Scanning through some more blogs, I came upon this blog post, which I thought was very well written. It got the mind ticking, and I wrote a rather lengthy response to it in the comment section, which I’ve reposted here. For those who have no interest in or not enough time to read the blog post, the topic was how to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament, for the OT God seems at times very much like an angry, violent and intolerant God, while Jesus is soft-spoken, meek, humble and loving. Below is my response. Any additional insight others might be willing to lend would be fantastic–even those non-believers who occasionally peruse my blog.
What a great post, as it hits on one of what I believe to be the two main theological issues Christians are faced with in this post-modern world (the other being the problem of suffering).
My wife and I are reading through the Bible this year, and as such we just finished Jeremiah a few weeks ago (never realized that the first 9 months of my year would be devoted to the OT; lot of stuff in there to cover!). You’re right; there does seem to be a lot of raging against nations that isn’t seen in the NT. It is enough to make one question, “why the difference?”
Luckily for me, our church also just went through the book of Hebrews. I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the establishment of the context between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. But to me this provides a reasonable explanation for the different responses of God in the OT versus the NT. Our pastor taught (and maybe you agree with this, maybe not) that the purpose of the Old Covenant was to demonstrate to people that they are inherently sinful and deserve punishment for that sin as a result. That’s why the establishment of the law was necessary–to show man that there are objective moral values, and that God is firmly on the right side of them and must respond justly to any actions that fall on the wrong side of them, in accordance with His nature. The New Covenant is to demonstrate to people how to live in light of that sin and to recognize that there is a means of salvation from this punishment. Naturally, salvation sounds plenty better than punishment, so God of the NT sounds a lot better than the God of the OT.
I don’t think the God of the OT went away though; He couldn’t have, otherwise He would not have the characteristic of immutability. One has to wonder if God rages against nations today; I would submit that it’s probable–it’s just that all nations reject Him to some degree, so it doesn’t seem targeted to any one country (i.e. Pakistan doesn’t get hit with more natural disasters than the U.S., let’s say) by our post-modern standards.
The problem that most people shaken by the God of the OT (and this includes both believers and non-believers) is rooted in a mis-understanding that God must be only loving all the time. The nature of God essentially mandates Him to constant righteous anger against sin. This still happens even today. It’s the salvation that exempts us from the execution of this anger that makes it not only a loving gift, but a precious one also.
So the OT to me provides excellent context for the NT, as it shows the reader what God’s nature is bound to, and it emphasizes how loving of a God He is in providing a way to be fit for heaven in spite of our unworthiness and undeservedness. Those who feel like the God of the OT is “capricious, spiteful, hate-filled and war-mongering” also carry with them a certain sense of pride, like God owes them an explanation. I don’t know if that necessarily applies to the person you spoke with, as this person seems more curious than proud. But when we realize that God must act this way to be consistent with His nature and that we are owed NOTHING by Him, it makes a lot more sense and is a lot more understandable.