Opinions on faith and life

Good God, Bad God?

2008-12-15

Many people in and outside of Christianity have issues with the stark contrast between the alleged warlike, hateful God of the Old Testament (OT) and the alleged never-violent, forgive-the-unrepentant Jesus of the New Testament (NT). If you haven’t yet read my documents on salvation (Go To Heaven! and Salvation Under the Microscope), please do before reading this. You might also want to read Twisted Sister and Critique of When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Solving this seeming dilemma begins with understanding what happened in Eden. God did not create a world of death and suffering. But neither did He create people as robots for His entertainment. And such sentient beings, in order to have the capacity to genuinely love and relate to God, would have to have the free choice of rejecting Him. He had put Adam and Eve into a perfect environment but told Adam to guard it (Gen. 2:15) before Eve was made. Adam failed in this charge and God said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a strong one facing him. (Gen. 2:18) The serpent had entered the garden, and knowing Adam would not intervene, picked on the less experienced Eve.

God had told them (Gen. 2:17, 3:3) they would die if they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (ref. as TKGE), but did not specify exactly what kind of death this was. Nevertheless, He did not add any other punishments to this disobedience (the curse on the ground was only added after Adam blamed God and Eve, and only Adam was from the ground). And that’s what sin is, defying the will of God. But why would God issue a punishment that seems so harsh to us for something like eating fruit? We can speculate about the fact that God is perfect and holy, and that the issue is Who had been offended, not exactly what the offense was. Yet at the same time, what had God asked of them that was so hard, especially in a perfect environment? Anyone so weak would surely not be able to stand against far greater pressure, so it might be that God had to introduce death in order to limit the consequences of sin (see Gen. 3:22).

But consider this: why didn’t Jesus ever condemn that OT God? Why did he tell people in His day they would suffer judgment (Mt. 11:20 for example)-- and then praise God for it? Why did the OT God write, Kiss his son, or he will be angry and you and your ways will be destroyed, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him in Psalm 2:12? Note in that Psalm that people are rising up not only against the Lord but also against his anointed, and that the Son would break them with a rod of iron.

And most important of all: Is Jesus not God? Are not all the persons of the Trinity one in essence? Can the character or essence of God then be divided into harsh and kind? Clearly the Son is seen prophetically in the OT (Ps. 2:7 says, today I have become your father) and recognized as the OT God in the NT (John 1:1, Phil. 2:5-11). Unless one wants to argue that the Trinity has a split personality, Jesus cannot be separated from the Father (John 8:54, 10:30) in being or essence; they have one divine will. The three persons are each unique yet share one will, making a compound one. But Jesus alone shares our humanity, so only Jesus could reconcile the divine and the human, and his human will alone was subservient to the Father.

But the point I want to emphasize here is that you can’t divide the OT God from the NT God, nor the Creator from the Savior (Col. 1:15-20). So whatever divine character flaws are charged to God (as if His creatures have the right to put Him on the witness stand!) must also be charged to Jesus.

What Jesus showed us in His humanity is that God is both just and merciful, holy and forgiving, harsh and gentle. The differences are not with some kind of divine psychotic delusions but with treating people as individuals instead of merely parts of a whole. To never judge the motives of individual sin is to ignore individual responsibility and deny justice to victims. If someone repents of wrongdoing, God is merciful, but if they refuse, He is just. Do we, even as flawed humans, sometimes show mercy? Do we not know when to show it and when not to show it?

God-- which He is and we’re not-- isn’t obligated to report to us every reason for everything He does. The nations of the OT that were to be completely destroyed, children and animals included, likely had been corrupted to the point where their continued existence would spread their infections (physical and spiritual) to more people. Did He not agree to relent on the impending judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah if Abraham could find even ten good people there (Gen. 18:32)? Can we presume God never gave those other destroyed nations a chance? But regardless, the question is whether we trust God’s judgment or instead think ourselves worthy of condemning Him. Truly, even many Christians do believe that the clay can tell the potter what to do (Rom. 9:20-21).

This bad God / good God belief only sees on the surface and makes God into a mere super-human with the same flaws we have, much like the mythological gods of ancient Greece and Rome. It presumes that God has no other reasons for what He does than what we can imagine. Yet even in this God is merciful (see Ezekiel 18:25), saying Come, let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). Jesus did not come to undo the will of the Father (John 5:30), nor was He forced to save us (Phil. 2:5-11). It is humanity that needed cleansing, not the Father!

We think much too highly of ourselves. We forget that our very sense of justice and fairness and mercy comes from God and is a lesser, flawed version of it. We cannot see all God sees nor comprehend all God comprehends (Isaiah 55:9). Yet even within our limited capacity, we should be able to grasp the fact that God is One and that He cannot be charged with evil, since He alone is the definition of good. To accept Jesus is to accept the Father (1 John 2:23); it’s a package deal. Jesus Himself said He is the way to the Father (John 14:6), a very strange statement if the Father were bad.

Who would want to paint such a picture of God, except Satan? Who else wants to be God and paint his adversary as evil (which Satanists believe is the truth) in order to pull people away from Him? Who would take advantage of our short-sightedness and simplistic rationalizations so we would turn against our Creator? Who is it that wishes to sit in judgment over God? (And I should add, who but a fool actually swallows the lie that Satan would treat us better?)

Whose side are they on, who say the OT God is bad?

8 Comments

Lin

"What Jesus showed us in His humanity is that God is both just and merciful, holy and forgiving, harsh and gentle. The differences are not with some kind of divine psychotic delusions but with treating people as individuals instead of merely parts of a whole. To never judge the motives of individual sin is to ignore individual responsibility and deny justice to victims. If someone repents of wrongdoing, God is merciful, but if they refuse, He is just."

I think there is a misunderstanding of His Justice. Jesus repeatedly warned people to flee from the wrath to come. What wrath? Where will it come from? In Revelation Who controls Hell?

HE proved His great Mercy on the Cross because we all deserve hell. God crucified Himself for us. I get chills just thinking what He did for us.

TL

Perhaps the modern Christian does not contemplate the opposing poles of holiness and sin. God’s justice has to do with freely chosen deliberate sin, exposing the darkness of sin, and giving us a reason to avoid sin. God’s mercy deals with stupid sin, sinning in ignorance, and giving us a reason to avoid sin. Sin and holiness cannot unite. God’s judgment is often God’s mercy IMO. Ultimately, God’s plan is always to lead us into holiness and His presence where He can more effectively ’love on us’.

In think there are probably times when we all get chills, speechless, awed, etc. when we think about what we really deserve and what God did so that we can avoid getting what our actions deserve.

God has so much mercy on us in so many little ways. Just yesterday, the water reservoir in my car fell down and was dragging. Well I couldn’t drive like that so I stopped in the market parking lot and stood there looking at it. And voila! up walks this young man asking if I needed help. We found something to tie it up with and he fixed it temporarily. I thanked him profusely of course. And then sat in the car for a minute thinking about all the times something has happened with my car and all the times God has sent someone to help me, wondering how He does that.

JackH

emotional blackmail is never acceptable.

stop it.

Paula Fether

Pray tell, Jack, who is committing "emotional blackmail", why should they stop it, and when were you appointed a judge over them?

Lin

"Perhaps the modern Christian does not contemplate the opposing poles of holiness and sin. "

This is a much better way to put it than I did. I read a book a while back called Holiness by JC Ryle and he talks about this very same thing. It is a beautiful book about God’s Holiness.

Paula, If there is emotional blackmail does that mean some bucks for us? :o)

Paula Fether

Hey, give me your blackmail address and I’ll send it right over! :-)

qbit

To me the old testament has to be read in context. Humans were very primitive at the time- very superstitious, practiced slavery and human sacrifice. (not that we’re any better now)

One step at a time I guess. Leviticus is fascinating though.

Paula Fether

Hi qbit, thanks for stopping by. :-)

I agree with you that we’re not much different than societies that have been superstitious and primitive. But as I’m sure you know, even today we have a range of societies from very advanced to very primitive, from scientific to simple, all living at the same time. History shows that instead of a steady progression from the simple and primitive to the complex and scientific, we have more like a roller-coaster ride with alternating advances and setbacks.

But yes, context is everything. My view is that God wants history to play out, and that He doesn’t just dump everything on us at once. There is a progression, but a slow and spiritual one.