In my Adult Bible Class on Sundays we have been looking at the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament. For several weeks our discussion focused on God – more specifically on how people view the God of the Old Testament as a god of justice and wrath while they see the God of the New Testament, as seen in Jesus, as a god of grace and mercy. For many people, including many Christians, this is a problem. How can God be one thing in the Old Testament and another thing in the New? This apparent conundrum has caused some people to shy away from the Old Testament and, to their detriment, spend all of their time in the New.
But this amounts to selective reading. While God certainly shows his wrath in the Old Testament (and there’s plenty of wrath in the New as well), it is also in the Old Testament that you find some of the great Biblical statements on His grace and mercy. Here is a representative sample:
The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exodus 34:6-7).
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34).
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).
Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds (Psalm 36:5).
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You (Psalm 86:5).
The LORD is merciful and gracious; slow to anger, and abounding in mercy (Psalm 103:8).
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).
While we struggle to reconcile God’s wrath and mercy, there is no question that without the Old Testament we would know far less about His mercy and how He relates to us as a God of grace.
Grace and mercy are perhaps best understood in contrast to judgment and wrath. How can we comprehend the magnitude of God’s mercy to us unless we first grasp the enormity of His wrath against sin? Without judgment and wrath there is no comprehension of mercy – in fact there would be no need for mercy. If the Old Testament emphasizes God’s wrath (and this is questionable), it serves to make His mercy all the more wonderful.
In the debate over a God of wrath versus a God of grace it’s best to remember the teaching of the writer of Hebrews that when it comes to the character of God He never changes (Hebrews 13:8). What aroused His anger in the Old, still arouses His anger today. To the extent that He shows mercy today, He has always shown mercy.
Stay in the Word