There’s a popular sentiment I’ve heard among both Christians and skeptics. Some phrase it as, the God of the Old Testament is a god of hate, while the God of the New Testament is a god of love. But don’t we say God never changes? Did God Change? How can we respond to people contrasting the violent judgment in the earlier text with the loving grace shown later?
1. Don’t Generalize God
The first thing I would point out is that this challenge is breaking down large books into generalizations. Yes, we do clearly see God’s wrath in the Old Testament. Between the Flood, the Plagues of Egypt, and the destruction of the Canaanites, we couldn’t hide this side of God if we wanted to. But to focus on these exclusively would be just as deceptive. If we only talk about God’s wrath, we ignore the many times he forgave people when they repented, the people he blessed, and the extra time and chances he gave to the Canaanites.
On the flip side, the New Testament isn’t all puppies and rainbows. Nearly all the mentions of Hell in the Bible, what could be argued to be the greatest form of God’s judgment, come from the New Testament. Most of our understanding of the final judgment comes from books like Revelation. Even Jesus did more than heal blind people and promote loving our neighbors. Some today might call Jesus a hateful person after seeing him call people whitewashed tombs and chasing people out of the Temple. At least to me, that all seems like it could plausibly be the same personality.
2. Changing Times
Something else to keep in mind is the difference in time. The Old Testament covers several thousand years of history. The gospels where most of this sentiment comes from, covers around 3 years, or 30 if you count the Christmas story. It’s a bit difficult to make sweeping character judgments when we’re dealing with such different lengths of time.
3. Did God Change, or Did We?
While God does not change, humans do. The Old Testament was only part 1 of a larger story. Israel was very young and vulnerable, God often went to extra effort to keep them from foreign harm and influence. The old covenant was never meant to be the perfect ideal for all time. It was always leading up to Jesus. God had a plan set in motion, and Jesus was the climax of that plan. When a good story gives us a thrilling plot twist during the climax, our reaction is not, “Wow, there’s no way this is the same author,” but instead, “This author did a wonderful job in surprising me.” Should we think of the author of the universe any differently?
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