August 25th, 2012Good God / Bad Godby Kevin O'Brien |

A regular reader of my blog writes to me, disturbed by what he takes to be a disunity in Scripture.  It seems to him that the God of the Old Testament is judgmental and wrathful, and that the God of the New Testament is merciful and forgiving - they are two Gods, not one.  God the Father bad cop; God the Son good cop.  Worse than that, my reader has the impression that Jesus was "nice" - as if being "nice" is something Jesus ever really was.

But this dichotomy is fundamentally wrong, and it's the kind of mistake you can fall into only if you have a cursory familiarity with Scripture, and if you believe the shorthand notes of others who have only a cursory familiarity with Scripture.

Take the Old Testament book of Isaiah alone, as an example at random.  Every time God speaks through Isaiah and proclaims woes and punishments for His people, He counters with hope and forgiveness. Mercy is not peculiar to the New Testament.  I can think of no example of any OT book that reveals only God's wrath and punishment without revealing a more profound measure of blessing and contentment at the other end of the suffering.  A peculiar and profound and ineffable joy always follows the expression of God's "anger", given to those who turn back to Him and have faith in Him - even after they've abandoned Him and betrayed Him.

Beyond that, there are the odd mysteries left hanging and tantalizing in the OT, and fulfilled only fully in the NT.  Melchizedek is one - a figure utterly baffling in the Old Testament, the point of his identity only fully understood by the writers of the New Testament.  At times it's as if a mystery writer places clues that he later reveals in his solution one or two thousand years after he's placed them - as if one writer sets the stage in Act One, which he writes in the second millennium BC, and writes the only fitting conclusion in Act Two, which he writes in the first millennium AD

But reading the Bible ain't easy.  It must always be done with prayer and patience, and with the best study guides you can find.  To that end I heartily recommend the mp3 audio Bible studies of St. Irenaeus Ministries, which can be download here.

To fail to read the written Word of God in our midst is simply to ignore the incarnate Word of God in our midst.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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  • August 26 2012 | by Manny

    I am no bible scholar. Need to say that up front. But there does seem to be a dichotomy, perhaps even more than a dichotomy, a trichotomy. The God of the Pentateuch seems different that the God of the prophets than the God of the New Testament. Frankly it's distinct. I've read where the understanding of God is an evolving thing on the part of humanity, so in time we are getting the full picture. I don't know if that's the theological argument. If that is the argument, then it could have some issues. I wish someone like Dr. Scott Hahn or Dr. Peter Kreeft had a lecture on the subject. Resolving this would be a big deal for me. Perhaps Catholic Courses can do a program on it.
  • September 7 2012 | by Colin

    I was reading a passage in 1 Chronicles which made me think about this issue. In Chapter 10 it describes Saul being wounded in battle against the Philistines which he had lost and he asks his armour bearer to kill him with his sword, when he refuses, he falls on his own sword and dies. But later it says the Lord "put him to death". These two explanations appear to contradict one another, but the writer obviously didn't see a contradiction between them.

    Verse 13-14 explains "So Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord; moreover, he had consulted a medium, seeking guidance, and did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse."

    Therefore Sauls actions are intimately linked to his relationship with God. Saul's turning away from God led him to the unfortunate situation he got himself into. I'm not sure I have interpreted this correctly but I'm pretty sure that it indicates that it is more complicated than simply the punishment of a wrathful God.

    In 2 Chronicles 7 God tells Solomon "if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land"

    Elsewhere in 1 Chronicles David is promised that God will give the Philistines into his hands if he goes into battle, however later it is clear that God does not condone violence when David says to Solomon:

    ‘My son, I had planned to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth' (chapter 22)