I recently heard a couple of comments that really bothered me:
- “I don’t like to read the Old Testament. It’s all about God’s wrath.”
- “Which one is true, the kind, loving Jesus or the mean God of the Old Testament? It can’t be both!”
While the person I’m quoting was patterning her image of God on her abusive earthly father, she pointed out a common belief—that God the Father is primarily an angry person—that while Jesus is our friend and brother, the Father has a big scowl on his face.
This is a lie. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus said, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7) One reason Jesus came was to show us, in person, what the Father is like.
If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is out to punish us, consider these passages.
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6)
… and said: “Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. (1 Kings 8:23)
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
And that’s just a quick sampling—there are plenty of verses that tell us God loves us, that He is faithful, compassionate, slow to anger, etc.
But what about all the times when God becomes angry with Israel? When they are conquered by their enemies? When He rains destruction down on them? When He orders the Jews to annihilate an entire people?
Yes, God did those things. But there was always a reason. In fact, it’s always the same reason: unrepentant sin. God punishes sin. Would we want it otherwise?
What does sin do to us? When we turn to other gods, whether they be images of demons or the latest electronics, we are seeking our pleasure apart from the one true God, the only one who can truly satisfy our desires. When we sin, we hurt not only ourselves, but those around us, whom God loves. God hates sin because it destroys the very ones He died to save.
When I read the Old Testament (and my favorite book of the Bible is Isaiah), I am confronted with a God who loves us so much, He literally begs for our love and attention. It’s only when we stubbornly refuse Him that He is forced to take extreme measures.
The first chapter of Isaiah (below) tells of God’s anguished frustration with Israel. He wants them to be just and merciful, but instead they worship idols and harm one another. God is pleading with His beloved people to return to Himself. He warns them that they will be taken captive or killed in battle if they do not repent, but that isn’t something that He wants to do! He just knows that leaving them to their disobedience will be worse for them in the long run.
The rest of the book continues this theme—God calling in love for his lost people to return to Him, not wanting to punish their sin but having no choice when they persist in their rebellion.
There is no difference between the God of the Old Testament and God as portrayed in the New. At all times and in all ways, He loves.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
21 See how the faithful city
has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.
24 Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities.
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness,
the Faithful City.”
27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
her penitent ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake the Lord will perish. (Isaiah 1:18-28)