One currently fashionable pretext for repudiating the God of the Bible is to question God’s character, especially as God portrays Himself in the Old Testament. In contrast to the allegedly irresistible meek-and-mild New Testament deity depicted by Jesus, the God of the Old Testament is assumed to be a capricious, vindictive, and insatiable Being who exerts prompt reprisals on his enemies upon the slightest of provocations.
Such a reading of the biblical text betrays discomfort with the fact that God is God and that human autonomy must be recognized to lie somewhere beneath God’s sovereignty. That is to say, whereas a human being cannot rightfully determine the length of time allotted for another in this world, the Creator has the sovereign prerogative to number our days—a fact we implicitly recognize whenever we accuse others of “playing God.” Moreover, without a morally perfect Being responsible for the creation of the universe, we have no grounds for recognizing any act as immoral, so any such pronouncements must be made on the basis of God’s moral nature and commands.
Apart from the misconceptions inherent in the above claim, one could also assess the testimony of those who were closely associated with God in the Old Testament itself. Did they think of God as a vindictive Being? The answer is a resounding no. Examples abound, but let us highlight just a few. Given the choice whether to be punished by God or by his enemies after sinning against God, David replied, “Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Samuel 24:14). Jonah preferred to end his life in a treacherous sea rather than take the message of judgment to the Ninevites. His reason? He knew that God is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). In other words, he feared that God might be too nice to his enemies should they choose to repent.
But Moses provides one of the most striking examples of what those who knew God in the Old Testament really thought of this God. In Exodus 33, God threatens to abandon his plans of accompanying the Israelites to the Promised Land. Since God is faithful, He vows to keep his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the land to their descendants. He would send an angel before them to drive out their enemies and the land would still be flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 33:1-3). Did you catch that? They would not even have to fight for the land, and its provisions would still be available. The catch? God, Himself would not be among them. Now there’s a real jackpot! Imagine the possibilities—having all of God’s blessings without God telling you what to do with them! Many popular expressions of Christianity today rarely rise above the attempt to manipulate God into relinquishing his blessings without much regard for God Himself.
But Moses goes into the tent of meeting and says to God, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Is Moses under the spell of a vindictive, malevolent spirit, or has he learned that God is worthy of being loved with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind—the Absolute Object of infinite delight? C.S. Lewis was right when he said that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God alone. Nothing short of chronological snobbery would make us think that in contrast to God’s biblical followers we are better placed to judge the character of God. Biblical saints expected God, the judge of all the earth, to do what is right (Genesis 18:25), and it was not out of the delusion that their hearts panted for God as the deer pants for water.
God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is worthy of all our devotion and love. We must also remember that God executes perfect justice, as both the Old as well as the New Testaments demonstrate. Not only is the innocent, sinless Son of God sacrificed for the sake of humanity, but the just reward of eternal separation from God incessantly sought by those who reject God is also affirmed in the New Testament. Until the Spirit and truth of the gospel strips us of all our fleeting fortitude, presenting us before God bereft of any hope outside his mercy and grace, we will never lack excuses for resisting Him.
J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team with RZIM based in Kenya.