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Sunday, December 28, 2014

God of the Old, God of the New


I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6}
Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament? To hear some people, even in the Church, you would think He is.

God’s judgment of sin seems to overflow the pages of the Old Testament. You can open it almost at random, especially the prophets, or the historical books like Kings or Chronicles, and find unmistakable evidence of God’s wrath against rebellion and evil. But unless you land on the book of Revelation, or isolated passages in the gospels, Acts, or the epistles, the God pictured in the New Testament seems tame by comparison.

But God, as C.S. Lewis observed, is not a tame lion.

Because of what seems a difference in God’s character in both testaments, a heresy called Marcionism developed in the second-century church. Marcion, a church leader, believed the wrathful Old Testament God was different than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. Marcion also rejected the Old Testament scriptures as unworthy to be included in the Christian bible.

The Church, however, rejected Marcion’s teaching as false and dangerous to the faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 123) says this about the Marcion heresy: Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void . . . . 

While a superficial reading of Scripture can suggest an inconsistency in God’s character between both testaments, the inconsistency evaporates on closer examination. God is the same God of mercy, love, judgment, and wrath in both eras. For example, Ananias’ and Sapphira’s deaths because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5) is not dissimilar from the deaths of Nadab and Abihu who ‘offered strange fire” on God’s altar (Leviticus 10). The reason for King Herod’s death (Acts 12) is not much different from the reason God killed the Judean King Ahab (1 Kings 22). God struck Elymas the magician with blindness (Acts 13), and did the same to the mob surrounding Lot’s house (Genesis 19). God brought judgment on Israel because of her sins (e.g. 2 Chronicles 36), and God warns His church against turning from Him (Revelation 2-3), and He will bring global destruction on a world of unrepentant sinners (Revelation 4-18).

The reason people confuse the pictures of God in both testaments is often rooted in the amount of material available to form an accurate understanding of God’s unchanging nature.

The New Testament covers the span of about 60 years, but the Old Testament encompasses a period of 1400 years. That difference alone allows the writers of Sacred Scripture much more time to demonstrate the fullness of God’s character. Further, the Old Testament is comprised of 73 books. The New Testament has only 27. The Old Testament has 1,074 chapters, the New Testament only 260. The Old Testament has more than 25,000 verses, the New Testament a little less than 8,000 verses. But the differences in the quantity of material in both testaments should not surprise us. The Old Testament is the story of a people. The New Testament is a story of a person.

The Holy Spirit tells us: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)  In his letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul underscores the importance of familiarity with the Old Testament to help us understand the New Covenant: These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. And do not become idolaters, as some of them did . . . . Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did . . . . Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6-11)

Little wonder that St. Augustine commented: The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.

God’s character has not changed, and neither has His modus operandi. The Holy Spirit tells us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And He tells us through the prophet Malachi: “For I, the Lord, do not change(Malachi 3:6).

God’s love, mercy, and compassion extend from Genesis and into the 21st century. Equally important – and we ought not to minimize this eternal reality – God’s holiness, justice, and wrath toward sin also extend across the same period of time.

6 comments:

Victor S E Moubarak said...

I agree with your comments and your view of the Old and New Testament.

Here's how I dealt with this question in one of my short stories:

http://timeforreflections.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/god-is-getting-old.html

God bless.

Rich Maffeo said...

Nicely told story, Victor. And I must admit, I also wish sometimes God would 'rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at His presence." (Isa 64:1). Good thing I am not God. ;-)

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Very nicely laid out and very clear. I was listening to a group of evangelical pastors talking on the radio about the problems of getting people to know Jesus as a person. One commented that you can know a lot about the Bible and still not have a relationship with God. Today people create a fantasy God in their own image instead of pondering God a He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Another pastor commented that God doesn't change. If it's the same God now, then, and forever, everything He tells us is true. We are the ones who turn our backs on Him and try to make Him to have said things He never did.

I'm like you. I wish God would rend the heavens and get people's attention, but then, He's already done that several times. All we little people can do is stand up and shout as loud as we can using the means God has given us to wake up our fellow human beings. You're doing a great job of that.

Rich Maffeo said...

Barb, thank you. But you and I, and so many others like us, are simply doing the best we know, in whatever way we know, to do the work He calls us to do. Night is coming when no one will be able to do that work -- certainly not as freely or as easily as we can do it now. Time is short. Probably much shorter than any od us can know.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

I think that, too. When will all our faithful Catholic blogs be suppressed? When will we be thrown in jail for saying that there can be no such thing as same sex marriage? The catacombs of the 21st century are not far from us.

One thing I believe we must not forget, though. Even in the darkest kingdom of the world, North Korea, Christian missionaries exist. Although they must work secretly, they are there. Just as in Japan under the Shogunate when the Christians of Nagasaki preserved the Faith in secret.

Another thing we have to remember is that God has many contemplative soldiers invisible to all of us who are sustaining those of us who are more visible through their prayers. I have to keep reminding myself that God is in charge and I have to trust in Him even though I can't see the future.

Rich Maffeo said...

And this is also an encouragement. As you said:

"Another thing we have to remember is that God has many contemplative soldiers invisible to all of us who are sustaining those of us who are more visible through their prayers. I have to keep reminding myself that God is in charge and I have to trust in Him even though I can't see the future."