Monday, July 18, 2005

The ol' Two Gods Theory

Over at Evangelical Update, the discussion is focused on what I call the ol' Two Gods Theory. Due to a Haloscan hiccup the first day's worth of comments are lost somewhere in a back closet of Al Gore's Internet. So I decided to recreate my contributions here instead of tempting Haloscan Fate.

The original post itself also takes on the idea of apparent contradictions in Scripture, but I'll let that one alone for now since none were specifically singled out. Instead I'll focus on the opening paragraph:
There is a division in the Christian Bible: Old Testament and New Testament.It seems that those who want to challenge Christians can easily begin by pointing out that the angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament (plagues, floods, Joshua slaughtering an entire city) conflicts with Jesus' peaceful message (turn the other cheek, love your enemy) in the New Testament. Since Christians believe that Jesus IS God, how are the two conflicting portrayals reconciled?

There are a few points which must be addressed. First of all the Old Testament and New Testament have different approaches. The OT is mostly about God's dealings with His chosen people -- a very stubborn and disobedient clan. Like a parent dealing with a problem child, much time has to be spent is discipline and punishment. Meanwhile the New Testament deals with the gift of Jesus Christ as atonement for our sins and what that means to our lives when we accept Him. It's like two different roads with the same destination. Of course it's going to look a bit different. I look a lot different disciplining one of my kids than I do helping a little old lady across the street, but I'm not two different people.

But let's look closer at that "peaceful message" of Jesus Christ. In the post, Alice cites turning the other cheek and loving your enemy, but she stopped there. She missed where Jesus says, "But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Also omitted was Jesus telling the people that He came to divide families, how we should fear the One who could destroy body and soul in hell, how one who opposed a child would be better off being thrown in the sea with a millstone tied around his neck, and the parable ending with the owner of the house telling people, "Away from me, all you evildoers." More than a cursory examination of Scripture reveals that Jesus' message was not simply one of peace and love, but also one of condemnation for all who reject Him.

Calling the New Testament God a God of peace and love misses a few other items more reminiscent of the God of vengeance. There are Ananias and Saphira in the book of Acts. (Yes, that's in the New Testament.) A husband and a wife were struck down by that God of peace and love. They might argue the OT-NT differences with you! So might anyone who reads the final book of the New Testament as well. Revelation contains a good bit of judgment.

Now let's go back to the Old Testament. Sure there are plagues and floods and massacres. But we also see that God of peace and love rearing His head. Read David's psalms about how much he is loved by God. Read about a murderer named Moses who had been protected by God as a baby and called by God as an old man, and then became the leader of God's people and was called God's friend. Or you can check out the passage about a disheartened Elijah who was looked after with food and drink, not to mention encouragement. Then there's Rahab, a prostitute who seeks after the true God and that OT God shows her mercy and love in the midst of Joshua slaughtering an entire city. For that matter, what about the foreign city-state of Ninevah? They were so wicked it was disgusting, but God sent Jonah to call the people to repent to avoid destruction even though Ninevah certainly didn't deserve it. Of course we remember Abraham, who was called for no apparent reason aside from God's own pleasure and was shown incredible love by the Old Testament God.

I could go on like this for pages. But the point is clear. There is no distinction between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. In fact, the love of God includes the need for justice to be done. Paul writes in Romans, "Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of God; sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you will be cut off." Whoops! There's that sternness showing up in the New Testament again! Anyway, God's love certainly includes the need for judgment. We get back to the idea of a parent disciplining a child here. Disciplining is done because of love. I correct my own kids because I love them. The kids who run unchecked through stores and restaurants are not being shown love, they are being shown disinterest. Discipline is a part of love.

Beyond that, judgment is upon all of us. God, because He so loved the world, offers us a way out of that judgment -- Jesus Christ. Yet He allows us to accept Christ or to reject Him. But those who reject Him do so facing their own consequences. After all, He gave us one way out of paying for our own sins. If we reject that way, why would we think we deserve a different method of atonement? And unless you have the word "perfect" etched into your character assessment, you have judgment waiting for you. But the same God who enforces ultimate judgment loves us enough to provide us a way out of that judgment. The Two Gods are indeed One.

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