In the last two posts I’ve been discussing the ins and outs of anger, including how to keep it in balance and when to pay attention to it. This week, though, I’m digging into the subject of God and anger. Sometimes God seems extremely angry in the Old Testament, especially with the people who are supposed to be his chosen ones, but he seems extremely loving in the New Testament. Does God have two different personalities? What’s the deal?
I asked my dad, Dr. Thomas Nunnally or “Doc” as he’s known to our family, to share some insights. Doc is a retired English professor who loves to fish and loves God’s word even more. He’s taught academic classes on the literature of the Bible as well as more informal Bible studies, and he consults on Bible translation projects. All that to say, I have an amazing resource for the hard questions of the faith! Here’s how he addressed the questions of God’s nature as angry or loving, and whether the God of the Old Testament is the same person presented in the New Testament.
Some people argue that God’s nature is contradictory between the two sections of the Bible. They would paint God in the Old Testament books as wrathful, judgmental, and murderous, abandoning his chosen people to destruction. Yet in the New Testament books, Jesus, as God in the flesh, and his followers all present God by and large as loving, kind, and merciful.
Is there, then, a contradiction in God’s character?
What looks like a contradiction between the Old and New Testaments is resolved when we understand the nature of supernatural love. The truth is that there is no contradiction in the heart of God but only seeming contradiction in what we see being played out from Genesis to Revelation as God reveals truth to humanity and even then, only when we read and understand imperfectly.
God, in all his supreme majesty and glory, inexpressibly elevated above his creation, still magnanimously chose a people, the descendants of Abraham through Isaac, through whom to work an eternal plan and with whom to enjoy fellowship of Creator and fallen creation. This chosen people willingly entered into a covenant, a binding agreement, with God. Even so, God provided ample ways for those who fell short of the covenant to renew their fellowship with a holy God and become innocent once again after violating the covenant. This path of forgiveness climaxed in the yearly Day of Atonement. Yet this people, as a national entity, chose willingly to walk away from this amazing and unique relationship, spurning the God of love who chose them and taking his mercy and favor for granted. This left only wrath, penalty, judgment—the punishments outlined in the covenant—as a national outcome, which the prophets from Moses, before there even was a nation, through all those up to the fall of Jerusalem constantly warned the people about. And yet, each threat of destruction was coupled with pleas for repentance and with messages of hope for post-destruction redemption.
The continually repeated Old Testament offer and promise of reconciliation goes far beyond the ability of wounded human love, manifesting a fiery supernatural love from the One who is “slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…. Yet [who] does not leave the guilty unpunished.” (See Exodus 34:6-7) And it is that incomprehensible love and only such a love that could wrap itself in human flesh and walk as a man among the chosen people, fully aware of their coming rejection once again and of his preordained execution as the Atonement to solve the wrath question once and for all. Jesus took the entire penalty for every violation of God’s perfect law upon himself and sacrificed his life as the atonement, or payment, once and for all. Jesus shows us the fullness of God’s love in his words and actions during his earthly ministry, but even more in his death and resurrection. Through this final manifestation of the GOD of LOVE himself, God made a new covenant available to all people through simple faith. How could the sending of Jesus be any clearer as the final confirmation of the loving heart of God in the Old Testament? And in the final New Testament book, Revelation, how could the return to wrath against those who whole-heartedly reject and defy perfect love be any less appropriate as a divine response?
No, God’s character as always loving but always just shines clearly through the whole of scripture.
Wise words, Doc, that make me appreciate the wonder of a loving God who stepped into human flesh to satisfy what justice demanded. That we, in admittedly imperfect ways, experience justified anger in response to out-of-bounds behavior indicates that we reflect that part of our Creator that requires justice. Even more remarkable is this: when we have our flawed natures redeemed through Christ and transformed through his Spirit, we begin to reflect his self-sacrificing, never-giving-up, always-faithful-kind-of-love. We still feel anger at times—and thank God for that warning system that signals a boundary has been crossed and change is needed—but with love at the controls, we’re more apt to bring mercy into the picture and by so doing, paint a fuller picture of God for others.
Wondering what it means to have a redeemed and transformed life? Check out this link: How to Receive New Life from God