After some recent circumstances, I was once again humbled by the privilege of being born and raised in a Christian home. I tend to get absorbed in my sheltered little world, and I sometimes forget that there are teens my age who know none of the truths that I do. When I meet them, it stirs up that desire to help my generation truly seek God.
There’s one problem, however. Most of my generation doesn’t know who God is, apart from “a bad word”, as I heard it recently expressed. If they are aware of God, they usually have the conception of a big, booming voice in the sky with a strict, extensive list of dos and don’ts that must be obeyed, the consequence for disobedience being fire and brimstone. Unfortunately, this paints a very inaccurate picture of who He really is.
Who is God really? What is He really like? The only way to discover this is to get into His Word, which, once we begin to search and examine, we find is not a code of law after all. However, it’s all too much to fit into one post, so for today we’ll establish His unchanging nature before we move on to anything else.
When we look through the Bible, we see many, many stories that reflect who He is and what He has done. Many people assert that the Old Testament (OT) portrays a God of anger, wrath, and hate, while the New Testament (NT) shows us a loving, gentle, peaceful God. However, this is not true – we’re not talking about two separate Gods here! Hebrews 13:8 states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This shows us His unchanging nature. If He never changes, then how could He seemingly be a God of hate in the OT, and yet a God of love in the NT?
The fact is that we see both His love and anger in both the OT and the NT, throughout the whole Bible. As one of many examples I could use, Psalm 33 writes that the eyes of the Lord – this supposed “God of hate” we’re talking about in the OT – are “on those who hope in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” (v. 18-22)
That doesn’t sound like a God of hate to me. That sounds like a God who loves me with an unfailing, unconditional love, who is my help and shield, in whom I can place my trust, because He will keep me alive and deliver me from death.
Over in the NT, where we supposedly see this God of love, we see John’s description of Jesus clearing the temple courts in John 2, when Jesus goes up to Jerusalem. “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and over-turned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” Does this sound like our gentle, sweet little peaceful Jesus? This sounds like a God filled with rage, an understandable anger.
Is all of this contradictory? No! It only affirms my point. Jesus Christ is the same. Always. He never changes. We’ve already seen examples of His love and His anger. We see that He is a passionate God, really. I like to use the analogy of parents in regard to God’s love and anger. My parents love me and want what’s best for me, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t ever do things that make them angry. They have to discipline me, to punish me for the things I’ve done wrong. In the same way, God loves us unfailingly, but that doesn’t mean that we never anger Him. Ultimately, His nature does not change. His emotions change, but He Himself does not. So we see the anger of God manifest in the NT at times and the mercy of God manifest in the OT at times. This points to different circumstances, not a completely different nature of God.
Essentially, our most common problem is to attempt to fit God in this box that is my comprehension. We like to build orderly concepts of how He behaves; a systematic formula for how God relates to us. God is angry. Okay, now we build off that... or for some, God is love is their theme. God is understanding. God is holy. Different groups, different people draw different boxes for the same God, different favorite themes that define God by our understanding of His behavior.
The problem is that we're talking about God; who is both love and hatred, mercy and anger, grace and justice, selfless love and jealousy. God is the perfect personification of all emotion and all character traits. So there is no box big enough for us to fit God in or demand that He behave in a certain way because of our understanding of Him. We assured that He is good at all times, but how that goodness reveals itself is sometimes beyond our comprehension.
If there was one word to describe who God is, I would say "mystery". As men, we cannot fit God's character and behaviors into a box of our own making. He has chosen to reveal many facets of His nature to us through His Word, but He remains God, a great mystery, an unexplainable one. He is perfect love, perfect hate, perfect grace, perfect justice, perfect holiness, perfect grace all meshing in one incomprehensible, majestic Being.