You have probably heard the expression, “God made man in His image and then man returned the favor.” There is a very popular notion among many people that the God of the Old Testament is a vengeful Person because He ordered the slaughter of the Palestinians back in Joshua’s day. These same people blame God for all the evil in the world – natural disasters, crime, wars, disease and death. They wonder how a loving God could allow such horrible things. In their mind, either this God is not just or He is not the same loving God of the New Testament. This God is made in the image of man.
I recently got into a heated debate with a guy who tends to have very strong opinions. He was very critical of a Christian college that dismissed one of their professors because she openly identified with the Muslim faith. It just so happens that this college is my Alma Mater. After listening to him spout off about how intolerant the leaders of this institution are, I decided to chime in. First I informed him that he was denigrating the school I had attended. Then I proceeded to explain to him that this school, like all Christian schools, has a statement of faith that all of its teachers and staff must sign. All of them require a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of mankind. Muslims, I explained, don’t believe Allah has a son. To them that would imply he fornicated with a woman. He is a single person, not part of a Triune Godhead. That is another thing Christians all believe. Finally, I said the Christian God is a God of mercy and love who teaches His followers to return good for evil and leave vengeance to Him, since He is righteous and we are not. Allah, on the other hand is a god of vengeance who orders fatwahs against his enemies, the execution of infidels, and encourages the abuse of women.
Well, he immediately compared the God of the Old Testament with Allah because He ordered the Israelites to slaughter men, women, children and even animals when they conquered Palestine. He considered himself an authority on the subject even though he admitted he was not a Christian and didn’t read the Bible. So I explained to him that God had been storing up judgment against the Palestinians for hundreds of years before the Israelites arrived on the scene. Why? Because they offered their children as burnt offerings to their god Molech, and practiced idol worship and ritual prostitution. (Lev 20:1-5)
It is not God who is responsible for all the evil and tragedies in this world. He created a world that was perfectly suited for our habitation. The perfect conditions that existed at creation were destroyed by man, not God. The first man and woman were responsible for bringing a curse on God’s ideal world by their disobedience. The very first murder was committed by their first son. God eventually had to wipe out everything with the breath of life except for one family and a pair of every living creature because His perfect world had become utterly corrupt.
I know many wonderful people who have disobedient children. One grandfather recently confessed to me that one of his grandchildren is just plain evil. He is a fine man. I don’t doubt that he raised his children with wholesome values. But despite all his efforts and those of his children, there is one spoiled egg among his grandchildren. Should I blame him for the way his grandson turned out? No. The boy made his own choices. He chose evil over good. That is what we have done. And that is why there are natural disasters and family problems and disease and death. We live in a once perfect world that has been corrupted by our own rebellion against God.
But God showed how great His goodness is by beginning the process of reclamation at the very same moment that He pronounced the curse. He said the curse would one day be lifted by a Son of man who would crush the head of the serpent that deceived Eve, causing her to sin.(Gen 3:15) He had a contingency plan that had been in place long before Adam and Eve messed up.
The Hebrew word used most often to describe God in the Old Testament is ‘Chesed.’ It is translated variously as ‘steadfast love,’ ‘merciful,’ ‘loving kindness,’ etc. It occurs a total of 738 times in the Old Testament. It refers to the love of God that will never let Israel go despite all her unfaithfulness. But that does not mean He excuses Her infidelities. It just means He keeps pursuing Her despite them. The Psalmist repeatedly extols God for His steadfast love (247 times).
The first time God describes Himself in the Bible, He refers to this attribute. “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.'”(Ex 33:18-20)
God does not change. This loving God of the Old Testament is no different from the God of the New Testament. The good works Jesus did were orchestrated by God the Father.Jesus Himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (Jn 5:19) Jesus told Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”(Jn 14:8-11) Through Him all the love and kindness of God the Father was displayed. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
But my friend and many others like him would portray Jesus as all love, compassion and tolerance and the God of the Old Testament as anything but. Well, Jesus pronounced woes on those who oppose God one hundred and nineteen times in the New Testament. Although He does say, “I have not come to condemn the world but to save the world,” (Jn 12:47) that was only in His role as Redeemer. When He comes again, He will come to judge those who have rejected His offer of salvation. Isaiah describes His treatment of the unrepentant this way, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.” (Is 63:3) Revelation describes the returning Christ as an avenger, “for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality,and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Rev 19:2) Revelation 16:6 says, “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!”
Those who want to take comfort from the fact that Jesus submitted to those who mocked Him, plucked his beard, spit in His face, thrust a spear in His side and nailed Him to a cross had better not think He will reward those who oppose Him when He comes to reign. Second Peter 2:9 says, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.”
Jesus says that there will come a day of judgment when he will assign the faithful to heaven and the unrighteous to hell, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…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.'” (Mt 25:31-46)
So don’t think for a moment that you can live life any way you please and still hold a reservation in heaven, because when Jesus opens His book of life and doesn’t find your name written in it, your destiny has already been sealed. “But nothing unclean will ever enter it [Heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev 21:27)