Have you ever wondered if the God of the Hebrew Bible (which we call the Old Testament) is the same God of the New Testament? Many people wrestle with what they perceive as the angry God. You know, the plague-sending, earth-swallowing, fire-destroying, war-mongering deity of the Old Testament. How does that square with the God who is revealed in Jesus? You know, the “turn the other cheek, love your enemies, child-blesser, kind of God; who saves a tax collector and rescues an adulterous woman. Did the God of the OT get a makeover or morph into a kinder, gentler, more loving deity?
Let’s start with the Scriptures. (The Bible Jesus read) While there are plenty of battles, and God’s anger is frequently on display, one must not overlook the heart of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid; naked and ashamed. God responded by clothing them. Consider passages like Exodus 34:6 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin and Psalm 34:13 where God says: As a father has pity on his children, so the Lord has pity of you. These and many other passages reveal the character of God.
As you move through the Old Testament story, it is the love and mercy of God that gets ratcheted up. By the time you get to Hosea, God puts His faithful, loyal love (chesed) on display, despite the unfaithfulness of his people. And lest you forget, Jesus himself worshipped the God of the OT, even calling him Abba.
It’s true that the Gospels depict a strong image of God’s love as defined by Jesus, and demonstrated by the cross. However, Jesus himself talked more about hell than any other writer. Whereas John the Beloved, expresses the deep, deep love of God, by the end of the New Testament, it is the judgment and wrath of God that gets ratcheted up.
In Revelation we meet Jesus seated on the throne, his head crowned with gold, having a sickle in his hand. (Rev. 14) At his command, the wrath of God is executed on the wicked, resulting in a bloodbath unparalleled in human history. Is this the same God? Yes. The God of the Bible is both merciful, loving, and righteous, while at the same time holy, just and true. Not either/or, but both/and.
It’s okay to wince at the harsh and horrible things that happen to people in the Bible. God suffers as well. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)When reading either the Old or New Testament, I caution you to guard your heart from picking up a second hand offense. We weren’t there, but we can unknowingly take on the pain of those who were. We can make a judgment based on our read of the situation, inserting our cultural, social, emotional and even spiritual biases. In our minds, God can become the harsh dictator, while those punished are viewed as the victims.
Instead of ascribing ill-will to the Almighty, I strongly encourage you to join someone who saw both the kindness and severity of God firsthand: Moses. His response?“
I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
When you don’t understand his hand, trust his heart.