This I Believe…Continued: Good God, Bad God?

Ok.  Strap in. Hold on.  Here we go.  We’re starting a conversation about a complex issue.

It was said that I believe that “the God of the New Testament is different than the God of the Old Testament.”

I believe this: The God of the Old Testament seems different than the God of the New Testament.

I remember one sermon in which I observed, “What’s the deal? When you look at some of the things in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament, it’s like between Malachi and Matthew, God became a Christian.”  Now, come on.  Be honest.  Haven’t you thought that?  It’s OK. Admit it.  This is a safe place 🙂

If you haven’t thought it, maybe you haven’t read the following verses. Anyone who has taught the Bible has had that “Please God, don’t let them ask about that verse” moment. These verses fit into that category.

That Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady – Exodus 21:7; Judges 5:30
Have to work on the Sabbath? Have your boss read this – Exodus 35:2
I’m sure glad my parents didn’t obey this one – Deuteronomy 21:18-21

And then there’s the big one:  What’s up with God giving the command to wipe out the Canaanite residents (including women and children) of the Promised Land?

Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Joshua 6:21; Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:10-15

How does the picture of God in these passages fit the picture of God we have in Jesus?

It’s not just atheists, agnostics or the unchurched who are asking these questions.  Bible reading Christ-followers like me – and maybe you – are asking these questions. I know these Christ-following authors are asking:

Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?
David Lamb, God Behaving Badly
Check ‘em out.

Keep asking questions.

Let’s all quit judging people who are asking questions.
Question-askers are in good company – Moses in Exodus 32:11, and, of course, Jesus in Matthew 27:46.

Have you heard the phrase “Faith seeking understanding”?  I like that.  With a strong faith (dependence) in Jesus, I am seeking to understand.  What a journey.  We’ll take another step next time.

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13 thoughts on “This I Believe…Continued: Good God, Bad God?

  1. Phillip, I greatly admire your willingness to engage big questions, rather than fall back on failed “Christian-ese” and pious platitudes that do nothing to engage with seekers of truth, both Christian and non-Christian. Keep it up my brother, my prayers are with you.

  2. I wasn’t ready to begin this day thinking so much! I love your blogs but this one reminds me that a lot of times I don’t know what I don’t know yet. Again, I’m learning from the questions that you bring to our attention. Not always just what you know but also what you “seek to understand”. I love that!

  3. LOL…yes. I have struggled with what I saw as differences in tone between the New and the Old Testaments. And felt guilty because I did not like reading the Old, nor, with a few exceptions, did I find solace there. On a side note: the reason I was drawn to Phillip as a teacher was because he always challenged me to think and question. He also challenged me, when I looked at my reflection in the mirror, to make sure the reflection was true….and not false. PS: I use the past tense because I now live in Arizona.

  4. We are taught that we are made in the image of God and I believe that one of our greatest attributes is the ability to ‘change’. Surely that attribute was created in us by God. Is that not part of His image as well? Just thinking out loud here since you said it was a safe place. :). It seems to me that God is definitely willing to change His mind. Even in the Old Testament there are times that God offers to make a change from His original plan. One example is when Moses pleads with God concerning the destruction of Israel and God ‘changes’ his mind (Exodus 32:12-14). These are just a couple of things that have caused some questions for me. God can change his mind and still be God.

  5. Here are my thoughts. Keep in mind, they are thoughts before I have had one drop of caffeine. I think the easiest think a minister can say is “God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” Sounds very spiritual but really has no substance and doesn’t require much thought. Of course everyone has these questions. It does seem like God woke up one day and made a New Year’s resolution. I think I will show more love, grace and mercy. It seems like in the Old Testament, he was more a God of judgment and yet we would see flashes of His grace and mercy as well. In the New Testament, it seems like His grace and mercy character shown more often and yet we would see the judgment as well (Ananias and Sapphira). The Old Testament is full of passages that are just plain confusing but the New Testament has its moments as well. Pluck out your eye, cut off your hand. I have yet to meet the person who can answer all my questions and I laugh at those that act like they can. We will never fully understand God while we are here on planet earth. So, I will continue to ask questions and seek answers. That is a healthy thing to do. While I seek, I will focus on the one thing I do know for sure, Jesus loves me.

  6. This reminded me that when our kids were young we had a set of bible story books. There were certain stories that Tom and I would not read to our little ones because of the picture of God we were afraid they would see from those OT tales. Something that helped me, as an adult, was to look for a characteristic of God that showed through in the chapters that seemed harsh or violent. Gods character traits haven’t changed but, wow, the way He seems to Demonstrate them seems to alter. I love the ” faith seeking understanding” idea! That’s what the journey is all about! Thanks, Phillip, for your honesty and humility in sharing!

  7. I too believe this. I believe God changed because the people changed. The people became hung up on laws and regulations and missed the picture. God had to change his message in order for it to be received as He intended.

  8. Why do we spend worrying about the Bible? It was writen 1000-2000 years ago and not even in english. If you have read directions translated from Chinese to english for anything you must understand there could be a misinterpation. Add to that the New Testament was caried around it peoples heads for 200-400 years.

    • Charlie, oral history has proven to be in many cases more reliable than written history. People pass down stories through generations and they don’t get changed, but the minute someone writes something down it often times doesn’t stand the test of time. However, look at the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 19th century and they are almost verbatim a direct translation of many books of the OT. The bible is, of course a by-product of the translator and linguist (which is why it is imperative to get a reliable translation) but it is reliably the word of God and has proven to be so despite all the challenges it has faced from scholars and doubters. Free history lesson courtesy of your old tennis foe 🙂

  9. I don’t believe for one second that God has “changed” between the OT and NT. Rather, he reveals different characteristics of Himself to us. Think about it…why do people change? To correct something or do something better. If we say God “changed” than aren’t we really saying either that he did something wrong or that He could do something better by changing His approach? We simply cannot hold God to the standards of man…and he does not and has not made mistakes that require “change.”

  10. Phillip,

    Thank you for your posts…it’s been useful to read them and understand a bit more of your perspective on all of the recent events at Fellowship. I do have one question for you, though. At this point, my understanding is that there were some fundamental disagreements on theology and approach between yourself and several of the elders/staff. We’ve heard what those disagreements were from the elders’ perspective, and this blog is sharing where you feel the elders may have misrepresented those disagreements. However, I can’t help but think that if the issue were simply a matter of miscommunication, things would have been resolved with the help of FBC Lowell. So I’m left wondering…from your perspective, what were the disagreements (theology and approach) that led to this parting of the ways?

    Thank you again for sharing your heart through this blog. I am saddened by the events of the past several months but trust in a God that can turn all things beautiful–for all parties involved. We will continue praying for you and Denise and for Fellowship to grow and flourish through this. We serve an awesome God!

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