If you have been a Christ-follower for any length of time, you have encountered that critic who decries the Bible as “inconsistent,” because the old covenant God is harsh and wrathful while the supposedly same God of the new covenant is all about grace and love. Almost like it’s two different Gods.
I understand how those who have done only a cursory study of scripture arrive at such a misguided conclusion, but the truth is 180 degrees out from the denouncement they pronounce. Let’s take the more terrifying side of God for a starter.
Is the fearful God an Old-Testament-only God? No, not in the least. The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica, is describing the justice of God who will repay those who afflict believers.
. . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
– 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9, ESV
It is the result of the message of Jesus when he separates the sheep from the goats.
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
– Matthew 25:41, ESV
. . . for our God is a consuming fire.
– Hebrews 12:29, ESV
The verse from Hebrews is a quotation of Deuteronomy 4:24, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” It is the same God in both the old and the new covenants.
Jesus, God in the flesh, had more to say about Hell than any other New Testament writer. Jude speaks of the disobedient as those for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.1 And there is a horrifying statement from John in the Revelation, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”2
Numerous other examples of God’s judgement and wrath can be found in the New Testament, but these are sufficient.
But let’s flip the analysis. Is the God of the old covenant all lightning bolts and wrath? Not at all. The Old Testament is replete with examples of the love and mercy of God. Let’s consider just a handful of proclamations all taken from Psalm 103.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
– Psalm 103:2-6, ESV
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
– Psalm 103:8, ESV
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
– Psalm 103:11-13, ESV
These verses from Psalm 103 are dripping with love, mercy, compassion, goodness. And it’s the same God.
Even in a book like Lamentations, the love and mercy of God shines through.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
– Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV
When Moses was with God on the mountain, cutting new tablets of stone with the commandments, God met with him there.
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
– Exodus 34:5-6, ESV
Even when presenting the commandments to his people, God’s first characterization is one of mercy, grace, slow to anger, love, faithfulness. The problem is not with God. The problem is with us. The very next verses make this abundantly clear.
. . . keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
– Exodus 34:5-6, ESV
God is God. He can be no other. We saw that last week. He is a God of great mercy and compassion. He is also a God who is the essence of holiness and justice. Grace and forgiveness flow freely from God for those who choose him, but certain judgment will befall those who refuse.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
– Psalm 86:5, ESV
1. Jude 1:13
2. Revelation 20:15