I’ve seen, as have I’m sure many other Christians, a dissatisfaction with the vast difference many people perceive between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. And, since it’s extremely early and I can’t sleep and Lent has just begun, what better time to take a look at it, yes?
Glad you agree.
Here’s the basic problem: God in the OT seems mean– we’ve got plagues, floods wiping out earth, destruction, wandering in deserts, wars, etc., and of course, the biggie, the expulsion from Eden. And then in the NT, in walks Jesus, who’s all about love and kindness and challenging other people’s lifestyles, and who, in many an idyllic view, never seemed to raise his voice or what have you. The people who see these as highly incompatible have a good point– these don’t really fit. But they then face the logical problem of this: if God is truly God as we describe him, his nature ought to be constant. That is, we say God is Love, God is Truth, etc., and these things don’t change. Why, then, does God?
And if he does change, why is he worth our worship? Can’t we pick the one we like better?
I think at the heart of this, though, is a misunderstanding of our predicament as sinners. I’m like most people, I think, in that I think of most people as basically good people. I like to think of myself as basically a good person. And I think (and hope!) there are merits in these opinions. But we have to understand divine-human relations as, well, a relationship– with the same principle behind it as any relationship: namely, that it can be broken.
At my university, as at several, and particularly at military colleges, there is an honor code or honor system as you prefer. Some schools with an honor system have varying punishments, but the strongest honor system schools only have one: you’re out. Why? Because they understand that at the heart of every relationship is trust, and to break trust is to break the relationship. All that remains is to sever formal ties; it’s merely a formality.
This is where we stand as human beings. We’ve broken the relationship between us and God– thousands of times, each of us. And God is Love, Truth, and Life– so when we leave him, we get Death, Lies, and Destruction. That’s not a vengeful God of the OT; that’s justice, as painful as it is to admit it. Those punishments are what we all deserve.
So why the “difference” between OT and NT? Well, Jesus. Because throughout human history, the one God of testaments Old and New had a plan to restore us to him, to bridge the chasm our sin creates between us, with a bloodied cross as our passage. It’s not that God’s supposed vengence goes away; it’s that Christ takes upon himself a punishment that is, justly, ours. As Paul says, the “wages of sin is death.” That means that the eternal separation and death we deserve gets redirected at Christ, the innocent but willing victim.
The “problem” between OT and NT exists only as a problem of perspective. Mostly, we like to think of ourselves as the good guys– I know I’d like to idealise myself as right there with John and Mary at the foot of the cross. But the problem is, we’re really like the thieves hanging right beside Christ. For those of us who know it, we know we are there justly, not at the whim of a cruel god, but nailed there by our own sins. The only “difference” between the New Testament and the Old Testament God is that from the Crucifixion onward, there is the opportunity to be like the Good Thief. That is, to know that our punishment is just, and yet claim Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf:
Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.