I’ve not posted much here lately, or even for the last year or so. I’m hoping to come out of “semi-retirement” soon. I’ve been busy, not so much uninspired. I’m working on other writing projects, but I enjoyed the writing regularity that (good) blogging requires. So I’m hoping to get back at it.
In the meantime, a friend recently mentioned a discussion that centered on the idea that “the God of the OT” was wrathful whereas “the God of the NT” is merciful. The very idea gives me a rash. I dealt with it last year, but it’s a common enough and dangerous enough error that I’m reposting my two cents on it. Hope it’s helpful.
There’s a common misunderstanding that is really nothing short of heresy: the idea that Jesus is somehow nicer than “the God of the Old Testament.” I’m not sure where the idea comes from—perhaps a misunderstanding of passages like John 1:17. But I’ve heard it from church members, and I recently read hints of it from no less a scholar than Philip Yancey. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew (which I’m enjoying, by the way), he suggests that Jesus is somehow kinder and gentler than the God of the OT:
“In short, Jesus moved the emphasis from God’s holiness (exclusive) to God’s mercy (inclusive)” (p. 155). [In a footnote just before this sentence, Yancey quotes Dorothy Sayers as she contrasts the attitude of Jesus toward women with that of “His prophets before Him” (p. 154). What a strange notion!]
“As Shusaku Endo sees it, Jesus brought the message of mother-love to balance the father-love of the Old Testament” (p. 158).
Jesus certainly didn’t minimize the exclusive holiness of God. He lived a perfect life to fulfill it, then died a penal death to satisfy it! He is merciful, to be sure, but His is a sanctifying mercy…as always.
There are scores of problems with the idea that Jesus is the “good cop” and the Father/OT God the “bad cop.” Here are a few that come to mind:
1. First, Jesus IS the God of the Old Testament. Evidence of this abounds. For example, John 12:41 says that when Isaiah saw the thrice-holy Jehovah lifted up, he was seeing the Son of God. To contrast Jesus with “the God of the OT” reveals a ghastly Christology.
2. Jesus reveals the Father. One of my favorite themes of the New Testament (and one of the most oft neglected, I believe) is the teaching that Jesus came to earth to reveal to us the unseen God (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:1-3). (I’ve written on that grand theme in the 2nd verse of this hymn.) As Christ tells Thomas in John 14:7, to see Him is to see the Father. If you want to know what “the God of the OT” is like, look at Jesus.
3. God has always been nice. Infinitely nice. Omninice. Thus, when asked to uniquely reveal Himself to Moses, here’s what He said:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7).
He’s always been merciful, as the first half of that statement makes clear. And He’s always been holy, as the second half makes clear. And that won’t change. He won’t change (Malachi 3:6).
4. Jesus isn’t as passive as people think. Those who think of “the OT God” as a God of judgment and Jesus as a God of undiluted mercy need to spend some time in the book of Revelation, which has far more blood than any OT book!
5. The three members of the Trinity are indivisible in their attributes. None is more anything than the others. Each—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is perfect.
There are more reasons (share them!), and the ones I’ve listed could probably be expressed and illustrated more clearly. But the bottom line is this: The idea that Jesus is in any way different from “the God of the OT” is bogus. Dangerously so. Don’t believe it.
Note: While I obviously take exception with the statements I quoted from Philip Yancey, I’m not suggesting that he’s guilty of all I’m addressing here. Not at all. We just need to be careful how we speak of Christ.