What are we supposed to think about the God of the Old Testament who seemed to be very angry and violent, even condoning sinful behavior in His people at times, when we see something very different in Jesus?
Does this prove that the Bible is full of contradictions? Or…is it telling us something else?
If you’ve been reading my blog you know that my theology finds its center in Jesus Christ. Anything that is not like Jesus is not like God. Any view that sees God the Father differently than how we see Jesus Christ needs adjustment. Furthermore, God is love, period. He’s not love and….He is love. Any doctrine that puts God outside of His love is not sound doctrine.
I won’t even dream of giving an exhaustive answer to this question in this brief offering. But I do want to share a basic principle that will help us begin to sort out this perceived contradiction in our minds.
First, my premise. To quote Bill Johnson, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology.” Here is the scriptural evidence (bold-type added):
“And He is the radiance of His glory
and the exact representation of His nature,
and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Heb.1:3 NASB)
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also;
from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)
“The one who does not love does not know God,
for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 NASB)
What these passages tell us is that the only completely accurate view of God is the one that Jesus gives us. He didn’t just act like His Father; He was an exact representation of His nature. That means that anything that contradicts how Jesus described His Father parabolically, or how He expressed His heart toward all people by word and deed, is not the true nature of God. And any time we try to explain God outside of His love we are misrepresenting His true nature.
What this is saying to us is that the only accurate interpretative lens for understanding God is through the lens of Jesus Christ.
If we want to understand God, we start with Jesus Christ, not with the Old Testament.
Of course, this raises an obvious question…what about the God of the Old Testament? After all, He didn’t seem to be acting like Jesus or the Prodigal’s father at all! We can all point to passages where God is telling His people to wipe out every man, woman, child, dog or cat, or where He seems to look the other way at the immoral or unethical shenanigans of His own leaders. That doesn’t sound much like what we see in Jesus, does it?
Well, it doesn’t…for a good reason.
First, we need to look at something profound that Jesus said (bold-type added):
“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father;
and no one knows the Son except the Father;
nor does anyone know the Father except the Son,
and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matt.11:27 NASB)
Do you realize what Jesus is saying here? He’s saying that no one actually knew God before Jesus came to earth! Not Adam, not Noah, not Moses, not David…. I want that fact to percolate in your brain for a minute.
John tells it this way (bold-type added):
No one has seen God at any time;
the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father,
He has explained Him.” (John 1:18 NASB)
What Jesus and John are saying is that all throughout history God’s people never actually knew God as He really was, until Jesus showed up. Yes, they had a relationship with God before Jesus, but they never saw Him as He truly is. For God could not show His true nature to them.
Since Adam, and through Israel’s history, God only related to them at a level they could understand, in a way they could comprehend Him. Here’s what David said about this…
“You prove to be loyal to one who is faithful;
you prove to be trustworthy to one who is innocent.
You prove to be reliable to one who is blameless,
but you prove to be deceptive to one who is perverse.” (2 Sam.22:26-27 NET)
In other words, God revealed Himself to people in their own reflection.
In the Old Testament, we see God dealing with the bloody and violent world of Noah, then bringing Abraham out of his pagan Babylonic roots, progressively walking Israel out of their idolatrous culture–showing Himself violent to the violent, merciful to those who show mercy and loyal to the faithful. They only saw glimpses of God’s true nature all throughout the Old Testament. It wasn’t until Jesus came that we actually know God as He truly is. Jesus was the 200-proof, undiluted God of love in human flesh!
Try to picture it this way. Say I’m a father who has a son. When he is two-years old, I will play with him on the floor, joining in his imaginary games, my language will be simplistic. I may even yell at him when he’s about to run into the street. He won’t understand why, but I have to protect him as a good father. To the observer my rules might seem very curt and my relationship very strict. But as he grows older and develops as a human being, the rules will change and he will have more freedoms. I no longer have to stop him from running in front of a car or touching a hot stove. Finally, when he’s an adult, I have no rules for him to follow because he can think for himself and protect himself. He’s a totally free person, but he’s still my son. In fact, he’s taken on some of my nature and acts a lot like I do. The point is, our relationship is totally different than when he was two-years old.
So here’s my question. Did I change as a father?
Of course, I didn’t change. I was the same father throughout his entire life. My son is the one who changed. And now that he’s an adult, he has the ability to understand me as I truly am.
We can see God’s relationship with mankind this way. Israel was like a small child with our heavenly Father, under the strict tutelage of the Law–possibly a young adult at Jesus’ appearing. We can see full adulthood as us becoming His sons and daughters who now have the indwelling Holy Spirit and know who we are in Him. God no longer relates to us at all like He did with Israel.
Here’s how Paul explains this relational progression (bold-type added):
“Even so we, when we were children,
were in bondage under the elements of the world.
But when the fullness of the time had come,
God sent forth His Son, born[a] of a woman, born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal.4:3-5 NKJV)
Do you see it yet? God did not change. We (mankind) grew up. And when we were ready–when the fullness of time had come–God became flesh and now we finally see and understand God as He truly is.
This is why we see Jesus telling His followers, “You have heard it said, but I say….” In many cases, actually overruling the Old Testament truth with greater truth about God. Jesus was upgrading their view of God to how He really felt about things. In other words, as He told Thomas in John 14:7, “From now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
Beloved of God, this is why you cannot view God through the “glasses” of the Old Covenant, and why you cannot base your relationship with God on Old Covenant truths–especially, when they contradict New Covenant truths. No, we must see God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness,
who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor.4:6 NKJV)