Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament?
At first glance, God in the Old Testament seems harsh, and perhaps callous. God in the New Testament seems loving, and gentle. With respect, this is a simple misunderstanding. It’s also not new…this has been a common misunderstanding since at least the turn of the first century AD.
It may seem like the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament, but He’s the same. His nature and character have not changed at all. How does God describe Himself? Look at Exodus 34:6-7…
And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
In the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a shepherd who cares for His sheep, a faithful husband who forgives His unfaithful wife, and so on. His “New Testament character” is clearly seen in these descriptions. Yes, He created some strict rules for His people. Yes, He has always held people accountable for their actions.
On the flip side, those who see Jesus as only gentle and meek are also missing half of the picture. We all know that Jesus used very harsh words when talking to the self-righteous. Take a look at the list of “woes” that Jesus pronounced and try to picture Him as only meek and mild! We also read in the Gospels that He proclaimed a coming judgment on Israel, which happened in 70AD. Jesus talked just as much about Hell as Heaven, if not more. In Acts, Ananias and Sapphira were killed for lying. In Hebrews 10 we read that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and that He is a consuming fire (12:29). When we get to Revelation, we see that Jesus isn’t soft. He carries a sword, and will judge and destroy those who oppose God.
God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness have been shown from the beginning, from Genesis to Malachi. His justice – with wrath, punishment, and destruction – are there to see from Matthew to Jude and Revelation. God has not changed. He handles different situations differently, which makes sense…but His character has always been the same. Naturally, we LIKE to think of God as more loving and kind and gentle…but what would happen if that were His only attributes? The wicked and unrepentant would go unpunished. That would make Him unjust, and unloving toward those who have been victimized. Were He only harsh and demanding, He would be unjust toward those who love Him and seek to serve Him well.
The antidote to this misunderstanding is easy: just read the Bible more thoroughly. It’s hard to read the first few chapters of Hosea and not see that God is forgiving, loving, compassionate, and patient. We tend to think of God as emotionless, but Song of Solomon tells us otherwise. Reading through the Psalms will show that God cares for us deeply. At the same time, reading ALL of the Gospels – not just passages like the Beatitudes – will help us understand that neither the Son nor the Father are playing games. Lives are at stake, and there will be a reckoning.