People have strange notions of God. A semi-agnostic co-worker recently remarked to me that he regards the Bible as so much hooey because the God of the Old Testament is mean and wrathful while the God of the New Testament is about love and forgiveness. How can Christians, he wondered, be silly enough to believe in both. It seems to me that many people, whether or not they would articulate it in such a way, view God in much the same way.
They think that the God of the Old Testament created the world and was determined to run things His way. Step out of line and He would send a flood or drop some fire and brimstone on you just as soon as look at you. Follow the rules or He would open a whole can of smite on you.
The God of the New Testament, however, loves everyone just as they are. He is all peace, love, and acceptance. His suggestions on how to be “good” are merely that, suggestions. Good ideas and all, but it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day, ‘cause we cool.
Of course, we know, that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. God doesn’t change. That goes with the whole eternal thing.
I was reminded of this by a child who lives around the corner who plays at my house from time to time. He is a nice enough kid but completely undisciplined. This kid could jump up and down on the roof of a neighbor’s new Mercedes and his parents’ voices would probably never rise above the tone of polite conversation. “Billy, get down from there,” they would likely say as the dings and dents accumulated. Then, after a try or two, throw up their hands in frustration and say, “That Billy sure is a handful. Do you want some more iced tea?”
Billy views his parents like the New Testament God. Billy expects them to take care of him, feed him, and clothe him, but any other instruction is most likely to be ignored with little or no consequence anticipated.
I am, on the other hand, like the Old Testament God and my children and Billy know it. My instructions are to be followed or there will be smiting. Billy was playing at my house some weeks ago and I spied him and my son doing something dangerous with a tree branch. I instructed them to stop. My son stopped but Billy continued. I told him again and he abruptly turned around and yelled at me, “I will do what I want, leave me alone!”.
I strolled up to Billy and stood right in front of him. I leaned down and in a very soft voice said, “When you are over my house, young man, you will obey my rules and rule #1 is that you do not speak to adults that way. Ever. Rule #2 is that if I tell you to stop doing something, you stop doing it. Immediately. If you do not wish to obey these rules then you are not allowed to play here anymore and I will call your parents and tell them so. Do you understand?”.
Billy, eyes wide and mouth open, simply nodded. Billy has been back several times since then without incident.
Don’t I love my children just as much as Billy’s parents love him? Of course I do. As my children mature they have begun to understand that my love, tenderness, and affection for them comes from the same place as does my discipline. And also as they mature I expect different things from them. Further, with my older children I take the time to explain why I sometimes say no, more than I would with my younger children. They can understand more and so I share more. I am the same Daddy, they just understand me differently.
And so it is with God. His love for us is eternal and unchanging. It is our understanding, as individuals and as a people, that changes.
This is important to remember as we recall what Jesus said to the adulterous woman after saving her from stoning. “Go and sin no more.”. And so, as I am sometimes tempted to choose not to listen to this admonition of the New Testament God, I do well to remember one thing. The smiting is still implied.