Another reason to read the Old Testament: the power of its big ideas.
A theme that runs through the Pentateuch, the historical books, the prophets, and the book of Proverbs is personal responsibility. The prophets are often caricatured as preaching that God will strike down sinners with lightning bolts, but another way to hear their message is as one of calling people to take responsibility for what they do–as individuals and as communities. Human actions and human words matter. Although I’m not advocating to a return to the sacrificial system, I do see in Leviticus a recognition that brokeness must be repaired and find hope in its affirmation that restoration is always possible.
This insistence that human action has significance carries over into some Old Testament depictions of God. God in the OT gets caricatured as grumpy, vengeful, and rigid, but in portraying the deity’s intense emotions the texts offer a God who is intimately involved in and passionate about what humans do to one another. Reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets convinced me that a God burning with pathos can be a positive image: I’d rather have a God who indignant about human suffering than one who is static and emotionless. The opposite of an angry God isn’t a loving God. It’s an apathetic God.
But if Heschel and I don’t convince of the value in this image of God, then protest–please. In the OT, God is also tough enough to withstand, even welcome, human complaints against divine actions. Lamentations, Psalms, and Job not only suggest that it’s OK to question God: it’s expected.