The Mean Old Testament God

Christian Life & Theology, Podcast Episodes

In the second episode of this mini-series on systematic theology, Phylicia digs into the “mean” Old Testament God and why we need a biblical view of *both* God’s love and holiness to understand salvation through Christ. We talk about God’s wrath, the redefining of love, and how God’s holiness in the OT is what makes Him trustworthy today.

Based on Chapter Two of Every Woman a Theologian, available for preorder here: https://everywomanatheologian.com

 

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Transcription

Welcome to Verity Podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, and I am here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey, because Every Woman Is a Theologian.

Hello, friends. Well, I’m excited for this week’s episode, because we’re talking about an issue that comes up frequently when we are discipling other people about basic Christian doctrine and beliefs. It’s also something I had to wrestle with personally in my own walk with Christ. When I was a beginning Christian, I was really struggling through why God allowed certain things to happen to me, specifically in my struggle with sexual sin from when I was 12 to my early 20s. I really wrestled with why God would allow certain things to occur in my life that caused me to stumble on erotic novels and led to my addiction. 

So, I questioned God’s goodness and God’s kindness and God’s love, while also wrestling through, is God truly sovereign? Like, why did He let this happen? If He is sovereign, isn’t it His fault? So, all of those are theological questions that I was asking at 14, 15, 16 years old. They’re questions that a lot of people are asking today in different areas and over different issues in their lives. If you are listening to this, you have probably asked those questions. So, I hope that as we look at God’s character in this episode, you will learn something that is helpful to you in that journey. 

This episode is a part of a mini-series. Each episode is based on a chapter in my new book, Every Woman a Theologian: Know What You Believe. Live It Confidently. Communicate It Graciously. It comes out February 28th. This is focused on Chapter 2, which is theology of God, the Father. And so, talking about this mean Old Testament God and the balance of love and justice, that whole issue is what Chapter 2 is about and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this particular episode. 

I want to start first by going back to my own wrestling with the goodness of God and the sovereignty of God. I really struggled to accept God’s love, and part of that was the assumption, presupposition I had about God’s character and His kindness and part of that was my own guilt and shame over my addiction. If you want to know more about my testimony and sexual sin, I talked about it on the Marriage series with my husband and then I’ve also talked about it way, way back in the very first season on sexuality as well. 

I struggled to see God as kind. And part of that struggle then led me to wonder, does He really desire to be in relationship with me? I think this is something a lot of Christians wrestle with. But the Bible itself upends these assumptions. The Bible destroys our assumptions about God’s character, if we let it. That’s why we have to check our theology against scripture to be sure that what we believe is actually true. This is why I always say, “Check what you believe against what the word says. Don’t just take it for granted.” The God of the Old Testament, the one that we often call mean, the one that we wonder about His wrath and His justice, that God is the same God who sent Jesus, John 3:16. We forget that. But the more we study it, the more apparent this becomes. So, as we learn the character of God, we find Him so much more kind, so much greater, and so much gentler than we ever imagined. 

One of the first problems that we have when understanding the Old Testament God is that we don’t let God define Himself. We bring all of our assumptions to God and we have to let Him destroy those. We have to allow the Old Testament in its appropriate context to destroy that Western bias that we bring to the text. We live in a culture that is enamored with love. It’s unacquainted with true justice. It’s really a free for all. Every man is doing what’s right in his own eyes. And because of that, we have a hard time reading a passage that was written to people in an honor-shame culture, where family honor, and respect for elders, and integrity were very important and still are in many Middle Eastern cultures. 

So, our cultural differences can cause us to struggle to form this accurate picture of the God of Israel. We have to let God define Himself and let the Bible reorient us to who God is. The God of the Old Testament is often accused of being vindicative, wrathful, violent, unloving and then in contrast, many people will say, “Well, look at Jesus. He’s loving and kind and non-violent and accepting.” So, we end up presenting God and Jesus as two oppositional forces instead of two sides of the same coin, or three sides, really, because with this view we completely leave the Holy Spirit out. [laughs] So, when we create this dichotomy between God and Jesus and we act as if God and Jesus aren’t one or God didn’t send Jesus, we end up with a really screwed up theology that isn’t what the Bible teaches at all. 

So, when we look correctly at scripture, we see that Jesus is and was God, God sent and is one with Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the essence of Christ given for our growth. The Trinity, a fundamental of Christian teaching. When we splice apart these persons of God based on our own feelings about love and wrath, we end up with theology. That isn’t what the Bible teaches at all. We have to deal in the revealed word of God, not just our feelings about that word. This means wrestling with the text and letting them teach us about who the Father is. When we do that, we come away so much more secure in His love for us. That’s what I found in my own journey. 

There are several fundamentals of God’s character that we could talk about here. God as Trinity, God as love, God’s omniscience, His sovereignty, His righteousness. There’s so much ground that could be covered in the chapter of the book. I chose to focus on six attributes and I’m only going to hone in on His love and holiness in this particular episode, because I want to specifically address this idea of the God of the Old Testament as mean and this tension that we create between Jesus and Father God as if they are those oppositional forces when they are, in fact, not. They are one God with multiple persons. So, three persons, Holy Spirit, Father, and Son. So, to do that, I want to first talk about God’s love and then we’ll move to talking about God’s holiness. 

One of the fundamentals that I obviously didn’t get into here is that, God’s love is directly connected to His triune nature. Because God is Trinity, He is in community with Himself and pouring and creating out of community. He is not a selfish being. He is not a being that’s only concerned about what He wants and creating little slaves and minions like in many monotheistic religions. What’s unique about the Christian God is that He is entirely fulfilled in His communing self. And therefore, He did not need people. He created people out of that communal love and then He created people who also needed community, both with God and with other humans. So, that’s a really unique impact of the Trinity that we won’t be able to go into a lot of detail on here. But if you’re curious about that, I recommend the book, Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. 

That said, let’s talk about God’s love. We know that in 1 John 4:8, it says, “God is love.” Some progressive Christians have taken this to mean that love is God, but these are not the same thing. These are not equivalent statements. God is love. Love is completely a part of His nature. It is something that is innate to who He is. He defines what it is. But love is not God. Love as an attribute does not have the same authority and power as God, it does not have the sovereignty of God. Unfortunately, what we often see either functionally or expressly in progressive Christianity and the ways that it leaches into parenting advice, biblical exegesis, Bible studies books is that love as culturally defined is God. 

So, taking 1 John 4:8 and making a false equivalency which is a logical fallacy. So, what does John say in context about love? “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:7-11. 

So, there’s a couple of truths about love in this paragraph. We know God is love, but we also have some definitions of love here. God’s love is sacrificial. He sent His only Son into the world. He also sent His only Son that we might live through Him. So, there’s obviously a reason that we would not have been able to live. We were dying and God’s loved saved us through Christ. So, His love is self-giving, sacrificial. We also see that God was the initiator in this love. He loved us and sent His Son, and then His Son is a propitiation for our sins. 

This is where when we flip the truth that God is love, to say love is God, you’ll almost always see this essential part of God’s love left out. God’s love was active and its action was to make people holy. Jesus died to take our place as propitiation for our sins and that is an integral part of what God’s love is. It’s a holy making love, a purifying love. And so, if your love does not make you holy, it is not biblical love. That’s a great measuring stick. And so, God’s love makes us holy, but it’s also self-giving and sacrificial. In this way, John says, “God so loved us, so therefore, we should also love each other.” I think of a great expression in human relationships of this love is in marriage, where, yes, we have a feeling of love for each other, but that feeling can come and go. So, what attributes of love are left if the feeling isn’t there. The self-giving nature, the sacrificial nature, the purifying, sanctifying nature. 

So, Josh, he is self-giving towards me. He’s very sacrificial. He just came in and cleared the plate away from my lunch, put it in the dishwasher, he got me Starbucks coffee today. He is really acing this love game today. But he also is good at sanctifying love, and that’s uncomfortable sometimes. His love will speak up to me and challenge my sin and refine me, and I need that in that covenant relationship to become a better wife and a better person. In our covenant relationship with God, His love also works in this way. It’s the template for marital love and sanctifies us and is self-giving and sacrificial and leads us to emulate what Jesus did. 

So, we know this about God’s love. This is the definition of love and it diverges from our culture’s ideals, because today, in our culture, love can mean endorsement, affirmation, unquestioning support, attention. If you don’t give someone these things, you are deemed unloving. But this does not align with God’s definition of love. The love of Christ is self-giving and sacrificial and it’s also wise. God’s love is not in opposition to attributes like holiness and righteousness. It is complementary to them.  In other words, these are not two poles on a globe, but two sides of the same coin, like I said earlier. You can’t have love without justice and truth, and you can’t have true justice without love. As we, a modern culture, moved away from God, we’ve separated ourselves from both true justice and true love. Our justice is now polluted by selfish opinions, lack of consideration for others, and our love is polluted by this mistaken idea that affection equals endorsement of sin.

So, God, in the Old and New Testament, He destroys these assumptions. His love will not be manipulated or separated from truth. And yet, it is His truthful love that chases us down and seeks us in our sin. Jesus proved that God’s heart, Holy as it is not to separate from the sinner, but to invite the sinner to experience God’s love. He revealed that God’s seeking, loving heart to humanity is available in a relationship with Him, where we experience the transformative love of God. And so, this exposure to the Father’s heart changes us, because God’s love is sanctifying.

In my own testimony, when I was struggling with my sexual sin, my erotica addiction, I really struggled to trust this, to trust God’s love. I would waffle between repentance and fear. So, I would repent, because I knew something was wrong and then I would wonder like, “Did I really repent, because I’m still struggling with this?” In the Repentance episode, I talk at length about that. But my motivation to repentance wasn’t truly the kindness and love of God. My motivation was fear. I repented because I was afraid of God, afraid of sin, afraid of what might happen if I stayed in my sin. So, yes, I think some of that was a healthy fear. I should fear the consequences of sin. I should fear what would happen if I lived in that place. I think when we get to that apathetic point, it’s really dangerous. But in scripture, this fear should always be tempered by and removed by the open arms of God. 

I did not trust that God’s arms were open to me. I believed that this judging God saw my sin and I was exposed. It wasn’t until I really pressed into studying God’s love through some different books’ I read in my teens that I understood why I kept repeating the same patterns of sin, why I couldn’t get freedom from the addiction in the first place and it was because I did not trust God’s love. My repentance was genuine, but because I never felt truly attached to God, secure in His love for me and His grace over my sin, I kept returning to this familiar addiction. 

I was so unfamiliar and unwilling to accept the affection of God that I ran to the very thing destroying my heart. That’s why the love of God is so important, because it’s the glue of scripture. It’s binding together all these theological truths that we learn about God. The Christian God is distinct, because He is in every part of His being, love. He is love. Every human love we experience and try to idolize or replace God’s love with is just an echo of His original, hesed, faithful seeking love.  In the book, I say that, “This love is brave enough to redeem the darkest sinner you know, even if that sinner is you.” 

This is the hope that Christ offers us. It’s what John was talking about in 1 John 4, when he said, “You have to come and to know and believe the love that God has for you, only when you do, that when you see transformation.” So, we can know God’s love, but we have to believe it. Until we do, we can’t actually live in it. And the eternal life that God offers, John 3:16 that “God sent His only son to offer this eternal life to us,” it’s not just after death, it’s for now. It’s today, to experience His power and it’s a real life free from addiction, and dependency, and anger, and bitterness. It’s a life knowing and believing that God’s love is for you, not just for everyone else. So, that’s God’s love. 

To understand the God of the Old Testament and to understand that He is not this mean boogeyman, megalomaniac, who’s different from Jesus, as if God underwent this like metamorphosis in the silent period between the Old and New Testaments. No, that’s not what happened. God’s love is all through the Old Testament. God’s grace to Adam and Eve that he didn’t kill them on the spot, but instead slaughtered animal to clothe them, that was grace, that was love. God’s love in saying to Noah, “I see you walk with Me, I could wipe this whole world out, including you. You’re just one family. But no, I’m going to show my faithfulness to you. I’m going to have you partner with Me to build this arc to preserve your family.” That was love. 

When God came to Abraham and said, “Hey, I know you listen to Me. I’m going to take you out of this land. I’m going to give you a promise and I’m going to walk with you even as you lie and you fail and you don’t believe Me, I’m going to build a family through you and your great, great, great, great, great grandson through your line will save the world.” That was love. 

All through the Old Testament, we see the love of God. The law that’s given to Israel, that was love. The law was God’s favor and grace on Israel, so they could be a city on a hill to the nations around them saying, “Come here, come here, come know this God. Come see this God. Live this way, this blessed way, so that you can have the presence of God with you.” The Holy God loves us so much. He gave us the template for living with Him. The law was love. God is love all through the Old Testament. 

When you see God’s wrath, it’s like I wrote in our Revelation Bible study in the Every Woman a Theologian shop. When we see God’s wrath in the Bible, this wrath is not this arbitrary human anger. God’s wrath is the wrath of love. One theologian said, “That seeks to protect those who are His.” God’s wrath is against everything that would attack and destroy His own. That means all evil and everyone and everything that partners with evil. What does this tell us? You want to be on God’s side. You want to be on the side of love. You don’t want to be on the side of evil and opposing God. God opposes the proud. Why? Because pride is evil and it destroys those He loves. 

So, when we read things like God opposes the proud, it’s not like, “Oh, God doesn’t love the proud.” No, God loves for the proud to humble themselves and be a part of His family. But when they don’t do that, he has to oppose them, because they would destroy His own. He is the most loving Father. When I think about my own children, if someone is after my children, they want to hurt or destroy my children, I will go to war against them, because I love my children. But what if somebody just kind of passively supports the person trying to destroy my children? They don’t say it’s wrong, they don’t argue against it. They kind of just stand with the person, but aren’t actively seeking to destroy my children. What about them? Well, they’re partnering with evil by their passivity. They’re saying, “Umm, I’m not going to say this is wrong. I’m not going to stand up for what’s right.” 

If God is a loving father protecting His children, then His wrath against evil is righteous, the thing that wants to kill those who are His own. And then anyone who stands with that evil or, makes concessions to that evil, or partners with that evil has told Him what side they are on. The whole time that this is happening, His arms are open and that very enemy could become one of His children too. That is the scandal of grace. That is salvation. So, as long as someone refuses God’s open arms, they remain in separation and they remain opposed to God and His wrath. God’s wrath is the wrath of love. It is an entirely just wrath. Until we recognize that, we will continue to make these false equivalencies and read things into the Old Testament that just aren’t there. God is love and even His wrath is loving.

If someone asked you to explain the Gospel, could you do it? If your coworker came to you with questions about why Jesus had to die or your child asked you to define the Trinity, could you provide an answer? Regardless of whether or not we are in formal ministry, all of us are called to be witnesses for Christ. If you’re nervous, you’re not alone. The ministry of Every Woman a Theologian exists to equip you for this task. And now, we have a cornerstone resource to make that happen. My brand-new book and video study is available for preorder, January 9th. Every Woman a Theologian: Know What You Believe. Live It Confidently. Communicate It Graciously is almost here. This book is everything you need to know in order to share your faith without anxiety in today’s world. I wrote this to equip you with a confident and educated faith. 

The workbook and eight-week video study will also be available and you can preorder through Christian Book, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie bookstore and lock in the lowest launch price. We are the generation that will stand on both conviction and love, because we know what we believe and why we believe it and how to explain it well to the world. Join me this spring by ordering Every Woman a Theologian at bookstores near you. 

So, let’s talk about God’s holiness. The word for holy in Hebrew means separate or set apart. God is totally unlike us. He’s perfect, He’s sinless, He’s completely good. His holiness, this is important, is the guarantee of His love. Because God is so perfectly holy, we can trust His love is unstained by self-interest. This is why we can’t pit God’s love and holiness against each other. They have to be viewed as one complementary unit. We can’t separate them.  We know that God’s holiness is incredibly important to His character because the entire Bible talks about it. Exodus 15:11, Isaiah 57:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:7, 1 Peter 1:16, all through the Bible, we see how God is holy and we need Him to be holy. We need Him to be holy, because all moral behavior is rooted in the character of a holy and righteous God. 

When we think about the moral law, so the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5, we think of these things as just and loving, right? We don’t want to make concessions to murder, or envy, or adultery, or anything like that, stealing, lying, we know these things are wrong. Even our culture would say, these things are wrong. We make government laws to penalize people for doing these things. And yet, when we judge God as angry or wrathful for His holiness, we’re actually undermining the foundation for all moral behavior. God should be wrathful against murder. It’s the killing of an image bearer. He should be angry when people envy and are materialistic and manipulate to get more, or when they wound other image bearers. God is wrathful against sin, because God is love and that love is perfectly holy.

R.C. Sproul describes sin against the love of God this way. “Sin is cosmic treason. It is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.” 

I love this quote, because it points out that our human understanding of holiness is tainted by our tendency towards self-interest. So, unless we are exposed to the truth of God’s character in scripture, we will make allowances for our own little pet sins. We’ll try to downplay God’s holiness and then we won’t recognize that when we downplay God’s holiness and His justice, we also downplay His love. And in the end, we lose. Because we have no leg to stand on when we try to say something is wrong, when we try to teach our kids, “Hey, be kind, but without any moral judge, any foundation for kindness, any objective standard of right and wrong.” 

Last week’s episode on Bibliology, we talked about why we need an objective standard. And in this week, now we’re seeing that implication. I was recently looking at a post on Instagram, I think it was on @sharonsaysso account and they were talking about “How many Congress members in the United States claim to be Christians?” And it was a lot. It’s surprising, actually, claim to be Christians being the important note there. [laughs] But in the comments underneath, Christians, including people who I know are Christian authors were writing in the comments that, “They didn’t care whether someone was a Christian or not or religious or not, but they just wanted people to be kind to one another.” These are Christian authors, by the way, commenting this. I don’t care if someone shares my faith. I just want people to be kind to each other. I’m not voting for someone to be a Christian leader in my Congress. I expect that as a secular institution, if a Christian person runs, then hooray. But that’s not what I’m looking for personally. 

What I noticed in these comments was that, even these Christian authors were saying that they wanted kindness out of their Congress and out of the people who are voting for these Congressmen and women without a foundation for kindness, without an objective standard. But without an objective standard, you don’t even have a definition for what is kind. I could say, it’s kind for me to trip you, because I think that tripping you helps me reach the finish line faster. And if I reach the finish line, I will do more positive things for the world than you will. 

It’s a very Marvel Endgame kind of thing here. [chuckles] This is a Thanos way of thinking, if you’re into the Marvel Universe, that if we remove the objective standard we still are able to have kindness, and peace, and love, and joy, and all these things we see as the fruit of the Spirit. But the whole point of the fruit of the Spirit, the whole reason we have that fruit is because of the Spirit, which means you have to have a moral judge of right and wrong. This is one big ball of wax and it all unravels as soon as you say, “I don’t need God’s holiness. I don’t need a holy God. I don’t need a just and true God.” 

Not liking God’s wrath is like the little thread that when you pull it, it all comes unraveling. If you don’t understand how essential God’s wrath and justice and holiness are to the equation, you will start nitpicking and choosing a salad bar Christianity, where you just have love and kindness and peace and joy, but in reality, you have just taken away the entire foundation for those things. This is dangerous and it won’t work, because as soon as you find a new framework, a new worldview to tell you what kindness is, you can say that, “You know what? Kindness is divorcing my husband with no cause.” I just watched this happen with a blogger I’ve followed for seven years. 

He was a Christian. Deconstructed out of Christianity, became New Age, increasingly more focused on manifesting wealth, manifesting what she deemed correct morality, her moral code changed, and then she announced that she was leaving her husband, because it wasn’t serving her anymore. So, this is an example of changing that moral foundation. We have to have a God, who is Holy and Just as that foundation for all things that are righteous and good. For all things that are covenantal and holy, you have to have that Holy God. You have to remember that His holiness is loving, His holiness is for our good, His holiness is the reason we can trust that His love will never change. You take away God’s holiness, you can’t trust His love. 

It is vital that Christians understand both holiness and love in their theology. Many believers tend to emphasize one over the other and this leads to an imbalance in extreme theology. Because if God is only holy and not loving, there’s no hope for us. There’s no safety in His affection. If God is all love and no holiness, my behavior doesn’t matter and I’m left in my sins hurting other image bearers with my selfish deeds. God’s love calls us to holiness, so that we love others effectively and in doing so bless the world. God’s justice is the marriage of His love and holiness together, and His justice is what calls us to align our desires with Him, because we know that He’s our foundation. Without love, God’s justice would be ruthless. Without holiness, God’s justice would be untrue. We have to have both of these things. 

I love what Craig Blomberg said about the righteous. He said, “Out of love of God and love of neighbor, The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community, the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” This is what all those commentators on the @sharonsaysso post were saying. They were saying, “I want people in Congress who don’t disadvantage the community to advantage themselves,” but they want that without transformed hearts. 

And I’m telling you right now, it can’t happen. It can’t happen. You might get it temporarily, a work-spaced, visual, lip service kind of righteousness, but until the heart has changed, you’re going to see more and more corrupt politicians, more and more fallen pastors, because there was no fear of God before their eyes. There was no reverence for His holiness. The “mean God of the Old Testament” is the God of your salvation and your hope. Without that righteous God, that holy God who sent Jesus to save you, you have no love, no kindness, no protection, no peace. The God of the Old Testament is the God who wove that covenantal story together, so that Jesus Christ would be born and die to save you from evil. It was the wrath of God poured out on Christ on that cross, so He could protect His own. It was Papa Bear, if you will, going to war for His children. And until we recognize that and see the loving power of His holiness, see the kindness of His holiness, we will read the Old Testament through a deceived lens and we will not see the goodness of His grace.

There’s so much more I could say about this topic, but I’m going to leave it for the book. If you are interested in learning more about theology of God, His wrath, His justice, His sovereignty, His omniscience, His love, you want to be able to explain this to those around you. Every Woman of Theologian is available for preorder. There’s a workbook and an eight-week video study too. If you preorder, you get the First Chapter of the workbook in the video as well as some other wonderful bonuses. You can grab that at everywomanatheologian.com. As always, you guys, thank you for listening. 

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity and about Every Woman a Theologian as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next last week as we continue to go deeper into God’s word and the heart of Jesus Christ. 

 

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