The Wrathful vs Loving God?

If you read yesterday’s blog post, you know that I have been asking some questions, trying to make sense of my faith and what it really is I believe in.

So my next question is really about reconciling the wrathful God of the OT to the loving God preached by Jesus.  I have had many discussions with my priest and other people about the discrepancies.  My priest had the following insight as transcribed by me (because I write our church newsletter):

“The story of the Garden of Eden is a story about when man and God were one – in harmony – and as such there was no need for any rules, except one; ‘Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.  I think we all know, human nature, being what it is, rebelled.  As a result of that rebellion – Adams and Eve’s choice to eat from that tree – we were cast into chaos; ‘Paradise Lost’ if you will.  We saw the beginning of a society in which each of us were living by our own set of rules, doing what was best for ourselves (sound familiar?).  Out of this chaos came Moses and the 10 Commandments.  Again, God sought to bring us back into communion with him and his divine intention.

But rules are hard, and these rules specifically were difficult for people to understand.  Over time, the 10 rules given by God were broken into 613 subsections.  God’s rules for living in a manner that was close to him evolved into what became a legalistic and very convoluted means of pleasing God.  Instead of bringing man closer to God – the expansion of the 10 commandments took mankind farther away.  We could almost call it a misinterpretation of God’s intention.  But God was patient.  He gave us time and the prophets…but that time only took us further from his intention.

Enter Jesus.  Jesus was, in essence, the new Adam…the new Moses.  His role in coming to earth was to cut through the legalese, rewrite the rules, and simplify our understanding of what was required to be closer to God; to get back into communion with our Lord.

As an Anglican, it should be very familiar to hear those two rules as they are presented to us in The Book of Common Prayer.  “Our Lord Jesus Christ say: Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

What a contrast.  Two simple, easy to understand rules, presented by the son of God, that cut through all of the legalism and, for the first time since the fall of Eden, gives back to us the concept of grace.  God’s grace.

The Old Testament is book about Man attempting to deal with Man.  It is an attempt to reconcile the chaos that resulted from our very first break with God in the garden of Eden.  In the New Testament, Jesus offers himself to light the way – to lead us back into paradise.

So, when we are asking about the change we see in the God of the OT verses the God of the NT, what we are seeing is a transition of our own human understanding.  A transition of a legalistic God to a God of grace.  Have no doubt that this transition is absolutely of God’s own doing.  He uses Christ as his son, as a demonstration of his love, to show us a way to come back into the garden.  The vengeful God of the OT can only be a misinterpretation by mankind of who and what God truly is.

But, to understand this is to understand a fundamental truth about humanity:  We can’t live without rules.  To take that a step further, if you don’t follow God’s rules, you aren’t in, and have no access to the garden.  God has given us a set of rules to live by – breadcrumbs, if you will, that will lead us back into the garden, if only we have the strength and will to follow them. ”

I felt like this was a good partial answer, but didn’t completely deal with the question that my heart was asking.  For me it always becomes most clear when it comes back to being a parent.  When my boys don’t do something I’ve asked them to do, like cut the grass or clean their room, I give them a warning…several in fact.  If they still don’t listen, then I take away something or “punish them” for their transgression or failings.  Now I think about what I would do if someone hurt my child.  You’ve heard the term “mama bear”  or “hell hath no fury like an angry mother”.  The biggest argument I’ve heard for a vengeful God is the killing of Egypt’s first born and then their army in the story of Moses.  But let’s really look at that story.  How many times did Pharaoh need to be warned?  I mean, there were literally 10 plagues; water turned into blood, frogs, lice or gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locust, darkness and then finally the death of the firstborn. I think that God did everything he could to convince Pharaoh to release his people.   Think about that concept in your own life.  How many times has God tried to warn us against an action, and we still persist in the belief that we know what is best.

There are so many instances in the OT where God is faithful and loving and kind.  Look at the Psalms.  David was overwhelmed with the love of his God.  Isn’t this exactly what Jesus preaches in the NT?  My explorations have really brought me to a deeper understanding of the idea that God is eternal and never changing.  The only thing that has changed. the only thing that can change is us and our willingness to allow him into our lives.

God bless,

Meredith

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