I admit it. When I was younger, I thought of God in those terms: Old Testament God and New Testament God.
Old Testament God was strict, unyielding, law-giving, vengeful, righteous and just.
New Testament God was loving, understanding, grace-lending, forgiving, faithful and merciful.
At first, I thought He had changed. You know, as if something unrecorded happened to His nature in those intertestamental times. Or that maybe having a Son softened His outlook toward us. He got nicer. Sweeter. More lovable. Less fearable and ferocious.
Then I thought that it was we who had changed. We grew up as a race, mankind did, because He gave us law, and we figured out how to act mature and maybe even be mature, so He didn’t have to treat us like vicious children.
Whatta buncha bunk.
God does not change (Malachi 3:6). And – like Father like Son – Jesus is the same, yesterday today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And so are we, the same ornery human critters we have always been. (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
God has always been both loving and strict, unyielding and understanding, law-giving and grace-lending, vengeful and forgiving, righteous and faithful, merciful and just.
I just didn’t read scripture closely enough to see it before.
HE IS WHO HE IS (Exodus 3:14).
He explained that quite clearly to Moses:
“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 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. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” ~ Exodus 34:5-7
He didn’t obliterate Adam and Eve when they sinned; nor their son Cain (but showed mercy and put a mark of protection on him); nor Abram when he lied (twice!) about Sarai being only his sister; nor Aaron when he lied and said the calf sprang out of the fire; nor Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar when they disobediently did not eat an offering after their brothers disobeyed God with their offering by fire and were incinerated; nor Moses when he struck the rock … and on and on and on.
And if I got the notion that the just nature of God somehow disappeared before the star of Bethlehem shone, it certainly wasn’t from anything Jesus said:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. … Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” ~ Matthew 25:41, 46
Not even sins of omission – failing to care for the poor and hungry and incarcerated – are too small to escape God’s wrath.
And I certainly didn’t get my goofy perception from John, to whom it was revealed:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” ~ Revelation 20:11-15
Now it would be very convenient for me to be able to compartmentalize God and be done with the part of His nature that I don’t want to deal with; to have a huggy-cuddly-snuggly god who looks the other way when I do what I want to, even if it hurts him or others or even myself. Because then I could go cry to him and he would just say, “Oh, there, there. I know you didn’t mean it. Let me make that boo-boo go away” and he would undo all the laws of causality just for me and make it as if I had never done anything bad.
And I would never, ever learn anything worthwhile at all.
I could do it all my way.
How convenient for me.
Because who needs a god who gets angry and who cares about all of his created children and wants them to be good all the time and not hurt themselves or each other and doesn’t let them have their own way?
God is no capricious, arbitrary, maturing nor schizophrenic god like the creations of Greek and Roman philosophy (and many, many other religious cultures who created “god” in their own image).
He is always the same because we are the same, just as we have always been: selfish, rebellious, deceitful, ornery, violent, murderous.
He is the same because we need a constant in the chaos we have created for ourselves through the gift of choice He gives us: to be like Him, or to be like us.
What changed was that the time came for Him to make good on all the promises He had made us; to send us an example of his just-and-merciful nature in the person of His Son that we could see and imitate and choose wisely; to send us someOne who could measure up to the perfect standard that none of us could possibly approach.
And then die, to remind us that all our self and sin leads to death.
And then to live again, to prove to us that He has the power to forgive and give life to us again after sin has reduced us to dust and ashes.
That same God, manifesting a mastery of both aspects of the nature we simply cannot achieve, is One (Deuteronomy 6:4); One holy God (Leviticus 11:45); whose ways are loving and faithful for those who keep His covenant (Psalm 25:10); but who destroys the wicked (Psalm 145:20). He is stern to those who fall and kind to those who continue in His kindness (Romans 11:22), which He has expressed to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).
So there are two covenants. But there is one testament; a testament to One divine, perfect, unchanging nature reaching out to every flawed, selfish, human nature – each one of us – created with the ability and purpose of changing, maturing, growing better, growing God-wise and God-ward through faith in Jesus Christ. One God, over all the nations, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
He lets us choose.
And He lets us bear the consequences.
Because He loves us: this singular, unimpeachable, incomprehensible, inconvenient God.