Competing Characteristics of God

For centuries people have been confused, or at least impressed, by the seemingly different pictures of God presented by the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, Jesus seems very kind and patient. He makes great sacrifices for the good of mankind. He relieves suffering and cares for the weak. There are exceptions, however. When Jesus encounters the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, He is very blunt and condemning of their ways. When He sees people using the Temple sacrificial system as a way to cheat people, He loses it and flips tables and drives the cheaters out with a whip.

People can come away with a very negative picture of God from the Old Testament. He overthrows nations, including His own people, through war and conquest. Some people-groups He condemns to total destruction. He allows Job to go through serious suffering to test his faith. God seems very hard. But there is the opposite. Prior to any form of destruction, God waits and pleads for repentance. He takes way more time being patient with sinful people than any of us would do in the same position. He may be unyielding to sinful groups and individuals, but their actions were very extreme: demonic worship, sacrifice of their children, violent abuse of others.

Some have thought that the “god” of the Old Testament was somebody different than the God incarnate in Jesus, but it turns out that they are just bad readers. It is the same being in both. In some ways, God is like us. He is complex. His primary characteristic is love. That is how He desires to be. Evil people and evil in general bring out competing characteristics: justifiable wrath and judgment. God is not arbitrary in these things. He is very consistent. You can put yourself on His bad side, but you can find forgiveness right up to the point of no return. God wants to forgive a genuinely repentant individual.

What about Hell? Hell is over the top, isn’t it? Eternal judgment does seem extreme, but it is not like God wants to pull this punch. Judgment Day could have been long ago. God waits. He waits for repentance and a chance to save. But in the end sinfulness cannot enter God’s final plan. It would ruin it for all. A person who will not accept the only cure for sin cannot blame God for his judgment. It is on him. What Jesus did so that there would be a way to fulfill God’s law and forgive sinners was very costly to Him.

It is not a matter of the degree to which a person is a sinner. Obviously, some people do much more damage with their behavior. But it is matter of having sin at all, and we all do. Like an infected person with a dangerous and contagious disease, we will either be cured or quarantined. Jesus cures in this metaphor.

Couldn’t Hell be quick and result in non-existence? The eternal nature of Hell has to do with the eternal nature of its final inhabitants. Satan, demons, and people are created to be eternal. One of God’s characteristics that is both good and dangerous is His unchangeableness. His love is unchangeable. You can count on it. How He chooses to create beings appears also to be unchangeable.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Malachi 3:6 (ESV)

17 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

James 1:17 (ESV)

How will you experience God? This depends on you. God wants to welcome you as His child, a friend, a co-worker, and a student. He can deal with you as an adversary. God attempts to break through whatever hard-heartedness He finds in us. But He is unwilling to overlook it.

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