Evidences of Faith
Books, One God
Those who claim that the Bible is merely the work of human beings, without God's guidance or inspiration, will also speak of the evolution of the writers' concept of God. They claim that the earlier writers had a primitive idea of who God is, whereas the later writers had a more sophisticated notion. Indeed, this is what we would expect from a collection of books written over a span of some 1500 years. But, is it really the case? Did the picture of God change from Genesis to Revelation, or is it truly the same God described throughout? The way to answer this is to look at some specific aspects of God's character, and see whether the early writers had a different notion of God than the later ones did. For reasons of space, we cannot look at all of the different characteristics of God in this issue. However, we can take a good look at two of them.
Let us start with God's judgment. This is one of the areas where folks most often insist that the God of the New Testament is different than the God of the Old Testament. The claim is that the God of the New Testament is a God of love and mercy, whereas the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and justice. (Keep in mind that "justice" means "fairness"; a judge who is just, therefore, must acquit the innocent and punish the guilty.) Let us now turn to the Bible, and see whether there is indeed a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, in regard to judgment.
If we start in the book of Genesis, we see that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden and condemned to death because of their sin (Genesis 3:22-24). In the time of Noah, the entire earth was destroyed by a flood, because mankind had become so completely sinful (Genesis 6:5, 7:23-24). The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their utter sinfulness (Genesis 19:1-24). God is consistently just throughout the Old Testament. Solomon sums it up this way:
A good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of wicked intentions He will condemn. (Proverbs 12:2)
There is no question but that the God of the Old Testament is a just God, and therefore He punishes those who do evil.
But, what about the God of the New Testament? Is He different? Well, Ananias and Sapphira probably don't think so: they were struck dead instantly for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). King Herod was struck dead because he did not correct those who called him a god (Acts 12:20-24). Elymas the sorcerer was struck with blindness for opposing the teaching of the gospel (Acts 13:8-11). Throughout the book of Revelation, there are promises of God's wrath upon those who reject Him:
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
The New Testament tells us that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).
Furthermore, consider Jesus' words to those who heard His preaching but did not repent:
Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:21-24)
The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:41)
Finally, consider the judgment scene which Jesus describes in Matthew 25:31-46. In the last verse of this passage, Jesus says that those who did not serve Him would go away into everlasting punishment. Clearly, the God of the New Testament is One who punishes evildoers, just as surely as the God of the Old Testament is.
In this regard, then, there is no difference. The Bible is consistent in its portrayal of a just God. If the Bible is a purely human invention, then we would expect to see the identity of its God develop over time. The God of the oldest books (Genesis through Deuteronomy) should be the most primitive. The God of the later Old Testament books should become more fully defined, more sophisticated, and the God of the New Testament should be even more refined. However, we have seen that, in terms of His justice in judgment, God remains unchanged from Genesis through Revelation. This leads to the conclusion that God revealed Himself to the writers of the Bible, rather than the notion that the writers described God according to their own understanding.
Now let us look at the other side of the coin: God's love and mercy. Let us go back to the beginning. In the first chapter of Genesis, we see the account of creation laid out for us in order. In this account, we find only one creature made in the image of God: man. Moreover, it becomes evident that everything else was created for the man. Even the heavenly bodies were created for mankind:
Then God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons and days and years (Genesis 1:14).
What other creature besides man uses the sun, moon, and stars to gauge time? What other creature uses the heavenly bodies as signs for navigation? If God created something as vast and magnificent as the heavens for mankind, then surely this is evidence that He loves us.
As we noted last month, Adam and Eve were punished for their sin. We did not take time to consider, however, the fact that God allowed them to live for some time. He did not obliterate them on the spot; He gave them opportunity to learn from their error, and change their ways. In fact, their punishments seem to be calculated to teach them (Genesis 3:16-19). This shows mercy.
Several generations later, we find that mankind had become so utterly wicked that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Again, God does not destroy mankind instantly, but gives him 120 years to repent. Moreover, there is a man named Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8). God tells Noah that He will be destroying the earth by means of a flood, and instructs Noah to build the ark for his family and a large group of animals. Noah's response shows that he believed God:
Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did. (Genesis 6:22)
Noah, a man who believed in God, and demonstrated his faith through obedience, was saved by God. It is not that Noah was himself sinless; on the contrary, we find him in a drunken stupor after the flood (Genesis 9:21). Therefore, God would have been justified in destroying Noah along with the rest of mankind. However, God had mercy upon him.
Again, in the case of Abraham, we see incidents where he exhibited striking dishonesty and cowardice (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-13). On the other hand, we also see that whenever God told Abraham to do something, he obeyed: even to the point of sacrificing his son (Genesis 22:1-13). For His part, God bestowed very special blessings upon Abraham. God's criterion for doing so appears to be summed up in this verse:
And [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
In spite of Abraham's failings, he was faithful - believed in - God, and for this very reason God considered Abraham righteous. In other words, Abraham's sins were forgiven because of his faithfulness.
We can see, then, that the God of Genesis is a God of love and mercy. Truly, He only extends mercy on His own terms: but this is what we would expect from a God who is just. In a court of law, we might expect a judge to extend some leniency toward a criminal who expresses deep regret for his actions, and who promises not to repeat his offense; on the other hand, we see that the judge is justified in "throwing the book at" the criminal who shows no signs of remorse whatsoever. Mercy is tempered by justice.
Throughout the Old Testament, God's character does not vary on this point: there are numerous examples of God's love and mercy, and yet He never loses sight of justice. And when we get to the New Testament, we find that God is still concerned with justice; He does not ignore the problem of sin. In fact, it is because of the seriousness of sin, that He pays such a high price to punish it. On the other hand, in His loving mercy, God formulated a way to punish the sin while simultaneously offering forgiveness to the sinner - although forgiveness is still on God's terms:
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
God's terms have not changed. He still offers forgiveness and eternal salvation to any and all who will be faithful to Him.
Have you made that commitment to be faithful to God? Have you been baptized into Christ for the remission of your sins? If not, why are you waiting (Acts 22:16)?
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