Many years ago, in a bible study, an older woman said to the study leaders, “I do not believe in the God of the Old Testament. That God is cruel and unjust. I only believe in the loving God of the New Testament.”
Many people walked away from the church and/or were deeply scarred and hurt by the church by the incessant drumming of hellfire and brimstone. Far too often, judgmentalism, legalism, and ostracism came with it.
In response to this, and to such people like the woman in the beginning, there has been an overreaction, perhaps even over-emphasis on the love of God. Instead of good theology and analysis, it continues (even to this day) to be an overreaction to a time when the church Hell and condemnation at every turn.
What can become frustrating and also deceiving is that God is only love. God is love. The love of God is a good thing to think about and focus on.
However, God doesn’t let a good crisis go to waste. Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? As many parents and teachers can tell you, sometimes you can only explain something so many times until pain teaches a child.
Most lifelong lessons are gained through pain of some sort. It is, sadly, the way we are. This is also why confronting a false view of the God of the Old Testament is crucial to our Christian walk and to our ability to evangelize.
As the impending doom approaches Jerusalem, and the people ask why, God in many more words says, “because you didn’t listen the first thousand times I told you!” Yet, that isn’t the end!
God tells Jerusalem that this exile will be as (or more) defining for them than the Exodus was for all of Israel. That’s a big order! It just so happens to have occurred that way, too.
Some would call this the carrot and stick method, yet it really isn’t. The opportunity for the carrot is gone. In many respects, this is no longer a stick. For the donkey (or mule) that this method is supposedly used on, there is required to be a hostler doing it.
The hostler (God) left the animal (Jerusalem) on its own to fend for itself in the wilderness. The time for carrots and sticks was passed.
This does not mean God didn’t love them. Quite the contrary! God knew that they had to learn on their own.
For God’s own sake, God put hope in front of them. For God’s own sake, Judah would not be lost forever. For God’s own sake, he would bring a tempered people home.
From the opening story, the study leaders stopped the study and gently taught her, “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament.”
God has not changed.
Lord, help us to recognize your discipline as love, as much as we don’t like it. Help us to look at our pains and trials as something through which you are teaching us and others. Amen.
1) Do you tend more toward the “God of Punishment” or the “God of Love”? Why do you think that is?
2) Do you really learn better or for longer-term through pain or pleasure?
3) How would you respond to someone like the woman in the story? How would you guide her through thinking about God being unchanging?