I can remember studying Christianity in my RE class at school, and being told that the God presented in the Old Testament is this mean, judgmental God of fire and brimstone, but that He must have gone on holiday for a couple of hundred years and apparently came back a changed, more left-wing God for the New Testament. Old Testament = Mean God, New Testament = Tolerant God.
And the first Christians I properly got into conversations with tended to confirm this – I was pointed to Jesus’ words that the Old Testament teaching of ‘an eye for an eye’ was being replaced by ‘love your enemies’. It was only last week that a friend of mine told me that ‘God learned to love’.
Well done everyone.
No, sorry, I just don’t buy it. In the opening chapters of the Bible Adam and Eve just completely lose it and disobey God, then lie about it and blame one another. The God of Wrath we’ve been told about doesn’t fly off the handle, he prepares clothes for them. A couple of chapters later we see that the entire population of the world was caught in an orgy of sin and evil but that God poured out undeserved grace on Noah’s family to preserve humanity in the face of the coming floods.
This theme of grace is repeated throughout every story in the Old Testament – it would seem that the God of Wrath is some fictional character rather than the actual Christian God. No wonder Dawkins hates him so much, he doesn’t sound very nice at all but thankfully is a figment of our imagination.
But I don’t think that the idea I was given of the God of Tolerance is much closer to the truth either! In the New Testament we see Ananias and Sapphira killed on the spot for lying about how much money they gave to the church, and Jesus seems to have something about casting out unfaithful servants to places of darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…so the God who simply accepts everyone as they are seems to be a fictional character too.
Is it possible that God is actually completely holy, righteous and just, and can’t bear sin in His presence or among His people so promises to punish sinners for stepping even ever-so-slightly off the mark, yet would sort the whole problem of sin out in one action through the grace-fuelled punishment of his only Son as a substitute sin-bearer and redeemer for anyone who believes? Well, that doesn’t sound like either of the false gods presented in my RE class.
But He sounds a whole lot better in every way.