A misconception appears to prevail that God in the Old Testament is very stern and judgmental while He appears to be very soft and forgiving in the New Testament. In his book, Farewell to God, atheist Charles Templeton says: “The God of the Old Testament is utterly unlike the God believed in by most practicing Christians” stating that “His justice is, by modern standards, outrageous…He is biased, querulous, vindictive and jealous of His prerogatives.” There are others who are of the view that the God of the OT (Yahweh) is entirely different from the Christian God of the NT. In other words, the Bible presents us with entirely two different Gods and that probably accounts for the difference in their personality traits. I’ll be very honest with you. I’ve also questioned myself a few times concerning this touchy subject. So I decided to do some research here and there and I’ve finally concluded that there’s absolutely NO DIFFERENCE between the nature of God expressed in the Old and the New Testament. Yes! God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The supposed difference one sees with respect to God’s image has got to do with the dispensation and relationship one finds himself/herself in relation to God. Follow me closely as I state and elaborate on the reasons for my stance on the subject matter.
To begin with, God is immutable – He DOES NOT change. God does not switch moods like humans. For Him to change His nature at any point in time would mean He’s either changing from worse to better or from better to worse which is highly impossible! The apostle James explained this truth using an interesting phenomenon. He referred to God as the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. The analogy is that God is fixed in His position like the sun constantly giving off light to the Earth. Day and night only occur because of the Earth’s movement and not that of the sun – the sun doesn’t ever move. God, like the sun, only appears to ‘rise’ and ‘set’ with time but in reality, WE ARE the ones who like planet Earth’s movement, determine what we receive from God.
Quite a number of biblical references in the Old Testament tag God as a pitiless and bloodthirsty being who takes pleasure in our pain and suffering. So non-theists and skeptics for example, draw out historical accounts such as (not limited to) the Genesis Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the mass killing of women and children and The Destruction of Jericho as concrete evidence to affirm their claims. But here is the thing: God in the OT is full of wrath and very tyrannical only if you analyze these historical accounts at a surface level. Upon deeper examination, there’s a lot more important aspects to these stories we so easily overlook and that is exactly the point where God is seen for who He truly is. Funnily enough, our thoughts about God differs vastly from the testimonies of those who were closely associated with Him. People like Abraham, Moses, David and Jonah held different opinions of who God is (positive ones of course). Please turn your Bible to the book of Exodus 34:6-7 as a starter and read it out loud:
6 And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord! the Lord! a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth,
7 Keeping mercy and loving-kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, BUT Who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.
This is how God introduced Himself to Moses in the Old Testament. At the mountain top, God told Moses that His grace, mercy and loving-kindness were extremely plentiful and over-sufficient in supply. Action speaks louder than words, right? Well, I’ll go right ahead to cite some few examples to support who God says He is. Cain was one of the first men to experience God’s loving-kindness even after He murdered Abel in cold blood. God had every right to punish Him by death but rather, He stalled the punishment and put a mark on Cain as a form of protection from anyone who sought to kill him. Talk about God’s grace towards Nineveh. These people were exceedingly sinful and God’s anger burned strongly against them. Yet God didn’t wish to see any of them get destroyed. So He sent Jonah to warn them against their immoral acts. Jonah made an interesting statement which is key to the revelation of God’s character. He said: “God! I knew it – when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen!… I knew you were full of grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment to a program of forgiveness! Amazing! I didn’t read this portion of scripture from Mark’s epistle or any other New Testament book. This is directly from the Old Testament passage (Jonah 4:2)! If you read the story further, you’ll learn that Jonah was rather furious with God for being ‘all too nice’ with the people of Nineveh. Imagine that! Do spend some time to read the whole book of Hosea. You’ll be INCREDIBLY ASTONISHED at the level of patience God has for mankind. But do all these actions seem to be in stark contrast to the brutal killings recorded in the books of old? Well, allow me to use the Genesis Flood story to make my point that God is not less loving in the OT. At a point in time in the history of mankind, sin went out of control. God was heartbroken because of increased sin in the world and therefore decided to rid the earth of every living creature. However, Noah won favor in God’s eyes and this compassionate, slow-to-anger God provided a means of the salvation for mankind: Noah’s Ark. Here is what we easily miss out on when we read this account. God did not only help Noah build this huge ark to save himself and his family from the pending flood, He actually made Noah a preacher of righteousness and salvation to the other inhabitants who were still living in sin (2 Peter 2:5). Dear reader, God was very gracious then! God created an opportunity for these evil, rebellious people to repent and be saved from their sins while they were champion sinners. According to this article, it took Noah about 75 years to construct the Ark meaning that these stiff-necked people were exposed to the message of salvation for as long as 75 years! But what did they do with it? They laughed at Noah (probably thought of him as a delusional being) and rejected God’s grace. How do you possibly blame God for your misfortunes when you despise His very grace that pardons? Throughout the OT passages, God sends people after people (it could be angels, prophets, etc) to warn man against the consequence of sin before He metes out any judgment. God’s free grace grants us enough space and time so that we can come to Him, repent and turn away from evil. However, this free grace is not cheap and as such has grave consequences that come with undervaluing it.
Another reason that tends to make one feel that God was very merciless in the OT but non-violent in the NT is the manner in which God executed judgment in both eras. It’s very easy to assume that God’s punishment for lawbreakers then was stricter than it is in the NT. I won’t deny the fact that the detailed description of the unpleasant events that befell law offenders of the old have the ability to make us question where God’s wrath is in our day. In the OT…
- King David lost his child because he committed adultery.
- The sons of Eliab (Dathan and Abiram) were swallowed up into the bowels of the earth when they rebelled against Moses and God.
- God sent poisonous snakes among the people of Israel in the wilderness for complaining.
- Uzzah was struck dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant
Yet we don’t hear these kind of news among sinful believers today. No wiping out of a city or a nation. No worms eating up our flesh. So God has mellowed eh? Or the common phrase from our mouths is ‘Thank God for abundant grace or else God would have directed a bolt of lightning at you FAST!’ We make it sound as though the measure of God’s Grace has increased in modern times. Well, the problem isn’t with God’s grace because the same measure of grace that existed during the time of the prophets and kings is the same measure of grace that abounds today. What we need to understand here is that the context in which God deals with mankind now is way different from the OT times. God only appears to be more gracious and merciful in the New Testament because of the Cross. Christ’s death on the cross was the perfect, ultimate sacrifice that paid our sin debt completely (once and for all) and offered forgiveness to all mankind. God was never pleased with the year-after-year sacrifice and offerings of the old although that was the only way man could atone for his sins. Animal blood couldn’t fulfill the full requirements of the Law but Jesus blood did. Let me quickly add that this is definitely not a permission for us to trifle with God’s grace. To think that we can keep on sinning because God can keep on forgiving is a deadly lullaby we must resist. God’s forgiveness is meant to lead us to repentance not sinfulness. Also, don’t forget that the Cross equally reveals God’s utmost displeasure towards sin. Because of God’s infinitely holy character and the nature of the ultimate sacrifice made by Christ, the punishment for sin which is hell is very horrific. Make no mistake! God is full of both wrath and love therefore never think His compassion for anyone will forbid Him from exercising righteous judgment. Do you think God will overlook sin when He Himself did not spare His own son from paying the ultimate price of sin on the cross? Jesus’ sacrifice satisfied God’s justice but it doesn’t rule out the fact that anyone who willfully tramples upon God’s free gift of salvation treasures up for themselves unimaginable wrath on the final day of judgment.
I’ve always wondered how non-theists manage to raise up arguments against the character of God. Please how do you accuse God of being a cosmic bully when you deny His existence in the first place? How do you even go ahead to bring up the issue of good vs evil when you outrightly deny objective moral reasoning? You can’t possibly call God evil if you believe in subjective moral reasoning where everything is at the mercy of one’s personal preference.
The extent and degree of God’s feelings for His creation in times past has never been different from what He feels for His creation today. The Bible is crystal clear on the fact that God is a perfect, unchangeable God. His perfection makes it highly impossible for someone of His caliber to be more/less gracious, kind, holy, just, merciful, pure etc than He is now. You don’t need to be bothered about God’s mood at any time because He does not change. What’s more important is that we establish the right relationship with Him. As simple as that. Someone put it nicely by saying: “Fire can burn. Fire can also provide warmth and comfort. It all depends on where we stand in relationship to the flame.” It’s the same with God. Your position in relation to Him will determine the kind of blessings or curses you’ll receive from Him. Before God, you stand as either His elect or His enemy. Today, I plead with you to make the right choice and enjoy His overflowing goodness.