Christians talk a lot about love. Indeed, throughout the entire Bible, especially the New Testament, we find a lot of space given to the notion of God’s love. The most often quoted verse in the Bible is John 3: 16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Christians are convinced that God loves everyone. Well most Christians anyway. Calvinists don’t believe that God loves everyone and that God’s love is reserved for the elect, those chosen by God before the foundation of the world. Most people, at some time or the other, will be told that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life.
Certainly a God of love is a great idea, but unfortunately when we take time to carefully read the Bible we do find a God of love, but the God of love pales considerably when compared to the God of wrath, judgment, hate, and fury.
While a case can be made from the New Testament for the God of love, when it comes to the Old Testament, the God of love is largely absent. I’ve often wondered if some Christians secretly wish that the Old Testament had never been written? Their case for God being a God of love is much easier to make without the Old Testament. But the Old Testament is central to the Christian faith and it is the God of the Old Testament that I want to spend most of the rest of this post talking about.
When I read the Old Testament I see a God that any sane human being should fear. From the very first pages of the Bible we see a God that hates sin and has little tolerance for the foibles and faults of humans.
According to the Bible, God created Adam and Eve and gave them one command to obey: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So what did Adam and Eve do? They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How did God respond to their transgression? He cursed them and condemned them to death. Not only that, but every human being after Adam and Eve are also cursed and condemned to death.
Someday all of us will die, and, according to the Bible, we will die because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit. A piece of fruit? Yes a piece of fruit. God so hated their transgression that he cursed every human being that would ever live on the face of the earth. This God is one not to be trifled with and one that we should fear.
Adam and Eve had two sons named Cain and Abel. I’m sure you know the story well. What I want to focus on is Cain killing Abel. After Cain killed Abel God cursed him and put a mark on him. As a boy I was taught that the mark God put on Cain was that he made him black. Again, a God to be feared.
Six chapters into the book of Genesis we find that God is already sick and tired of the human race. God is so upset that he wishes he hadn’t created humans. How did God deal with the sin and rebellion of the human race? He killed everyone, save eight people. Think about this for a moment. God killed men, women, children, and unborn babies. Kind of hard to make a pro-life case for this God. Again, a God to be feared.
Throughout the Bible God commands his chosen people to slaughter others. Anyone who got in the way of the Israelites or refused to worship the true living God, God commanded that they be killed. Even among God’s chosen people God had no tolerance for disobedience. When God had Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt he got upset over their lack of faith and obedience. So what did God do? He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years and he killed everyone over the age of twenty. Again, a God to be feared.
From Genesis to Malachi the message is clear, mess with God and you die. The Old Testament God is a God to be feared.
It should come as no surprise that some people decide that there are two Gods in the Bible, the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. (personally, I think there are multiple gods in the Bible) These people rightly understand that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are incompatible. Christians have spent two-thousand years trying to make the Old Testament God and the New Testament God compatible with each other. Perhaps God has a split personality and that explains the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God?
But even in the New Testament there are events that tell us that the God of love has a real mean streak. What are we to make of the death of Jesus on the cross? According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus died on the cross for other people. The Arminian says Jesus died for everyone and the Calvinist says Jesus died for some people, but regardless of the breadth of the atonement, Jesus suffered a painful, awful death on the cross because of the sins of others.
Who punished Jesus on the cross? None other than his father, the wrathful God of the Old Testament. God the father poured out his wrath on his son, ultimately killing him. Think about this for a moment. Think about a father brutally killing his son because of what someone else did. Would we think such a man to be worthy of our admiration or our love? I think not.
The death of Christ on the cross at the hands of his father is a poignant reminder that God hates sin and those who do it. In fact, if it wasn’t for the atoning work of Jesus and Jesus standing as our go between, God would pour out his wrath on us right this moment. This is a God to be feared.
In the book of Acts we are told a story about two people who told a lie. Ananias and Sapphira lied about selling some property and God killed them on the spot. The Bible says that great fear came upon the people. I too would fear a God willing to kill over the price paid for a piece of property.
And then there’s the book of Revelation. From start to finish the book of Revelation is all about God killing and destroying. God uses the most deplorable methods possible to prove that he is the meanest, baddest son of a bitch in the universe. I’m surprised that a movie has not been made about the book of Revelation. This movie would make Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ look like a G rated kids flick.
While many Christians want to focus on the good stuff found in the Bible, things like love and forgiveness, we must not forget that far bigger than God being a God of love is the fact that God is a God of wrath and he should be feared.
Hundreds of times in the Bible we are told to fear God. In the churches I grew up in, the college I went to, and in my own ministry, the wrathful God, the sin hating God, the violent God, played a prominent part. It should come as no surprise then that I had a healthy fear of God. In my mind God always seemed to be lurking in the shadows waiting for me to stumble and fall so he could chastise me or kill me.
I am sure that some readers of this blog will suggest that I have a warped view of the Christian God. I contend however, that those who preach up the love of God at the expense of the wrathful God are giving people a truncated view of the God of the Bible. Most of what we read in the Bible reveals a God of wrath not a God of love.
The conclusion I have come to is this. I find little about the God of the Bible that is worthy of emulation. Why would anyone want to be like the God of the Bible?
Of course many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Yes, they are aware of the Old Testament God of wrath, but they prefer the New Testament God of love. The Old Testament God is kept in reserve, only to be trotted out for raining judgment upon homosexuals, abortionists, atheists, Barack Obama, and Democrats.
Fortunately, the God of the Bible does not exist. Imagine what the world would be like if the God of the Old Testament existed? I can only imagine that few of us would escape the death penalty. Even Christians would likely be killed by the God who hates sin and those who do it. If the God of love really existed one would think that the world would be in much better shape and that peace and goodwill would fill the land.
If you’re Christian, I ask you, how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? If you used to be a Christian, did the Bible picture of God play a part in your de-conversion? If you are a liberal Christian who focuses on the love of God, how do you square your belief with the fact that most of the Bible talks about a God of wrath rather than a God of love?
For me personally, one of the reasons I left the Christian faith was because I could no longer square my view of what God should be with what the Bible said he was. When I stopped believing the fear went away.