I’ve been having a long-going discussion with a believer who has some interesting questions and thoughts about God and the gospel. I want to share an excerpt of our most recent discussion because some key points are brought up about the character of God. I only touched on these things briefly during this email because I did not want to over-load my friend. It was long-winded enough because one idea naturally leads to another. However, I think it’s worth posting here, or at least it might provoke some good questions or discussions. As always, feel free to comment below or email me.
The email poses a series of ideas which are in bold. My response is in regular text.
I think my overall area of concern with the Old Testament is it’s mythical qualities. It sounds like a book of legends at some points. For some reason it’s hard for me to put together the OT and the NT into the same timeline, if this makes sense. Even though there are clear connections and prophecies. God seems different.
I understand where you are coming from. There are stories in the OT that seem mythical, but then again, the general idea of God can seem mythical—and of course many think so. For me, when I consider God and how powerful He is, I ask myself, are these stories really all that implausible? God is a being without beginning or end and all things that exist are upheld by Him. For example, the things we see as “natural law” are ordained by God, so when things happen that seem to defy that law, is it so unreasonable to think that God could bring these things about? If you have specific stories that seem mythical you want to discuss, maybe I can help.
I’m not sure what you mean by “put together the OT and the NT into the same timeline.” I can see how that relates to prophesy, but other than that I’m not completely sure what you mean.
As for God seeming different, firstly, God does not change (see Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17). However, it is understandable why you (and doubtlessly many others) feel as though the God of the OT is different from the NT. Hopefully I can clarify this. I want to address the specific things you mention for now.
The god of the OT is a jealous and righteous God who smites down the opponents of his people, very violently sometimes.
God is jealous over His people, and His jealousy is righteous. Think of it like how a husband is jealous over his wife. Should he be pleased if his wife is unfaithful? The relationship between God and His people is very often described as espousal, and this is a large reason why that is. As God’s people, we are expected to serve Him only and not go “whoring” after other gods or idols.
There are a few ways we can look at this. For me, I think of the fact that because God is who He is, that makes Him uniquely seated in a place that is worthy of worship. Because I believe He is the one true God and all things are made by Him and for Him, and because I believe that in His mercy and goodness He not only allowed me to live but came to the earth and died so I could be redeemed places Him in a seat of great adoration. He is worthy of it by His very nature.
However, God does not need us to worship Him. He is sufficient to Himself without ever making mankind. Rather, it is us who need to worship God. When we really grasp God, specifically in the person of Jesus, and ordain our lives in a way that is reverent for God with a desire to do what is pleasing to Him, our lives are better. We have better communion with our Creator and many spiritual blessings abound in our lives. On the other hand, when we bow down to the things of this world, we are often ruled by destructive forces like addictions, greed, lust, and the like—and these things kill us. The ability to be faithful to God is a gift, but yet, it is also required because if we are not really loyal then this shows that our faith is not true.
Sorry if I kind of went off the rails a little on that. If I need to clarify something or if I didn’t speak to your concerns over God’s jealousy, let me know!
As for God smiting down the opponents of His people, that can be seen as an act of goodness and even mercy. God hates wickedness and He loves righteousness. The wicked people who oppress His people are eventually overthrown. However, if God’s people are not faithful, God often ordains the wicked to overtake them as chastisement for the purpose of bringing them back to Him. God then delivers them from the wicked oppressors. It’s a pattern in history that repeats, and it is a pattern that will happen again when the Antichrist appears.
I believe that the greatest barrier to understanding this is the false and popular notion that God loves everyone. The Bible gives many examples to show that God creates some who He loves and others He created to be hated. That sounds harsh on the surface, but let me explain. God is the creator. Who are we, the created beings, that we should ask God “why did you make me this way?” Paul the Apostle wrote of this (Romans 9:20). Also, consider this. If God did not make evil, who among us would be alive? Sure, there are people who are “better” or “worse,” but we are all sinners.
Another barrier is the idea of free will salvation. There are many who believe (as I do) that the Bible teaches that we are predestined to salvation. Meaning, God creates some people to be His people and He will save them, and God creates people who He has no intention of saving. However, because we are not God and we live according to our limited perspective, we live according to free will. Even so, God creates our natures. So, if it is in our nature to have faith, it is only because God gave that. Why do some have faith and others do not? It has nothing to do with intellect or lack there of, nothing to do with wickedness or lack there of. It is the predetermined will of God.
So, with the understanding that God creates some who He hates and some who He loves and will “save” through Jesus, maybe the concept of God smiting people makes more since. Why though, right? Why does God create some “vessels of dishonor and wrath” and “vessels of honor?” The reason is that God in His infinite wisdom deemed that this was how He would raise up the Sons of God.
We are told in the scriptures that the purpose of the creation is to “bring many sons of God to glory.” Each person on this earth is made for this purpose. We are either children of God who are being raised up according to His predetermined will, or we are those who God is using as tools to raise His children. This seems unfair. God is not fair in the sense that man would like, but He is good.
Think of it like this. None of us deserve life at all. Those who God is not raising up as His children are already given more than they deserve when they experience life at all. Think of all the billions upon billions of people who will never exist. Some life is better than none. Even the wicked receive God’s mercy, and many of them enjoy a lot of good things in this world. However, they are also very often God’s instruments of wrath, destruction, and so forth—all for the purpose of driving this world in the direction He deems is best for the raising up of His children.
Even Satan was created for the purpose of raising up God’s children. It is good for us to struggle, to be tempted, to learn faith and trust in God. To overcome sin by the power of Jesus in our lives. This world is like a womb and it is laboring to bring us all forth, and the process is not supposed to be easy. We are being made into the image of Jesus, the image of God. That takes some affliction and some work. Thankfully the work is something Jesus does to us, not something we have to do ourselves.
The natural progression of thought might be something like this: If God creates some to be loved and others to be hated, and if God predetermines who will be saved and who will not, then does that mean that God predestines people to eternity in hell? This is yet another traditional belief I do not agree with. For more on that, you can read: The Nature of Hell (Complete Series)
I also have writings and scripture on predestination and election to salvation if you’re interested.
When the Israelites invade Canaan and slaughter the people living there, down to the children. The razing and complete destruction of the Earth in the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction as well. God is very physical, very impactful.
Yes, God is very impactful in these scenarios. I understand that it is hard to understand why God would kill people, even children. Again though, I think it is easier to understand and accept when we rid ourselves of the idea that we are entitled an existence at all, much less are we entitled a long or pleasant existence. It also helps to know that God does not love all equally. God destroys the wicked in His own perfect way and time. It might seem as though God is not active today because we don’t perceive God destroying civilizations on the same mass scale as He did in the OT.
God does still do this. Wicked people die every day. We all taste death, in-fact. Our lives are so small. Paul the apostle compared our lives to vapor. From the perspective of eternity, what difference does it make if a wicked person dies when they are a baby or when they are 100? To us it seems unjust, but to God, He knows each person without the limits of time. He knows the natures of us all, and none of us deserve any life whatsoever.
There will come a day when God raises up people who are wicked who will again afflict His people who have gone astray. They will be brought into captivity because they have become the “Great Whore.” Many will return to Him though during the time of trouble, and again God will have mercy and deliver His people and the entire creation will be shaken and death and destruction will cover the earth on such scale as was never seen before—and it is that merciful lamb, Jesus, who will bring the wrath of God on this earth. Make no mistake though, the false prophet will come first and he will bring death to Christians, but like I mentioned, this is the final example of God’s unfaithful people being lead into captivity, and Jesus will save his remnant, but when the wicked are finally slaughtered, it will be a massive blood bath.
And that same God is the father of Jesus and sacrifices his only son to save everyone on earth. It seems like a stark contrast. I understand that the difference is that the NT is from the perspective of a small time period following Jesus and his disciples, compared to the OT which follows the nation of Israel throughout several generations. God is present in the NT through Jesus obviously, but very reserved and humble. He says the meek shall inherit the earth and welcomes the weak and poor, and forgives sin.
I think the points I made up until this point answer your concerns here. God did not sacrifice His Son to save everyone on earth. He sacrificed His Son to save people from “all” nations. Jew, gentile, male, female, bond, free, “all.” Not just the Jews. That is what was meant by “all.” Jesus was very reserved and humble, and loves the meek and the righteous. However, would Jesus be loving if he allowed those he loves to continue in oppression without delivering them? The final act of God’s vengeance is an act of righteous judgment and even mercy for His people—and they will inherit the earth. The proud are made low and the humble are exalted. I could write much more about how all this applies to that time-frame, but I don’t want to get too off track.
Jesus was gentle, but he was also very sharp. He rebuked his followers often and said things that were very hard for people to swallow. I’m paraphrasing, but things like “take up your cross and follow me,” “If you deny me I will deny you,” “If you do not forsake all for my sake you are not worthy of me,” “each branch in me that is unfruitful is cast into the fire.” He was not all smiles and good times. He was stark, to the point, and severe. He is merciful to those who are repentant, sincere, and humble. He hates the proud, wicked, unmerciful, and deceitful. However, we can always grow in being rid of these things, and He is merciful and patient with us when we are honest about our wickedness and seek him for forgiveness and healing.
Also, though we often suffer for our sins because God corrects us, sometimes we suffer because it is part of life and God’s plan for making us strong in Him. All things work together for the good of those who trust the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).