in contrast to the brazen Old Testament Jehovah.

Some might discount one of these two figures in favor of the other, seeing the two as utterly irreconcilable. Truly, the portrayal of Jehovah commanding Israel to utterly destroy entire communities seems to contradict Jesus' teaching to love our enemies. Nevertheless, the line of thought that would discount the Jehovah of the Old Testament in favor of the Jesus of the New Testament undermines its own reasoning. To teach that the Jews misunderstood their God would suggest that Jesus inadequately reformed Judaism during his earthly ministry. Would His godly outrage at the money changers of the temple be credible if He omitted correction of the Old Testament conception of Jehovah as God? Surely Jesus would have assisted His adherents to reconfigure their world view if He perceived such a fundamental flaw in their worship.

Thus, rejection of the manifestation and proclamation of Jehovah conveyed through the Old Testament becomes unpalatable. As such, the accounts of Israel being commanded by their God to utterly destroy neighboring nations remains binding on a Christian understanding of God. How then are we to reconcile the Old and New Testaments' portrayals of God? How can the Lamb and the Lion lie down together without any ire?

A third testament, The Book of Mormon presents itself as a bridge between the two testaments, proffering itself as the beginning of the restored gospel. This restored gospel is the reconciliation. Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. On more than one occasion he observed them and grew to understand their nature and character. With this understanding, he could see that the Lamb and the Lion were both God, whom we worship. The gospel of Jesus Christ, as restored through the prophet Joseph, embraces both Lamb and Lion. The Book of Mormon teaches of God through the lenses of both Old and New Testaments. It teaches that God blesses and prospers the righteous and sweeps the wicked from the face of the earth, echoing the Old Testament themes. Its editors (primarily Mormon) and prophet-authors selected narratives that highlight these themes. Additionally, it contains passages that highlight the Messiah in ways that reflect the gentler God presented in the New Testament, including a direct reference to Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Yet the Book of Mormon does so in a way that presents a unified God.

Thus, the advent of the restored gospel inaugurates the blessed day alluded to in the hymn, and allows worship of John's "Lamb of God" and the Deuteronomist's Lion of Judah. The day of the restoration creates the space for both to lie down together in harmony, "without any ire." How blessed, indeed, is the day, when as disciples we embrace this space and allow Lamb and Lion to lie down together, empowering us against the external foes we face as were Old Testament armies and enabling us against the internal weaknesses we must overcome through the grace taught in the New Testament. So why wait for the Millennial day?


Davey Morrison said...

That's a nice interpretation, and one that hadn't occurred to me in quite that way before. On a sort of similar note, the symbol of Christ among some Native American Christians is the deer, because it is gentle but strong, and it lays down its life to provide life. I thought that was pretty cool. Also, you might like this podcast, Steve recommended it to me:


Steve Morrison said...

That is indeed an interesting interpretation, and a creative one. I find it very appealing, but I wonder whether the lion and lamb lying together are really equal...It seems to me that the lion is becoming lamblike while the lamb is not essentially changing its nature.
P.S. I have a blog with my own disorganized religious thoughts if you'd like to take a look (http://patienceandshuffle.blogspot.com/).

MattM said...

Thanks for those thoughts. The lion becoming lamb-like does suggest an imbalance in the change, but I would suggest it merely reflects the antiquity of the Old Testament understanding, which is less accessible to contemporary sensibilities without effort.

Your question of whether equating lamb and lion works, given the relative imbalance in their respective changes reflects perhaps more on our perception of their differences than on an actual inequity. To return to the Old and New Testament idea, perhaps contemporary sensibilities need less change to embrace the God portrayed in the New, whereas reconciling that God with the Jehovah present in the Old requires more unfolding of the more ancient concepts. In sum, bringing the two together may represent the ability of the Restored gospel to enable a unified faith, despite the division in the testaments, both in time and in theme.

Just a few thoughts... Thanks for helping me think more carefully about this. Perhaps the idea does break down at some level, but it seems to add more than the breaking down might detract.


Steve Morrison said...

I like the Lamb of God/Lion of Judah idea. Excellent meditating.

Davey Morrison said...

On a totally not-adding-to-the-dicussion but still related and funny note, a line from a Woody Allen piece, "The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won't get much sleep."

John Zimmerman said...

I researched the interpretation of this verse because yesterday your interpretation came to me as it appeared to me, revelation.