Evangelical theologian Don Carson says something in a talk that I listened to recently that was really helpful.
So often we hear how people’s view of the God of the Bible is that he is revealed as a God of wrath in the OT and as a God of love in the NT.
In a Sweden of liberal Protestantism the so-called ‘love command’ (supposedly the four Gospels in a nut-shell and hence the reason why these books have the highest status…) has become the commander-in-chief for all doctrine. Anything is silenced with: “but God is love, he could never…” you fill in the rest; i.e. whatever you don’t like.
I remember during a class of religion in high school one Christian student tried to distance herself to the OT by saying that the God of wrath of the OT was not her God.
It was our non-Christian, atheist, teacher who pointed out that God is very merciful in the OT too and that she was misrepresenting the Bible.
I think this misconception of the Bible stems from several things:
- No personal Bible reading
- Church teaching exclusively from NT
- Suppressing what we don’t want to hear
Carson’s point was that in the OT God is shown to be both a God of judgement and mercy. In his dealings with Israel, God is exceedingly merciful despite their rebellion. This is the LORD speaking concerning idolatry in Deut. 5:9-10:
9You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Now, does that not come down on the side of merciful?
Contrast this with Rev. 14:19-20 talking about judgement:
19The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
Or Jesus’ own words from the Gospels:
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
Don Carson points out that we are much more prone to worry about the judgements of the OT; famine, pestilence and sword, then we are of judgement in the NT – eternal hell.
Why? Because we don’t believe in hell!
Carson says that rather than mercy replacing wrath in the NT, we see how the revelation of God’s love is in the OT is “ratcheted up” in the NT – it is amplified. Now God no longer focuses on earthly blessings but in the famous words of John 3:16:
16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Equally the revelation of God’s wrath is ratcheted up, amplified in the NT. The imminent threat is no longer exile or sword or pestilence, as in the OT, but eternal hell fire.
It all comes together of course on the cross. Nowhere is God’s wrath and God’s love simultaneously demonstrated as on the cross.
God was so angry with sin that he let his Son die to pay for the sin.
God so loved lost sinners that he let his Son die to save them.