Friday, December 12, 2014

"Two Gods" in the Bible?

It is often said, by people who really should know better, that the Bible contains two completely different images of God, and that these are found in the Old and New Testaments - - - and that they're utterly contradictory.  Whether spoken by a ditch digger or a professional theologian, this cliché goes as follows: "In the Old Testament, God was angry and judgmental and bloodthirsty and cruel; in the New Testament, He's gentle and loving and forgiving."  You've probably heard this statement many times - - - and maybe even accepted it, because, at first glance, it seems to make sense.  But truth is not always obvious at first glance.

As a matter of fact, not only is this cliché false, but its exact opposite is true.  Different aspects of God's character are revealed in the Old and New Testament: that much is true, although the various aspects can be seen both places.  But if you want to see the patience and longsuffering and love of God, you need to look at the Old Testament: and if you want get a glimpse of His fury and wrath, you go to the New Testament.

The above picture, from Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, is probably the most well-known image of God the Father ever produced.  Does He look merciful and happy and sweet?  No, He looks like he's about to slug somebody.  Not exactly the kind of God you want to know on a personal basis.  But that's the image people have.  And they associate this God with some very unpleasant characteristics.  This, in the popular mind, is the "Old Testament God:" the One Who chased Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, the One Who burned Sodom and Gomorrah, the One who sent out all those cranky, screaming prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel.   And, worst of all, He's the One Who laid down all those horrible Laws and regulations, so nobody could have any fun. He is, in the popular mind - - - let's be honest - - - a brute and a tyrant.  I emphasize that this is the popular perception; it is not what the Bible says.

"That's a God of hate," people say.  But when they come to the New Testament - - - not reading it, but dimly recalling what they've heard about it - - - they heave a sigh of relief.   That mean Old Testament God is suddenly gone!  Now there's a Baby in a manger, and angels singing in the skies, and Jesus forgiving sinners and telling us to consider the lilies.  That's a much more pleasant image!  If the God of the Old Testament was a bully, this God of the New Testament is (let's be honest again) a pushover!

Well ... that is, to put it mildly, a very superficial understanding of the Bible.  The fact that it is promoted and promulgated by some "theologians," who make their living with half-baked presuppositions, means nothing.  Just for novelty's sake, let's look at how God really acted in the Old Testament.

In the very beginning, when He created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a perfect environment: no diseases, no natural pestilences, no aging .... no death.  They even had perfect bodies. He gave them complete dominion and freedom.  Are these the acts of a loving Father, or a cruel tyrant?  And, like any loving Father, He sought to protect them, by warning them about the only thing in the Garden that could ruin things: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17).  Why was such a warning necessary?  Because, in addition to all His other gifts, He had given them free will: they could choose to do what they wanted - - - even if it displeased Him.  So, naturally, they did violate His single, simple warning, and (this cliché is unavoidable) the rest is history.  But even then, God didn't kill them or torture them: He simply allowed nature, which by now was fallen, to take its course.  A tyrant?  A puppet master?  Hardly.  Rather a God Who sought to create a universe, and fill it with goodness and love.

Generations later, He called out Abraham, from his homeland, and promised to make him the father of nations.  And from that promise came Israel, God's chosen nation, God's only nation on this earth, "the apple of his eye" (Zechariah 2:7, 8).  And He gave Israel His Law, to guide and protect them ... and the people of Israel began to break God's Law as soon as they received it.  As the generations progressed, they did everything from worshiping a golden calf, to "sacred" prostitution, to actually sacrificing their children, their babies, to idols.

And what did God, this Old Testament "tyrant," do?  He forgave them, and sent them prophets to remind them of their place in His heart.  Sometimes, He disciplined the nation, by allowing the Babylonian Captivity and such things.  But these were actions which the Israelites had brought upon themselves ... and God continued to forgive them, and give them another chance, and another chance, and another after that .....
Everyone talks of Sodom and Gomorrah, but who remembers Ninevah?  In the Book of Jonah, God warned that He would destroy the city in 40 days: no ifs, ands, or buts.  But when the people repented, God changed His mind, and spared them.  
If there is a single characteristic that marks the God of the Old Testament, apart from His holiness and power, I think it's His longsuffering.  His patience.  His willingness to forgive.  
But when we come to the New Testament, we see a different aspect of God's character and nature.  Yes, of course there's forgiveness; as I said earlier, God's various attributes can be seen in both Testaments.  Jesus Christ was the only Man Who ever walked this earth Who had the authority and power to forgive sins, and He forgave them willingly; He even wept over those who would not come to Him for forgiveness (Matthew 23:37).  But when it came time  for God, after all the centuries, to finally reveal His unbridled, incomprehensible wrath ... it was revealed in the New Testament.  
Because it was in the New Testament that God poured out all His hatred of sin, His unwillingness to abide sin, His perfect holy fury .... and He poured it all out on Jesus Christ, His only Son, the only sinless Man since the fall of Adam.  If you want to see the wrath of God (and I pray you never do), you don't look at the Old Testament: you look at Calvary, where Jesus Christ took all the wrath and fury of God Almighty .... so that we wouldn't have to.  If we receive Him according to John 1:12, we have nothing to fear. 
And if we study the Bible carefully, we won't believe in the silly, superficial cliché of the "two Gods in the two Testaments."
What a wonderful God!  What a wonderful Saviour!

1 comment:

  1. The other uninformed comment I've heard from people who don't understand the things of the Lord is that Christians worship three gods. The Trinity is a whole different can of worms!
    Holiness and power, longsuffering, patience, willingness to forgive, combined with wrath and judgment. It's clearly all in both the OT and NT once one looks past the surface.