On a superficial reading, the God of the bible can seem quite different in the Old Testament as He does in the New. If you are not careful you can focus on His wrathful character, where he smites whole nations and appears; angry and vengeful and compare that with ‘nice’ Jesus who went around healing people and cuddling babies!
Modern atheists and sceptics love to seize on this caricature and focus on God’s angry aspect without any reference to God’s qualities of love and patience etc. The well known atheist Richard Dawkins writing in his book ‘The God delusion’ said “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (page 31) ouch! I don’t even know quite a few of those words but they don’t sound very nice. Now Richard Dawkins I know, has an agenda, but is there an element of truth in his rantings? Is this God of anger and wrath so different to the God of the New Testament?
The idea that it is a different God has been around for centuries. It started with a chap called Marcion in the second century, who had this teaching ‘Marcionism’ named after him. He believed, much like the Gnostics of the time that the wrathful God of the Old Testament was a lesser god (with a small g) from the all forgiving God of the New. He was denounced as a heretic and his teaching was refuted for the following reasons;
The bible is God’s progressive revelation. He dealt with people very differently throughout history. We see this in the various covenants He had with characters like Noah, Abraham and David. Each covenant building on the other, each one revealing more and more of His plans and purposes. These covenants also meant he dealt differently with people. He established and called His own people, the Israelites who could demonstrate His character to the world. This was with the express purpose of reaching these people and demonstrating mercy and grace to them, but they rejected Him outright and subsequently had to face the consequences.
To describe God in the Old Testament as only angry is a huge misrepresentation. God is amazingly loving, compassionate and faithful. This is demonstrated again and again in the Old Testament.
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6)
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf (Nehemiah 9:17-18)
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:4)
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:13)
Any many, many other passages.
The fact is that in the Old testament, God had to jealously guard His people to protect them from their enemies because they threatened to destroy His plan of salvation for all people, for all time (God is always looking at ‘the big picture’). What has to be remembered is that God is a God of justice as well as love and the evil of His enemies could not be condoned and go unchecked. Even then he gave them ample time to repent. The Amorites in Genesis 15:16 had hundreds of years to repent and in Genesis 6:3, Noah preached for 120 years calling the people to repentance before God sent the flood. Surely enough time to give them a chance? This was not a case of God wiping out innocent people. They were all wilful in their rebellion and often engaged in very violent and barbaric practices. To not act would mean that God would seem unjust. God dealt with His own people as a father would discipline the child he loves. It’s not unloving but ‘tough’ love, designed to bring transformation, repentance and change.
The bible describes God as unchanging (Malachi 3:6) and so let’s briefly look at the similarities between the God of the Old and the New Testaments;
We mentioned that God disciplines His children in the Old Testament but He also does this in the New;
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrew 12:6)
He is still a God of righteous wrath in the New
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
And He said some harsh words in Mark 16:16
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
And even though Jesus demonstrated the most amazing love and patience on many occasions he did still show his righteously angry side when He twice turned over the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple and when he rebuked His disciples on a number of occasions and the way He spoke to the scribes and Pharisee’s.
In summary it is very important to study the bible correctly and see that God has demonstrated His character in multi-faceted ways. It is also important to note that He is sovereign and is fully justified in whatever He does. I am so glad that throughout His dealings with mankind His mercy has triumphed over His judgement continually. He doesn’t always treat us as our sins deserve and that is why He is worthy to be praised.