How do you reconcile the enemy-loving, self-sacrificing crucified Christ with the violent God of the OT?

The author of the book we call Hebrews says right up front “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being , sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (ch. 1:3 NIV, my emphasis). John said of him “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (ch. 1:1) And back in Hebrews (13:8) we read “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”. The Gospels are full of the examples of the other-oriented, self-sacrificing love that Jesus taught and practised – “love your enemy,” “bless those who curse your,” “pray for those who persecute your,” “turn the other cheek,” “go the extra mile,” “no greater love can a man have, than to lay down his life for his friends.” And Paul goes further, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) and a couple verses later he wrote “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (vs 10). It is no exaggeration, I believe, to say that there is no more accurate description of God’s character than in Christ in his crucifixion

This shocked his followers immensely. But after his resurrection we read that “beginning with Moses and all of the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk. 24:27, NIV my emphasis). The highly educated Pharisee Saul, later Paul, became an ardent follower of Jesus, and as he travelled and preached, his message became ever more focused, so that he could say “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified .”(1 Cor. 2:2)

Turn to the Old Testament and we can find numerous examples of the portrayal of a violent and brutal God. A God who didn’t hesitate to wipe out all of humanity except about 8 people; a God who in one night killed all first born males in Egypt; a God who ordered the massacre of entire cities, including women, children and animals, and even genocide in the conquest of Canaan (see Deut 20 especially vs 16-17; G. Boyd refers to no fewer than 37 times in which the genocidal command is repeated and/or carried out in the OT- Boyd 2019, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God , Vol 1 pg 294). Plus plus plus. Just a few references include Lev. 26:29; Deut. 7:2 and 28:53-57; Jer. 19:9; Lam. 2:20; Ezek. 5:10; Hos. 13:16 and the books of Joshua and Judges include numerous cases in which God apparently commanded or condoned the slaughter of large numbers of people.

At the same time there is the much more congenial conception of God in the OT as a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exod 34:6-7 and repeated in many other OT texts.)

So my question is: how do we reconcile the “exact representation of [God’s] being” as demonstrated in the self-sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, with these violent and brutal portrayals of Yahweh in the Old Testament – or even the apparent inconsistencies in his character within the OT? This question becomes more pertinent if we consider that Jesus said “ all of scripture” referred forward to him (for him ‘scriptures’ were most of what we call the OT). And it is evident from much of his teaching that he held those scriptures in very high esteem. Most evangelical Christians today believe that all of scripture was/is “God-breathed.” So one cannot simply dismiss or skip over those unpalatable bits as if they are not there for our spiritual growth (2 Tim 3:1-17).

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Off the cuff, what about Jesus the avenger? Rev 19: 11-22 LEB. I would rank that up there with any description of YAHWEH’s wrath in the OT.
My thoughts.

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Yes. This one can no doubt be a matter of understanding (not meant to be the same as interpretation). The enemy is “killed” by the Sword the proceeds from the mouth is the Word of God. This sword is the same one that John saw when he “turned to see the voice…” in the beginning of the book. In Paul’s description of the armour that we should put on, the Sword again is the Word of God. (At the same time, it is not a case of “killing me softly with his words…” :neutral_face:)

My understanding of the “wrath of God” is that it occurs specifically when God withdraws his “protective” arm. If this is correct, it leads me to believe that it is not specifically an action of God that kills, but that the forces of evil are given free run, and turn in upon themselves, or on the good creation of God, and on those (i.e. all humans) who are made in the image of God. Notice in verse 20 that the verb is in the passive form - “they were cast into …” - the actor is not specified as being God, or the rider on the horse. When the deceived understand that they have been deceived all along, they themselves turn on the Deceiver.

Both earlier in Revelations (Ch 7:3), and in the specific case of Job, God restrains the forces of evil. Satan could not touch Job without God withdrawing His protective arm. It is my humble opinion that God has, from the beginning, restrained the forces of evil acting in the world. If He hadn’t, they would have destroyed us a long time ago. Conversely, this is why the “presence of the Lord” was always so important in Israel, and why even we are told constantly “I will never leave you nor forsake you! Don’t be afraid!”

Naturally, I could be wrong and am open to correction.

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Hi @Mohembo, you are asking an important question. I think it is a question many of us grapple with in our walk with God. It used to be a huge obstacle for me. I have come to peace with this, so I would like to attempt to address your question.

You are correct in asserting that Jesus is the exact representation of God. (Heb.1:3) So what this means is that in all the places where we find God difficult to understand, we can turn to Jesus for a fuller understanding. We often think of God’s love and His justice as being at odds with one another. I am reading a book called Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. (I highly recommend this book to you if you have not read it yet!) In chapter 7, Ortlund states,

“It is probably impossible to conceive of the horror of hell and of the ferocity of retributive justice and righteous wrath that will sweep over those found on the last day to be out of Christ. Perhaps a word like ferocity here makes it sound as if God’s wrath will be uncontrolled or blown out of proportion. But there is nothing uncontrolled or disproportionate in God.
The reason we feel as if divine wrath can easily be overstated is that we do not feel the true weight of sin.”

I think this is our starting point. We cannot, even remotely, understand the depth of our offense to God. If we did, we would understand how just is His wrath. In response to the OT passages that you have raised, I would like to make several points:

(1) God is indeed long-suffering. In Genesis 15:13-16, God is revealing to Abram the future of his descendants. He tells Abram that his offspring will be given the land of Israel for an inheritance after they have been oppressed in Egypt for 400 years. In verse 16 He states,

Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.

What?! God is holding off on giving His chosen people the land of their inheritance for 400 years because the people currently living in the land (the Amorites) are being given another 400 years to repent of their sin. And this, even though God in His omniscience knows that they will not repent! Wow, I would call that long-suffering!

(2) God’s judgment does not come unannounced to His people. Leviticus 26 begins with this in verse 1,

'You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.

God then goes on to promise them blessings if they walk in His statutes and commandments. (Lev. 26:3-13)

Next, He gives them the other side of the coin in which He promises punishment if they turn from His ways. (Lev. 26:14-33)

Notice that He promises a progression of punishments, all of them aimed to bring His people back to Himself in repentance:

a) Initially He will bring sudden terror, consumption, fever, enemies who eat the produce of the land, and oppression by enemies,

b) Secondly, punishment that is increased 7X if they refuse to repent and return to God, following the initial punishments (breaking down their pride of power, a sky like iron and an earth like bronze, and land that will not produce),

c) Thirdly, a punishment increase of 7X, yet again, if the previous punishments go unheeded (plague that is 7X increased, beasts of the field which attack their children and animals),

d) Again, a punishment increase of 7X following even greater obstinancy from the people (a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant, pestilence, delivery into the hands of the enemy, famine),

e) And finally, in Lev. 26: 27-33 God tells His people that if they still remain unrepentant that He will act toward them with wrathful hostility and will punish them seven times for their sins. This is where the verse you mention comes into play. In verse 29 God says,

Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.

This is not because God wants this outcome! This is because His covenant people have rejected their God by choosing to live unholy lives these five times, turning to pagan gods and brutal practices!

Leviticus was laying out God’s law for His people before they ever entered the Promised Land. The people freely and willingly entered into a covenant relationship with God at Sinai. And God here is telling them that if they turn from Him, He will punish them for the breaking of the covenant. And part of that punishment is that He will turn them over to their own wickedness. Which unfortunately is exactly what happened.

(3) God judges Israel for the same type of sins that He judges the nations for. In Deuteronomy 20:18 Moses explains why the command is being given to utterly destroy their enemies:

so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin agaist the LORD your God.

When the people entered the land, they failed to follow God’s commands and rid the land of their enemies. They then conformed to the practices of the nations around them, by turning to the worship of Molech, Baal, and other pagan deities. In the western world we have a bit of a hard time identifying with this. We think, “Oh, they set up some stone idols and bowed down to them. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal…weird, but not such a big deal.” But what they actually did, was to sacrifice their children to these pagan gods by making them to “pass through the fire”. (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21: 6; Jeremiah 19:4-6) They offered their children as live sacrifices to a stone image! And all of this to ensure that these foreign gods would bless their land with crops and the womb with children.

So what God tells them is that if they walk in this way, their land will NOT produce crops, and eventually they will be so cut off from the land by famine, and besieged by their enemies, that when their children die they will turn to cannabalism. Refined and dignified people don’t do THAT, right?! Unfortunately they did.

When we look at the big picture what we see is the long-suffering nature of God, followed by punishment that is appropriate to the offense. God did not desire the death of children. His desire was to bless His people. But let’s be honest, when His people adopted the practices of the nations around them, they did not act in love toward their own children. They were willing to turn from the living God and put their trust in a stone idol with fire in its belly, offering their children to that dead deity. So God eventually lifted His hand and gave them over to the wickedness of their hearts, pouring out His wrath upon them. (See Romans 1:18-32)

Would God be truly loving if He turned a blind eye to this barbarism, ignoring the cries of the innocent as they fell upon deaf ears? I think not. God’s love and His justice are in direct proportion to one another. And here is where the cross comes into focus. God could not excuse the high treason that we, as sinners, each chose in our hearts. And yet, His heart still beats for us. He longs to rescue His people and restore us to a right relationship with Himself. So Jesus willingly came as the penal substitution, to take the full blow of the wrath of God upon Himself, to pay the debt that we owed, and to purchase our forgiveness and redemption, making us once again His own…if only we will turn to Him and humble ourselves.

It all sounds a bit harsh to modern ears. But in reality it speaks of the depth of our offense and the depravity of our hearts, all the while speaking of the love and justice of a God who longs for His people to be blessed with the greatest of all blessings…Himself!

How deep the Father’s love for us…

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Tim,

There are a number of books about God’s attributes which can be helpful. Years ago I read JI Packer’s Knowing God which was excellent. There are plenty of other good reads as well.

Sometimes we think that God is subject to the same laws as man and thus we think of Him as a man which is completely faulty. God’s acts are always righteous so there is no need to restrain His behavior by laws. There is nothing He does nor anything He can do that is not good. He cannot act contrary to His perfect and Holy nature. Less importantly and quite obviously there is no one nor no thing superior to God that could hold Him to account. Therefore, to judge God according to laws God made for man makes no sense.

It is true when a man kills a man then we must examine a man’s motives to determine if the killing was just. When God causes people to be killed you do not have to question God’s motives because they are, by the necessity of His Holy nature, just.

Another way to look at this issue is to say “Wow, what did the people do to deserve God’s wrath?” And then say “Lets don’t make that mistake.” “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31.

The Bible teaches that “… God is love.” The same Bible teaches that God is just “…and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty…” Nahum 1:3. Indeed without sin, without the requirement for justice in God’s nature, would there be a need for love? If Adam had been just then would he and his offspring really be able to understand what love is? “But God demonstrates His own love to us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us?” Romans 5:8. There is no inconsistency between God’s love and justice. Can one really exist without the other?

For some reason we seem to have a problem with God’s justice. I didn’t have a problem with Navy Seals taking out Bin Laden, though. Was Bin Laden’s offense against the United States greater than how the sinner offends a Holy Omnipotent God?

Mark

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Thank you @BelleClark for giving your answer to this question.

I must add a further detail, and then make give what I understand to be the implication of your answer … at least in my mind. Perhaps you can then add to your response.

The scriptures say God is love, and they also say God loves, and they refer to the love of God. The scriptures refer to the “wrath of God,” but where do they explicitly say “God is wrathful?”

When we say that God is Love (or Light, or Life) the phrase is speaking of an intrinsic and inalienable character trait. It is so intrinsic that it implies that God CANNOT, by his very nature, act except in love. The crucifixion of Jesus, God the Son, is the supreme example of this self-sacrificial love when He died for his enemies, and took on himself ALL the sin of the world - past present and future. I’m pretty sure you believe this, but if not please qualify it so I understand your own starting point when you respond.

The implication of the fact that God cannot act except as an expression of his love is that, if the violent actions attributed to him in the OT are indeed his direct action, those horrific deeds must be seen as acts of love. Is that really how you view them? Even with the argument that God is holy and He was acting through his holiness, he could not act outside of love. Love and holiness coexist in God.

Jesus never gave instructions or commands to his followers that he did not practise himself. His self-sacrifice on the cross is the pre-eminent demonstration of overcoming evil with good, of turning the other cheek, of blessing the one who curses you, of praying for the one who persecutes you. And in spite of how people refer to holiness as God abhorrence of sin, Jesus “became sin for us!” His love for us (while we were his enemies!), in the words of Gregory Boyd, led him to become (to all appearances) the antithesis of himself. (The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, Vol 1. pg 497).

With these considerations in view, I have even greater difficulty reconciling the loving God as shown in Jesus - “the exact representation of the Father”- and the warlike, violent, portrayal of him in the OT. Either my basic understanding of “God is Love” as His ultimate character trait is way out in left field, or there must be another key to this issue. Any further help is eagerly awaited. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hey Tim,

I don’t know that I can answer your question to your satisfaction. I hope others will be able to step in here and communicate in a way that better gets to the heart of your question. That said, I will try to clarify my perspective in the hope that it will prove helpful to you on some level.

I do believe that God is love. I also believe that He is just. To my way of thinking love and justice go hand in hand; they are not at odds with each other. A person who loves will always seek justice for the ones he loves. God is so far beyond us and our finite understanding that only He can rightly judge each individual and nation, and deliver the most righteous verdict for each circumstance. His judgment does not nullify His love.

I hope this helps clarify my perspective for you. I pray the Holy Spirit will give you clarity as you seek to better understand the character of our awesome God! :blush:

Hi Tim

Thank you for your question and I have enjoyed reading such an interesting discussion so far :slightly_smiling_face:. I hope that you don’t mind if I ask you just a couple of clarifying questions.

Do you believe that there is good reason to think that God’s actions (some which you have already referenced) were morally unjustified when He brought His judgement/ wrath upon a person or groups of people?

Do you think that when Jesus on the day of judgement sentences billions of people to hell for a possible, depending on your theology, eternal existence, that He will be justified in the decisions He makes?

I thought I would also add this video below of Michael Ramsden talking into this question of how we reconcile the God of the OT with the God of the NT. His sermon is in relation to chapter 4 of the book of Jonah. I hope it will help to add to the discussion :slightly_smiling_face:.

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Quite so. But put another way His “perfect and Holy nature…hold him to account.” Are you implying here that if it is HE who sends people to everlasting punishment where there is endless “gnashing of teeth” and torment, he is doing good? Who benefits from this “good deed?” Is it for the sufferers’ benefit? And how is that benefit experienced or appreciated as a benefit? Are those who escape from this fate full of glee and joy over the torment experienced by these sinner - how do they benefit, if they benefit at all? I am not trying to hold him to account, I am trying to understand how this is “good.” Certainly God himself says that he finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked. ( Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11)

There are at least two kinds of “justice:” retributive and restorative. There is also what might be called “natural justice.”

The Law of Moses, as given, was retributive - that is, the societal response was punishment - often brutal punishment.

God’s justice, as described most succinctly in 1 John 1:9 is restorative: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” His response to a confession of sin, is forgiveness and healing - i.e. restorative. The fact that we are to “confess our sins one to another” also implies that the restoration is not only to a relationship to God, but to the community.

By “natural justice” I intend to mean the “justice” that is the automatic, “in-built” consequence of our action or behaviour. “You reap what you sow.” This does not necessarily require another party’s response, and often simply reinforces the transformation of one’s heart and mind in one way or another. If you act against your conscience repeatedly, your heart “becomes hardened” (not by God, but as a direct consequence of your repeated behaviour) and your conscience ceases to be activated to the same degree. If you sin repeatedly, you also repeatedly affirm your allegiance to the Destroyer/Deceiver/Devil, and his only purpose and goal is your destruction. God does not need to do a thing to “punish” you - the Destroyer, acting in accordance with his nature will work continuously for your destruction - you bring it on yourself.

My only (probably partial) way of getting the pieces to fit together, is to see that the on-going loving, positive (good) working of God in the world as a whole, is to restrain the Devil’s work of destruction and deception. I think much of this protection from, and restraining of evil is related to God’s presence with us. We get the picture in Job when Satan himself claims that Job is only righteous because God is shielding him - and God gives Satan a restricted right to do harm to Job and his family. Job of course interpreted this a punishment by God, and God had to correct many of his misconceptions about himself. From this, and Revelations 7, I picture a God who in love towards ALL people is restraining the Devil’s destructive work, but also in his love, respecting humankind’s rights to choose their own path. If we insist on sowing the wrong seeds, we will continue reaping the wrong fruit. God progressively withdraws his protection and restraint of evil, and Satan’s destructive forces act ever more vigorously. We may view this as “the wrath of God” but it is not He who is punishing us, it is WE who withdraw from God, or by our actions, push him away, so that he withdraws his protective presence and we open ourselves to the attacks of the Devil. Indeed, throughout this process God is calling us to repent, and return to his presence and protection. I agree with W. Stringfellow when he writes that we really have very little conception of the extent and degree of the fallenness of our world and of ourselves (An Ethic for Christians and other aliens in a strange world 1973, pg 19).

I think this is different from the discipline of God, as well as from the way in which he makes “bad things that happen” work out for our good. (Rom 8:28)

Certainly his justice does not. Nor are believers in Christ the only ones who experience and benefit from his love. He loves everyone. The cross shows this, and incidentally, I believe that it is no coincidence that Jesus cry of “Why have you forsaken me?” occurred in this moment when Jesus was exposed to and bore the FULL force of evil and injustice for our sake - the Father withdrew his protective arm, Jesus gave up his spirit, went into death, “Death” could not hold him because he had done nothing that gave Death the right to do so; Jesus wrestled the keys of death and hades from him and rose triumphant. So because of Christ, Death has no hold on, or fear for those whose “righteousness is Christ.”

Tim,

Just to be clear I did not try to imply anything. What I said was “God’s acts are always righteous…There is nothing He does nor anything He can do that is not good.” To me this is well beyond a mere implication. This is a statement of what I believe about God.

Now to the hypothetical question of “Are you implying here if it is HE who sends people to everlasting punishment where there is endless “gnashing of teeth” and torment , he is doing good?” This is a difficult question. I am far from an expert in it. On the first part of “if it is HE…” I would ask who else could it be? God is sovereign over Hell. Hell does not exist independently of God.

Now there are some believers who do not believe in everlasting punishment of the wicked. I think they believe in the destruction of the wicked at Judgment. I find that belief very appealing this side of Heaven. If that is the case then the question makes no sense.

For those who believe that punishment of the unrepentant is everlasting, of which I am one, though reluctantly, then I would say three things. First it is God who punishes them. There is no if God. Second, there is no support in Scripture that God’s acts have to have a universal benefit. Third, when in Heaven, believers will praise God for His glorious grace in the saving of sinners and also for His glorious justice in the punishment or destruction of the wicked.

This is difficult for us to understand to some degree in our saved but unperfected state. Such will not be the case when we are conformed to the image of Christ. Even now we have a glimpse as we yearn for justice. I am quite comfortable with Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, or Stalin being punished. On the other hand I don’t want my next door neighbor being punished nor a friend nor a family member, but am I praying for them to repent and come to Jesus? Most assuredly not all of the time.

Now when I am in Heaven will I see an unrepentant neighbor, or family member, or friend being punished? In my present state I hope not, but at that time there will be no lament nor will there be tears as I will be praising God for all of His divine attributes.

Mark

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Hi TIm,

Thanks so much for starting this discussion. I have enjoyed reading the responses and seeing iron sharpen iron.

I have a few thoughts to add.

Firstly, when approaching a subject like this I want to remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). I don’t say this as a cop out but as a reminder to my own heart to come with a posture of humility. As amazing as God has created us to be, we have a very limited perspective and I think some things will remain a mystery on this side of eternity.

As finite beings, we like to think in terms of either/or and if/then scenarios. It’s hard to wrap our heads around something that may seem like a contradiction here in time and space yet might not be when looking through the lens of eternity. I want to be careful in saying things like “I don’t see why…” Out of curiosity, this is a healthy query as it invites us to know God better. And praise God that He welcomes us to know Him + explore His character! Yet, in our own strength, the line of thinking can easily lead to “If I were God…” which in essence is saying “I know better than God…” I’ve been guilty of this more than I want to admit.

Could you draw this out a little further? How does this account for verses like Romans 1:18, 2 Samuel 6:8, Psalm 7:11, Psalm 78:49?

I agree that as a man when He walked the earth, Jesus set a perfect example for how we are to live as humans. Yet, in eternity, and as part of the trinity, Jesus is God. When he wrote through the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul “do not avenge for yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath; for it is written ‘Vengeance is mine’, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19), he was asking us to live at peace (v. 18) and leave the justice to Him.

In the same way, Jesus tells us not to judge in Matthew 7:1-2. Yet we know that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Peter 1:17).

For sure! What do you think about Colossians 3:25? Do you think God’s justice could also be retributive at the same time in that sin/injustice demands a payment and Jesus paid that price on the cross?

God is wholly loving and wholly just. Scripture says that He shows no partiality both in his judgment and in His love (2 Chronicles 19:7, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:10-11). In our human minds this may seem like a contradiction sometimes yet in the picture of Jesus on the cross, we see ultimate justice, love, and forgiveness colliding. Jesus was God’s Son but also He and the Father are one (John 10:30) so in Christ’s sacrifice, we see God absorbing His own wrath, fulfilling perfect judgment, laying down His holiness yet preserving it at the same time, and restoring a broken relationship with creation. How amazing!

Thanks again for your thoughts, Tim. May the Lord draw you closer as you seek to better understand His character.

You might also like this thread on the atonement.

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Hi @Mohembo,
I just wonder if perhaps you’re putting the focus on the wrong thing. God is good. That is something the scriptures make abundantly clear. God is love. This is also true. But when we say good and love, our definitions of those things and our perceptions of them are not the same as God’s. We can get an idea of what they mean because God tells us how weshould love and how to become “good” through repentance and belief in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But we must understand that above all else God is Holy! It is something we often forget to mention when we are characterizing God. RC Sproul does an amazing job of defining and unraveling the mystery of the holiness of God, and this really helped me to reconcile the God of the OT with the God of the NT. We can’t forget this when we’re considering how a good and loving God can “justify” such atrocities as a “genocidal massacre” of an entire culture, but also send His Son to die for sinners. These are worth a watch.




I know that is a lot. It’s about 2 hours worth of teaching, so if you don’t have time to watch all of them, the last one is the most pertinent to your question. However in the first three, Sproul defines God’s holiness in a way that lays the foundation for the last one. I found my answer to this very same question after I listened to this series. There are more in the series, but I figured 4 was more than enough to share here.
As human beings we struggle to let God be sovereign, to let God be God. We try to put on Him our ideas of what we believe is right, what we believe is good. But if we do that, we have idolized our own knowledge, and we have raised our fist in the face of the Lord and said, you will conform to my idea of what is right, rather than us humbling ourselves to God, who is Goodness, Love, Mercy, Justice, and Holiness incarnate.
Paul’s says in Romans 9: 20-21.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to it’s molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

No matter what we may think, based on the limited knowledge we as humans have, the God we serve is our master. However, he is a master who extends His hands of grace and mercy to all who blatantly disobey Him, who destroy the sanctity of his holiness every single day. He is long suffering, and he loves us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
I hope these videos help you as they have helped me. (Also the video that was posted by @Brian_Upsher is awesome!) This is a very difficult subject, but it is also very important to unravel it completely before we just assume that God is a monster in the OT.
Grace and peace to you,
Michaela

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I’m not sure that it is appropriate to rank the qualities of God. Etymologically, the word holy comes from Old English word (adjective) related to “whole.” ALL of God’s characteristics, including agape-love and holy, are operative and effective at all times and in all situations. He is not one or the other, differing from moment to moment.

If I must, I will look to the “exact representation of God” who is Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1). And more specifically, I will look to the Crucifixion of God the Son. What I see more than anything else is love. Enemy-forgiving, self-sacrificial love. If you look up holy in a dictionary it says " belonging to and/or devoted to. What I see at the Cross is a God who is totally committed to saving His creatures - to the extent that he is willing to become sin for them - the very antithesis of Himself.

Whatever the videos say about the holiness of God, your post does not answer my basic question. How do YOU reconcile the non-violent ultimate and exact representation of God in His self-sacrifice on the cross for those who are at enmity with him (his enemies), with the extremely disturbing portraits of God in the Old Testament. Or perhaps you’re not disturbed at all.

This is a website dedicated to apologetics, as I understand it. So how do you answer Richard Dawkins when He writes:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (The God Delusion 2006. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pg 31)

Or from the Book itself:

“I will take vengeance on my adversaries …I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh.” (Deut. 32:41-42)

And Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven..” (This implies that loving your enemies is a prerequisite for being a son of the Father.)

So which portrait of God is the one that shapes your life? - for there is no more powerful force in determining your character than your image of God! And if you believe that all Scripture is breathed by God, then you must be able to reconcile these two portraits in a believable manner! “Believable” to a skeptic.

Hi again, @Mohembo,

I have been thinking about your questions and also the other responses that have been given so far in this thread. Here are some more thoughts that I have had. And by the way, thanks for putting this out there–it has really caused me to think! (Some of the concepts below are not unique to me. I have gathered them along the way and cannot claim they are original. Unfortunately, I do not know who to credit them to, but I hope you find them helpful as you try to work this out for yourself.)

One of the things that I am considering is this:

Is justice really justice if it holds no aspect of being retributive? Or stated another way, if there is no satisfaction of justice, is it really justice?

For instance, if you come to my office and accidentally break my clip-board I have 2 choices, make you pay for the broken clip-board, or forgive the offense and let you walk out the door without consequence. (I would let you walk out without consequence. :blush: ) But now, at the end of the day, I do not have a clip-board. So either you pay for a new one, or I do. A real life consequence is there to be dealt with.

Now let’s say, you come to my office and sit down on a chair that is too small for you, and you break the chair. Again this is an accident and I can choose to have you pay for the broken chair, or I can forgive the offense, letting you “freely” walk out my door. (This situation has actually happened in my office. The person left my office and I “forgave” the damage. But at the end of the day I was without a chair–and my favorite chair at that.) So forgiveness came at a cost to me personally. This “offense” was a more costly offense than the breaking of a clip-board.

Now let’s say you come to my office, plug your cell phone into a faulty charger (your charger) and leave it in the waiting room while you come in for your appointment. Let’s say your charger catches on fire and the fire does extensive damage to the waiting room. Again, I can choose to hold you accountable, or I can forgive the offense by absorbing the cost. Bottom line is this, when there is an offense, there is always a cost.

Now all of the above examples are for “accidents”, unintentional offenses. What happens if any of those offenses were actually premeditated and with the purpose of inflicting harm? In that case I am glad that I can call on law enforcement and the courts to help remedy the situation.

In our discussion so far in this thread, we have been talking about the love and the justice of God. When we sin against God, the depth of our sin far exceeds any of the “minor” offenses mentioned above. Our sin was so great that the cost for God to absorb the loss Himself, came at the price of His Son’s life. Rather than extracting that cost from us, Jesus willingly and self-sacrificially came to pay the cost. And He paid that cost for everyone who willingly agrees to the exchange. Even those who initially intended harm and chose premeditated sin (all of us) are offered this gift if we have acknowledged our wrong and changed our minds about the harm that we have done. In that case, God is willing to apply His remedy by paying for our offense through His Son at the cross.

Now, let’s switch to an aside for a moment. A number of years ago I was carrying a load of school debt. My income was low and my debt was quite burdensome. I had a friend come forward and offer to pay off my debt. I have to say I was sorely tempted to accept the offer. But the fact was that the offer came with some stipulations that I felt infringed on my autonomy, and that I felt would not be a healthy relational choice to make. So I refused the offer. It took me another 9 years to pay of that debt, one slow month at a time. I refused the offer and chose to remain responsible for my own debt. It was not an option for me to refuse the offer, and at the same time shirk the responsibility of the debt. In this case it was an either/or choice. Either I let someone else accept responsibility for my debt, or I choose to retain the responsibility for my own debt. But either way, the debt still had to be paid.

The offer of Jesus is much the same. The gift is free, and yet there is a stipulation to acceptance of the gift. That stipulation is that Jesus be given Lordship over my life. (His Lordship is driven completely by love, so it is an incredibly good exchange!) When we offend God by our sin, there is immediately a debt that is incurred, and it is a very costly debt. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. As the offender, I don’t too much like the truth of this verse, and yet it remains true. God came in the person of Jesus Christ and freely laid out the full price for my sin. Now an offer is on the table–Jesus pays the debt and gains Lordship over my life, or I retain the responsibility for my sin along with the accompanying “autonomy” and the full weight of all the consequences. If I insist on autonomy and reject the offer of the gift, then I am on my own. If I make the choice to retain full responsibility for my debt, it does not reflect as cruelty on the part of God to extract the payment (retributive justice). I believe this is what we see played out in much of scripture, people rejecting God and insisting on autonomy to their own detriment.

God is willing to pay the debt. He is willing to save. He is willing to act on my behalf to bring restorative justice. He is willing to rehabilitate me. But if I refuse all of this, as part of His just nature He has no choice but to respond with punitive judgement. And this judgement is just.

It seems to me that our hearts should be in question here, more than God’s. He proved His love once and for all, powerfully, at the cross. The real question for me is, what will I do with His offer of love and forgiveness, and the corresponding Lordship necessary to bring about true restoration, rehabilitation, and transformation?

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I’m not at all sure that I can “account” for any Scripture, but from my rather explorative understanding of this idea, it would be as follows:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

The answer I believe is in the verses that follow, but in particular:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

He let them go. Just as Cain “went out from the Lord’s presence” as stated in Genesis 4:16. We reap what we sow. Without God’s protective presence, we are open to all of Satan’s deceptions and destructive forces, as well as our own sinful behaviours. We bring our own punishment on ourselves as a “automatic consequence” of our sin. [Examples abound: e.g. one who endlessly indulges his love of alcohol has a high probability of becoming an alcoholic with myriads of social, economic, emotional and physical consequences. No one can accuse God of punishing such a person.] Plus, we are open to all the destructive attacks of Satan.

Psalm 7:11. This verse is translated in a variety of ways, suggesting to me that its meaning is either rather broad or was difficult to really understand even by top class translators. This verse itself doesn’t say explicitly God does punish, so much as that He is angry, or indignant. The verses following showing Him able and preparing to punish.

“God is a righteous judge, And a God who is indignant every day.” (Amplified Bible)
“God is a righteous judge, a God who is angry at evil every single day.” (Common English Bible) - angry at evil, not at the evil-doer (and to be angry, is not yet at the step of punishment)
“My shield is God, who saves the upright in heart.” (Complete Jewish Bible) - doesn’t even mention the wicked or God’s indignation or wrath.
“God is a good judge. He always condemns evil.” (Easy to read Bible) -
“God is a fair judge, a God who is angered by injustice every day.” (God’s Word Translation)
“God [is] a righteous judge, And He is not angry at all times.” (Young’s Literal Translation) - fascinating that this ‘literal’ translation actually says God is NOT angry at all times!

This issue of such varying translations/understandings of ancient texts adds just another layer to the issue of what the Scriptures intend us to learn from these difficult passages and apparent conflicts in the portraits of God in the OT and at Calvary. If we have such difficulty translating what is written in one human language to another human language, what are the implications for a human (affected by the fall, however favoured by God during his/her life, as well as by prevailing customs and “knowledge”) who is trying to put on paper what he understands God to be saying to him? Someone else in this thread has reminded us that God’s thoughts and ways are far above (and beyond) ours. Inspiration is not dictation.

Psalm 78:49

He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.

In many of the verses before and after this one, the song-writer uses the term “He gave them over…” to other agents for destruction - their crops to the grasshopper, their cattle to hail, - and my understanding of this verse would be that God turned the Egyptians over to Satan’s band of destroying angels. He doesn’t specify them as His band of destroying angels. Again, all of this way of interpreting God’s wrath, is consistent with His withdrawal of protection and restraint of the forces of evil by withdrawing Himself. When people refuse to accept God’s way of life, He does not force them to do so. His love is not coercive. If you don’t want Him around, He respects your wishes, and withdraws.

The verse in 2 Samuel I will leave to later. I am hoping that other contributors will propose a solution that is rather more persuasive (to me), a solution that demonstrates in itself the loving condescension that God showed to his people, in Biblical times, as well as today.

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Tim,

I am going to try to respond to as many of your comments/questions as I can. I’ll take them one by one. Here goes:

My reasoning behind my statement of holiness comes straight from the text in Isaiah. The text intimates that Holiness is what lays the foundation for all the other attributes of God. In Isaiah 6, where the seraphim call God “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the trihagion usage of the word holy (which in Hebrew translates to the word “qodesh” meaning “set apart, sacred”) is indicative of a highly important statement about God. In much the same way, Jesus used “truly, truly” when he made a statement that we should pay particular attention to, Yahweh revealing himself in this repetitive way goes beyond just the implications of even two repetitions, he uses it three times which denotes something that is extremely important for us to understand. Nowhere in the Biblical text does God reveal himself to be love, love, love, or even justice, justice, justice. But he reveals himself to Isaiah as holy, thrice over. So I drew my conclusion by the original usage of the Hebrew word, and the way it is written in the text. Incidentally, there are chapter and chapters in the OT about how to cleanse oneself in order to be holy before the living God. The priests had to be perfectly cleansed so they could even stand in the presence of God. There’s a great emphasis placed on the separateness of God, and therefore the sacredness of Him. So that is my reasoning for suggesting that God is Holy above all else. Hope that clarifies my statement a bit.

Next:

I’m sorry, you must have missed where I mentioned that I had the same question you had not so long ago, (how do you reconcile the God of the OT and the God of the NT) and this series on God’s holiness helped me. Believe me, I didn’t search this out to find the answer, it just happened to be my podcast listening one day, and it gave me a deeper look at who God is, something I’d never paid enough attention to before. So you asked how we reconcile these supposed disparities in God’s character, and I posted the videos that helped me to do exactly that. I highly recommend them, they are worth a watch, if you have ever have time.

Just as @clark.belle said, in her beautifully written reply, God’s character is not in question, but our own is. God is love, God is justice, God is mercy, etc. Meaning they are inherent to Him. He doesn’t have to try to be all of them, he IS all of them. We can only hope that we can humble ourselves enough to show some semblance of love, justice, and mercy to those we encounter. Those characteristics do not define us as humans. The only thing that defines us is our sin. We are so far apart from the character of God, the debt we have is insurmountable without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Which incidentally is a very violent image of God in the NT, the difference is he poured his wrath out on his Son on the cross, rather than on any specific “people”) God owes no debt, He does however own all of our debt. Belle Clark said it all so well.

Next:

Your question about how I would answer Mr. Dawkins is interesting, because while I do believe we should be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have, I do not believe that Peter had any intention of us arguing with people who believe that God is fiction. His quote there makes anything we as Christians might try to say to him, completely worthless. He has already claimed that he believes that the Bible is fiction, so trying to share truth from a fictional book is nothing more than a circular argument to him. He would never accept anything we say as opinion-changing information. People who are cynical, or hardened, can hear the gospel with its beautiful news and all they see is a fairy tale. Our job is not to prove them wrong, our job is to share the gospel, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. We cannot allow our theology, or how we present it, to be dictated by people who do not believe, as long as it is based in truth. Jesus himself said in His sermon on the Mount, "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6, ESV)

And finally:

Thomas Aquinas once said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” He is correct. We are not called to make others see the truth, we are simply called to speak it. I believe that the holy, righteous, wrathful God of the OT is the same loving, merciful, holy God incarnate Jesus Christ that we see in the NT, and that truly does shape the way I believe. However the method and information I use to reconcile these two “different” portraits of the same God, might not be what helps you to reconcile them, nor what helps someone else. (Though you asked for information on what helps us to do that, so I shared) But regardless of what aids Christians in understanding, it must be based on biblical truth. Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19, ESV)
For the unbeliever, the word/truth of God is foolishness. So my answer, based on the truth and word of God will not mean anything to a skeptic unless God grants them the grace and wisdom to see and understand. We are not responsible for making an answer believable to a skeptic, we are simply responsible for sharing the truth.

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25, ESV)

I pray that with all the wisdom and truth that is shared on this thread you will find a satisfactory answer to help you with what you are searching for.
Grace and peace to you,
Michaela

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Michaela, I appreciate very much your answer, and the time you took to write both the first one and this second one. I am not about to argue with what you say, but will make some additional comments.

I am so glad that you provide this meaning of the word qodesh because it includes a concept that we seldom hear when we listen to many people teaching about holiness. (Though maybe you and I have come from vastly different church backgrounds and teachings.)

So often I have heard that holiness refers to the purity of God; to his abhorrence of all evil, to the point that He will not tolerate it in His presence; and so we are to be pure also. Even Isaiah gives that impression - “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Yet both of the words used in translation refer to being set apart for, or devoted to. (Sacred means dedicated, devoted or committed or set apart to something or someone - and often to a deity.). So the amazing thing is that this word is used of God! Who or what is HE dedicated, devoted, or committed totally to? Or to put it three times: Dedicated, devoted, committed is the Lord most High!

I think the answer, like all of scripture is found in the cross on calvary! And this TOTAL commitment to our salvation and participation in the unity of the Godhead is displayed in Love. There is no separation of this love and commitment! This total commitment led God to become what was antithetical to himself - God the Son became SIN for us. He submitted to the “god forsakenness” that is the fate of all those who turn from God “and go out from his presence.”. He, who is Life itself, died. Went into death. In His commitment for, and faithfulness to us and to his own true self.

For me this gives a whole new meaning to

Leviticus 20:26
You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
Leviticus 21:6
They must be holy to their God…

You must be devoted to me, because I am devoted/committed to you - my own. This total commitment to the people with whom he had a covenant is seen in his unfailing faithfulness, even when those people turned away from Him, followed other philosophies, rejected Him as king, turned to other gods, etc etc. He even submitted to a situation in which they misrepresented Him to the nations around and brought His name to shame. There were numerous false prophets who prophesied “in His name” and discredited Him in the eyes of neighbouring nations. Yet He continued - in his holiness and love - to be faithful.

[Further on the “unclean lips:” Why lips? Why not heart? Can it have to do with witness, especially in terms of what we “say” whether verbally or in “body language?” In Revelation we have the comparison made constantly between the Lamb who is a “true and faithful witness” (of God’s true character) and Satan “the Deceiver,” or as Jesus said “He is a liar and the father of lies.” The fall occurred when the Serpent missrepresented God to Adam and Eve. If seen this way, maybe the particular uncleanness that Isaiah felt was that, when He “saw” God, he realized that up until then, he had always misrepresented God’s true character, as did all the people of Israel - those whom God had called to be committed/devoted/set apart for Him. We are all made in the image of God, yet - speaking for myself - I suspect that the image I project in my words and life also fall far short of the image that I should be presenting. It is a sullied, spoiled, dirtied image. ]

At the same time, unless we reach out to the sceptic as witnesses of God’s grace, how will they hear? There are many atheists and sceptics who have turned to God (C.S.Lewis is just one of them. Saul of Tarsus was so sceptical that he set out to kill as many “Jesus people” as he could lay his hands on.) And yes, of course, only the Holy Spirit can effect the change of heart needed. But we are in fact called on to be able to clarify or answer to the challenges people present us with as they are exposed to the Bible. Think of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch - “how will I understand unless someone explains it to me.” Having said what he did about the stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, Paul didn’t stop preaching to either one of them - or to do all he could, by the grace of God, to convince them.

You are right that we cannot change hearts - speak the truth. But as long as I am misrepresenting God I am not telling the full truth, and I remain one “with unclean lips.” If I know that the violent portraits of God in the OT are keeping people from seeing the God of Love on the cross, I must seek the answer … and I am convinced that that answer will give even more glory to God. Beyond which it will also multiply my sense of awe and wonder of the God I hope to serve. ALL scripture points to the crucifixion of the Son of God, so how do these violent passages do that? Even if I don’t do seek the answer to be able to speak to the Dawkins of the world, I feel I must do it for my own spiritual maturity.

I’m very happy for you, if you feel you have found the answer that satisfies you. I will keep on my search. Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts.

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@Mohembo, There are a couple of things that need to be understood in order to answer your question.
#1 what if your presuppositions are wrong? In other words the assumption behind your initial question seems to be that these are “innocent people.” What if there is something lying beneath the scripture that you are not seeing.
#2 Are you importing a materialist sensibility into the scripture and is there a supernatural element that you are not considering?

There are three segments that you question it seems.
#1 the nature of God’s wrath
#2 the flood narrative
#3 the destruction of the caananites

Does this about sum it up?

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I find the depiction of Jesus in Revelation helpful. Yes, He is the Lamb of God in Chapter 5. But in Chapter one, a blazing sword comes out of His mouth. He will rule with a rod of iron (Psalm 2). He is indeed meek and lowly of heart, yet He comes again to make war on his enemies (Jude). Perhaps our limited minds cannot comprehend how anyone would be both loving and vengeful, but the Bible records that Jesus is both.

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Hi Tim!

Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. I really appreciate the time and research you put in and have been learning a lot from this conversation.

I agree that, as a result of the fall, God lets the natural consequences of evil run their course in some circumstances. And I agree that He can restrain evil according to His will.

A few questions:
Do the consequences for sin only manifest themselves here on Earth? Is there any spiritual consequence for sin (such as being separated from God or unable to have a relationship with Him)?

Is the amount of “sin consequence/evil” one experiences directly proportional to the amount they sin? If I sin less can I reduce the amount of suffering I experience? If I’m really, really, really, really, really, good, can I ultimately cause God to protect me from evil?

Most of all, if God’s justice is only restorative and not retributive, why did Jesus have to die?

If I may pull this thread a little further…I agree that in inspiring people to write the scriptures, God used them as the unique individuals they were created to be which included letting their personality and voice come through in the writing. Yet, if God is powerful enough to withdraw or extend His protective arm in the face of evil, isn’t He powerful enough to make sure He is portrayed correctly in the writings He claims to have breathed out? Why would someone inspire/commission something that was a deliberate misrepresentation of them? Correct me if I’m misunderstanding your point. I agree, as you mentioned above, that we often terribly misrepresent God today in our prideful, sinful state but also, I, personally, want to place myself under the authority of scripture and trust that it portrays an accurate description of God.

I found this thread that kind of overlaps with this subject (and mentions Uzzah) as well.

Thanks again for your thoughts, Tim. May we continue to be sharpened by each other and drawn closer to God in the process.

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