The Tale of Two Gods?

There was a heresy in the second century AD named after Marcion of Sinope (ca. 85-160) that claimed the God of the Old Testament was not the same deity as worshipped by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Marcion believed that the Yahweh of the OT was a “demiurge” (subordinate to Supreme God) which had created the material universe; a tribal God of Israel characterized by wrath and jealousy. He also believed that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed in the NT as a God of love and compassion. (See Marcion’s work Antitheses)

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, has a similar perspective on the God of the OT: “petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, blood thirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (p. 31) Wow! Sounds like an all- round bad guy.

I would not place Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Church in Georgia, into the same category as either Marcion or Dawkins, but he nonetheless has walked onto thin ice having suggested that Christians need to “unhitch” the OT from their understanding of faith and solely focus on the Resurrection of Jesus. He believes that we need liberation from the Law of the OT to the grace and mercy of the NT.

Perhaps you have shared similar feelings as you’ve read through the OT. You’ve run across things that God said or did that just rankled your senses. What are we to make of this, especially as we compare it to the NT? Not to over simplify, but I would like to point out two things for you to think about that may help you work through this supposed discrepancy:

First, it is important to read the Bible (OT and NT) over and over on a regular basis— from beginning to end, from front to back, in order to gain a sweeping view of God’s character and actions. Most of us find ourselves (naturally) put off by babies being slaughtered and tribes being eliminated because of the sin of one of its members. However, if we focus just on these and ignore context then we can make as wrong an assessment of the OT as the arborist who judges the health of a forest on the basis of one or two trees. While I still struggle with some passages in the OT, the more I read the more I see God revealed progressively as a God of compassion and mercy. For example, I read through the book of Jonah this morning and saw this clearly portrayed. Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the great enemy of Israel, and to preach judgment. Jonah ran away from the task. Why? Because he was a chicken? No. Look at Jonah’s response when God suspended his judgment because Nineveh repented: “That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing (initially) to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents in sending calamity” (4:2). Jonah knew the character of God and he thought it was just plain wrong that God’s mercy should be available to any nation other than Israel. (Aren’t you glad Jonah is not God?)

I also think of the example of Moses in Exodus 33–34, whose view of God was deepened by the events surrounding the punishment of Israel for worshipping the golden calf. Poor old Moses was frustrated. He felt caught in the middle between an unruly people and a God who threatened to abandon them because of their disobedience. In hindsight, we see that all of this was a test of Moses’ faith to bring about the desired effect of making him yearn for a deeper knowledge of God… “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) And so, God brings Moses back up on Mount Sinai where he puts the frustrated leader in the cleft of a rock while the “backside of God’s glory” passes by: “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. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished….” (34:6–7) A God of justice- absolutely! A God of compassion and mercy- yes!

Second, and this is basic, there is no indication that Jesus ever adjusted the thinking of his followers to worship any other God than Yahweh of the OT. Instead, he came to further reveal his Heavenly Father. Jesus’ stinging rebuke of the Pharisees and his call for sinners to repent were just as poignant and powerful as any of the OT prophets. In fact, he did not come to set aside the OT and its call for obedience and righteousness, but to fulfill them—to show what obedience and righteousness looked like. What seems to soften the NT for us is that God becomes personalized in Jesus Christ. We see Yahweh’s compassionate and loving nature more clearly hallmarked in the life and sacrifice of God’s very own Son because of his great love for us. And we receive his open invitation to receive the forgiveness of our sins and to enter into the Family of God through faith in Christ’s work for us.

Does that mean justice and righteousness are set aside in the NT by the work of Christ? On the contrary, “he (God) did it to demonstrate righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 3:26) Christ died, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that the just demands of the law might be satisfied. Justice being accomplished, God showed his mercy in justifying (putting in the right) those who have faith in Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

No, the OT and NT do not contain the tale of two Gods. They contain the story of one God who progressively revealed himself to his people Israel as they grew in their understanding of him; ultimately revealing himself to the whole world in his Son. Someone described the OT as a house standing without the roof and the NT as the roof without the house. The OT ends somewhat abruptly, begging to be completed by something new that God was going to do. The NT begins somewhat enigmatically with a Jewish remnant again captive to a foreign power, waiting for a new Moses to deliver them. Jesus appears as that Deliverer—not only of Israel, but of all the nations who would believe—”For God so loved the world….” The Bible is a well-built house where justice and mercy meet in both Testaments and whose doors are open to anyone who repents and believes in Jesus.

NOTE: STARTING THIS COMING SUNDAY (Dec. 1), PLEASE CHECK OUT THE MENU ON MY HOME PAGE FOR DAILY MEDIATIONS FOR THE FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT.

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