Graham – I’ve skim-read many parts of the Old Testament of the Bible and thoroughly read the New Testament all the way through, some sections several times. I regularly attend church and listen to the readings and sermons plus I read three daily devotionals and have also watched some videos explaining the Bible in a modern, creative way. I can’t pretend I understand all the Bible and many parts of it don’t seem to make sense to me – for instance, where people lived to be hundreds of years old and where women were still having babies into very old age – which they can’t even do now, despite all our medical advances and modern technology.
One of the most outstanding features which confuses me is that the God of wrath and anger in the Old Testament seems to be very different to the God of love and forgiveness in the New Testament. Can you explain why this is?
Rev Graham replies:
Thanks, Carol, for your very thought-provoking question which I think we can all relate to in respect to the mystery of God as perceived in the Old and New Testaments. The Bible as a whole is a very embracing book that covers lots of different subjects and life situations that can seem totally irrelevant to a modern world but also has to be seen in a wider context that has an everlasting wisdom and truth that we all can take hold of.
I have thought long and hard as how best to address your question and I have found myself reading about the life of Stephen: The First Christian Martyr in Acts Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 and think it might help towards answering your question.
Stephen was chosen to be one of seven to attend to the practical needs of the growing early church and considered to be a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. However, members of the local synagogue opposed him and referred him to the Sanhedrin to explain his teaching about Jesus that was disturbing so many, even though they recognised that his face was like that of an angel.
Stephen gave a potted history of the Jewish nation as recorded in the Old Testament and how God acted and reacted to individuals and the community of Israel in obedience and disobedience. He mentioned Abraham, a man of obedience, faith and hope. Through Abraham, Israel would be formed and later leaders would take them through a time of slavery and into the Promised Land. They were a favoured nation and God’s continual presence and guidance would be upon them and all future generations.
Stephen outlines that, in the days of Moses, they followed and rebelled against His leadership as witnessed in the making of the golden calf. During the time of the Major and Minor Prophets, the people continually turned to foreign gods and persecuted the prophets who represented God and had just murdered Jesus the very son of God. Stephen felt that the Jewish leaders limited God to the temple, as administered through the Law and Sacrifices, rather than God being shared for everyone which came from rebellion not ignorance.
In Genesis we have the account of the universe being formed and human kind being established in God’s physical earth. In John’s gospel Chapter 1 in the New Testament we read that ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ ‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.’ John the Baptist links God, the Father and Spirit of the Old Testament, to Jesus who existed with the Father and Spirit in creation.
Jesus is the source of the New Testament that brings new life and relationship between the Old and New Testament God who is full of power, judgement, love and grace. A living relationship with the creator God is based on a new covenant of love that sits alongside law, sacrifice and good works from a heart of obedience not independence and rebellion.
Jesus is the human and divine model which conjoins the Old Testament to the New Testament that helps us embrace them both in all their complexions and simplicity. The God of the whole Bible wants a personal relationship with His creation and has, and continues to show, His character that can and does include His wrath, judgement and condemnation as well as His deep love, forgiveness and compassion.
As a young child I was taught and nurtured in the Christian faith to accept the Bible as a complete story that gave me examples to follow and help me establish my solid and lasting Christian faith that has been attached to the real world of challenges and doubts. For a person who grows up outside the church, it is quite normal to ask the question we are considering now to make an informed choice about the validity of the Bible as a whole which ultimately has to submit to faith over intellect.
Stephen, in promoting the gospel of Jesus, challenged the religious practices within the Jewish faith. Individuals, leaders and priests became uncomfortable with the impact and legacy of Jesus that offered a different way of living a religious life. Every aspect of the Old and New Testaments will challenge our daily thoughts and actions and, in our own ways, we will accept some and disregard many laws and practises.
The essence of faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit requires an obedient faith that does not live by sight, intellect or complete understanding. In faith we trust that, in the midst of doubt and the uncertainties of life, we may find a clarity and wisdom from the Bible that enables us to experience a deep sense of God’s personal presence and for it to be a ‘lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ Here are some comparisons, contrasts and conclusions that exist between:
The Old Testament. The New Testament
The OT is foundational. The NT builds upon it.
The OT contains many prophecies. The NT fulfils many of them.
The OT provides a history of a people. The NT focuses on a person.
The OT shows the wrath of God against sin. The NT shows God’s grace towards sinners
(With glimpses of grace) (With glimpse of wrath)
The God of the Old Testament has taken on flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s character and relationship throughout the whole of the Bible relates to sin and wickedness and includes wrath and judgement alongside forgiveness, grace and love.
In the Old Testament, God demanded a life of holiness and, for any sin, it required an atonement (a covering not removal) that took place in various ceremonial cleansings and sacrifices. In the New Testament we find that the sacrificial death of Jesus acts as an atonement of sin (that removes sin not just covers it) as outlined in Hebrews 10: 10 – 14.
The purpose of all humankind is to glorify God in our worship and by obeying His commands. We can give thanks for the progressive revelation of God in the Old Testament and the revealing of Himself personally in the New Testament which is a completion and complement of, and to, the Old Testament and both are very important to study and live by.
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