Question: I am a scrupulous person and the Book of Exodus is troubling to me because of all the killings and the fact that God seems to be authorizing all the slaughter. How can we say this is the word of the Lord?
-- Name withheld, Mascoutah, Ill.
Answer: Certainly, there are places in the Old Testament, and the Book of Exodus is a good example, that seem to present a vengeful God prone to acting too much in keeping with imperfect human standards.
To obtain a proper picture, we need to understand that the Bible does not yield its meaning by being read as if everything is of equal importance and of equal authenticity. In other words, the Bible is not a perfect book.
As the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) from the Second Vatican Council points out, "The words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men" (No. 13).
As the Son of God took on imperfect human flesh, so God chose to speak in imperfect human language in the Bible.
The constitution did not hesitate to say that the books of the Old Testament "contain matters imperfect and provisional" (No. 15). Thus, the accounts of God's authorizing a slaughter in Exodus are "imperfect" and "provisional."
We recognize the various parts of the Old Testament for what they are: partial understandings of divine revelation that reflect the cultural and religious understandings of the time.
And here is the most important principle of all: We interpret the Old Testament in terms of the New. The truths and mysteries revealed partially in the Old Testament are fully revealed in the New.
As we well know, the God who revealed and incarnated in Jesus Christ is not a God of vengeance and slaughter, but a God of mercy and compassion.
'You are healed'
Question: Recently a priest from another diocese conducted healing services in our parish. Many people passed out on the floor after the priest laid hands on them. How does one know whether a healing is authentic?
-- Maggie Vucina, by e-mail
Answer: The normal means by which Christ's healing power is present and active in the Church is through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. In this sacrament, Christ the Physician reaches out through the ministry of the Church to heal or console people in various conditions.
Christ also works through the normal everyday good deeds of Christians as they minister through charity, kindness and solidarity to family members, neighbors, friends and fellow parishioners. Nor should we forget that God also heals through the skills of physicians, nurses and other trained medical personnel.
Beyond that, the Church recognizes that certain people have extraordinary gifts of healing. This has been the case throughout Christian history. The Church, as we well know, embraces the reality of the miraculous. However, because of the unusual forms that this kind of healing often takes and its occasionally spectacular nature, Church leadership has always been cautious about those who seem to have special gifts.
The only way to authenticate extraordinary healing is by its fruits. That a person is truly healed by the intervention of a charismatic healer needs the authentication of medical professionals. Since genuine healing is never of the body only, but also of the soul, one should expect to see a growth in holiness of life on the part of the person healed.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.