As I make my way through the prophets (I’m currently finishing up Jeremiah.), I am repeatedly struck by the compassion of the Lord. For those with a scant understanding of the Old Testament, it is easy to portray God as the God of wrath and judgment in those writings, and a God of love and mercy in the New Testament. It’s as if he dramatically changed during the 400 years of the intertestamental period, that somehow he had gotten in touch with his compassionate self during those four centuries. I had similar thoughts as a young believer, and struggled to reconcile the two seemingly opposite personas.
Yet, as I spent more and more time in the Old Testament, I began to see the great compassion of God. From the very beginning, this is true. When Adam was alone in Eden, God saw his loneliness and made him a female companion (Genesis 2:18). When Adam and Eve disobeyed him and he prepared to banish them from the garden, he made them clothes to wear (Genesis 3:21). Time and time again during the period of the Judges, when the Israelites reaped the consequences of their disobedience and were conquered, they would cry out to him and he would rescue them from their enemies. And even as he warned of Judah’s coming destruction and exile to Babylon, he was offering compassion to them and their descendants (Jeremiah 29:4-14; 31:30-34)
So rather than a sudden change in his tone and personality, that night in Bethlehem when the baby Jesus was born was merely a continuation of God’s compassion toward his people. Even when they did not accept him, he continued to give them the opportunity to be called his children (John 1:12). Even when they rejected Jesus and mocked him while he hung on a Roman cross, he continued to show them compassion: “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) And as Paul beautifully says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
So let us discard this common notion that two very different Gods are found in the Bible—the wrathful and judgmental God of the Old Testament, and the loving God of the New Testament. They are the one and same God. He is and always has been the God of love and compassion. And these are shown both to those who embrace him and to those who reject him. A day of judgment will certainly come, but until it does, we all will be treated better than we deserve by a loving and compassionate God.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references from the New International Version, 2011.