I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.
Dave asked, As an Evangelical, How Did You Handle the Differences Between the OT and NT God?
The short answer is, I didn’t. As an Evangelical, I viewed God as this monotheistic whole; that the Old Testament characterization of God was one side of his nature, and the New Testament portrayal the other side of his nature. God, unlike humans, was able to love and hate at the same time. He could be the carrot or the stick. God was this perfect balance of emotions, never wrong, always acting according to his purpose, will, and plan. In those moments where I had a hard time reconciling the God of the OT and the God of the NT, I reminded myself that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and God’s way are not my ways. Who was I to object to anything that God did?
Believing the Bible was an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, of course, boxed me in as to what I could or couldn’t believe. I believed the words of the Bible were straight from the mouth of God. Thus, when God commanded cruel, violent, or genocidal behavior, I had to say, God had his reasons. We have to trust God, believing that he knows what he is doing.
One of reasons I left Christianity is because I could reconcile the OT and NT God. Either they were two different deities, or the Christian God was a loving, kind madman. I knew that Christians deny the former, so I concluded that the God of the Bible was not a divine being I wanted to worship. Over the years, I have dealt with liberal Christians who only see God as a God of love, mercy, and kindness. They love the NT God, but even here is God really all that loving and kind? I concluded that he is not.
In the NT, we have the violent death of Jesus on the cross. According to Evangelicals, God, the Father poured out his wrath on Jesus, his Son, to satisfy a longstanding debt: human sin. Everything that happened to Jesus came from his Father’s hand. What kind of father treats his son this way? What kind of father punishes his son for what someone else did? God, the Father, then, comes off looking like a serial killer who loves to inflict pain and suffering on his victims before he kills them.
We also have the book of Revelation. Evangelicals believe Revelation is a record of past history and future events. Someday soon, Evangelicals say, Jesus and his Father are going to unleash a house of horrors upon the Earth such as never has been seen. The earth will be destroyed and billions of people will die, including little children, unborn fetuses, and the developmentally disabled. The bloodshed, according to the Bible, will be so great that blood will flow through the streets the height of a horse’s bridle.
Once God is finished with the earth and its inhabitants, he will resurrect everyone who ever lived on our planet and divide them into two groups: saved and lost. The saved will live forever in God’s kingdom on a new earth. The lost will be fitted with bodies capable of enduring endless suffering and pain, and then cast into the Lake of Fire. Most of the people in the Lake of Fire will be there because of geography — living in places where people worshiped the wrong deity.
It seems to me, then, that the Christian God has always being capricious and violent; that he has always resorted to bloodshed to prove a point or get his way; that the OT and NT Gods are really one being with a split-personality disorder. What the Christian God needs is psychiatric help.
What Christians need to do is write a new Bible, excising the genocidal God from the story. Evangelicals, of course, would never approve of a rewrite. They need the violent God to justify the culture war and their belief that that they are the gleam in their Father’s eye. Imagine all the smug, self-righteous Evangelicals on Judgment Day. They want God to make non-Evangelicals pay for their unbelief. Open a can of whoop ass, Lord, and give it these filthy, reprobate sinners. They deserve an eternity of pain and suffering for not believing in the right God and not living by book, chapter, and verse. Pour it on, Lord. You are worthy!
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.
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I got a lot out of this. There are some weird character changes in the Bible. Moses (who I guess is probably a character built from different characters) is hardly recognizable as the same person at different points in his story.
Exodus says that sins will be punished upon the children of the sinner, while in Ezekiel 18, God seems to change his mind about that (Is that changing Eternal Truth or a changed moral conscience of the Hebrews?).
And God really has a personality change between the Old and New Testament.
This happens sometimes in literature when one character has been written by multiple people over a long period of time, of course. It is to be expected. In the case of the Bible, either that happened or else, yeah, the stories are about 2 different gods.
I tend to think that the cultural ethics of the communities in which the stories were written were very different and reflect those different values. Which makes sense unless one is taking stories absolutely literally.
I can’t begin to describe the massive cognitive dissonances I daren’t confront in my 5 decades of fundy-ism. Secretly, I barely read the OT – apart from the cosier praise psalms. I must have told the stories of Noah, Moses, Daniel, David etc etc etc to hundreds of children without it dawning on me how cruel some of them were. They couldn’t be reconciled with an all-loving god. I loved putting on nativity plays but hoped none of the kids went away and read that bit about the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, it almost made me cry to think of the barbarity behind that sweet little babe in the manger. But I thought I was the only one in the whole fundy world who had these sinful thoughts and ‘bible scholars’, pastors and better x-tians than me who’d studied these things, told me it was all OK. The relief of discovering this blog – many thanks, Bruce – and Patheos/Non Religious has been such a life-changer. Finding one’s not alone in acknowledging the brutalities of this fictional omnimax god is a great relief.
I had trouble with the OT slaughter-happy God too. As a kid I told my mom I wished he would just destroy us all and get it over with. Whenever I asked why so much slaughter in the OT I was told that God is just and righteous and can’t handle looking at all our sin and evil. So he either had to look away or destroy people when it got too bad. And that things in our country were getting so bad (allowing abortion, taking prayer out of schools, immorality on TV and movies, feminism, etc) that USA could be next. Maybe he would let the USSR destroy us ( what I couldn’t figure out was that USSR was worse, they were mostly atheists, so why wasn’t God destroying them?)
Fundies seem to like their mean and angry God- they use him to keep their folks in line and try to threaten everyone else with his slaughter-happy ways.
This is one reason I left religion. You articulate it so well. Thank you for your blog.