Who is God? Judge or Father?
As of a few weeks ago, I made a commitment to read through the entire Bible. I’ve never done it before, and in light of the confusing, unclear (but exciting!) path that my faith journey has turned down recently, I thought I ought to discover what exactly this sacred text has to say. So I started in Genesis, and I’m reading 2-4 chapters a day. I try to think about the Gospel and Jesus’s words and life as I read through these awful stories of trickery, violence, human foolishness, and a God who seems more like an irate, arbitrarily furious deity whose decisions and words seem to have so very little in common with the Jesus of the New Testament.
So all this reading and reflecting got me to thinking…who is God? Is He a wrathful, spiteful, angry Judge who unleashes unbounded amounts of retribution on the wicked? (Wikipedia lists 32 examples in the Old Testament where God kills people, either because of they were wicked, their parent committed a sin, or they disobeyed God)
Or is He the gracious, beautiful Father who embodies everything that is Love? (1 John 4:8, Romans 8:37-39, John 3:16, Psalm 36:5, and many others)
I know He’s both. I know that He is a God of wrath as fully as he is a God love, that He is wrathful because He hates sin, and that he is merciful because he loves people. In my head, this article makes perfect sense.
But in my heart, I can’t make sense of a God who would command genocide (1 Samuel 15:2-3), or who would “walk with” one who commits genocide in His name (Joshua 6:20-27). These aren’t really about the wicked receiving their comeuppance; they’re about conquest, about the spreading of the Israelite nation, or about revenge for wrongs done to the Israelite nation. Nothing about these acts of violence is righteous. Nothing in them lines up at all with the Jesus of the New Testament who loves everyone He ministered to with a perfect and everlasting love.
They just don’t add up.
So here’s what I am wondering. I’m not so sure anymore that those Old Testament stories of violence are an accurate picture of my Savior. I think they are probably partially or mostly true, but as I read them I find it to be more and more likely that these stories are inflected with embellishment, that they are distortions and expansions of what actually happened in history. And perhaps, even more than that, maybe they depict MAN’s flawed perspective of God, and don’t necessarily reflect the true character of God? I mean, God sure seemed to be pretty accommodating to all the big patriarchs of Genesis. He seemed more like man’s idea of God than the perfect, holy, unfathomable God we see in the New Testament.
I mean for goodness’ sakes, in Genesis we’ve got stuff like Abraham striking a bargain with God to save a city (Genesis 18:16-33), and God making all of Abimelech’s household sick, and threatening to kill Abimilech, all because Abraham lied about Sarah (Genesis 20). These are just two examples of many in which God seems to be a character in a story instead of the Master orchestrating it all.
So I guess…I wrote all this just to say, I think I’m going to tread carefully as I wind my way through the Old Testament, and take its depictions of God with a grain of salt.