“God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14)
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
This past week I was talking to a friend who’s participating in the Bible Read Through and he asked, “How do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament?” It’s a great question and one I believe we need to think about. There is a lot of hard material in the Old Testament that is often used against us. For example, in the The God Delusion Richard Dawkins (a very vocal atheist) says “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Personally I have a passion for apologetics so whenever I hear questions like this my brain starts churning on the argument, and how I would respond. In the movie the Expelled Ben Stein (who is interestingly enough Jewish) counters by asking Dawkins “How about if people believed in a god of infinite lovingness, kindness, forgiveness, and generosity; kind of like the modern day god, why spoil it for them?” To me the problem with that response is Jesus left no doubt that He claimed to be the God of the Old Testament. I certainly don’t have “the answer” but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’ve been reading through the Old Testament as part of the Creekside Bible Read Through.
It is important to start by considering the context of both the Old and New Testament. In most of the Old Testament God is working through a nation, His promises and commands are to Israel who He is leading as a sovereign nation. In the New Testament God calls people within their own nations to do the work of his kingdom within the framework of their existing political leadership (Romans 13). So there is no contradiction that God’s dealings with the nation of Israel look very different than his dealings with Christians. All of us implicitly recognize that the moral authority of nations is significantly different than that of individuals.
Next, people read the Bible within the context of our current society that doesn’t like the claim of moral absolutes, or the idea of sin and judgement. As a society we prefer to claim that we can do anything we want as long as it doesn’t harm others. The flaw with this line of thinking is it assumes that we have the right to do whatever we want with our lives, and our internal state will have no effect on others. Both of these are fallacies. The Bible teaches we are created with a purpose and therefore are subject to the laws God has established. Second it is impossible for our internal state to not impact others. To know this is true, we likely don’t have to think any further than the last time we were simply too tired and our interactions with others didn’t go as well as we would have liked.
Because of this the Bible clearly teaches that sin is a serious matter and must be judged. So when we see Israel conquering other nations, God is using them to carry out His divine judgement. For example, God tells Abraham that his descendants will inherit the land of the Amorites at a future date because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:16). By the time Israel conquers them they were sacrificing their own children! We are reminded that like a parent God has an obligation to judge and discipline humanity (Hebrews 12). C.S. Lewis proposes the theory that every little thing we do leaves a mark on the soul for eternity. So to be allowed to go on sinning without judgment would allow those people to continue to add eternal scars they were otherwise sparred from.
This is obviously a weighty subject and volumes more could be written on it but I’ve personally found the thoughts above helpful, and I hope that if it’s a question you’ve thought about you find them helpful as well.
Andrew can be reached via email here.