Why is the God of the Old Testament So Mean?


angry godSomeone recently asked me this question.  But, it’s not the first time I’ve heard it asked.  In fact, I’ve heard it a lot. Sometimes I even hear it from good Christian folks; people who have read the Bible and know God.  That surprises me a bit, so perhaps the answer isn’t as obvious to everyone as it is to me.

Generally, the question goes something like this: When I read the Old Testament, I read lots of stories of wars and judgment.  At times, God ordered some of the battles that were fought; He even ordered that certain people should be killed.  God also sent a lot of judgments.  He sent plagues, diseases, and natural disasters.  It seems that He was always angry.  Then, I come to the New Testament and the stories of Jesus.  He was always going out of His way to heal people and forgive them so that they didn’t face judgment.  Why is there such a difference between the God of the Old and the God of the New?

I guess I see things differently.  When I read the stories of the Old Testament, I see a God who was exceedingly patient and kind with people.  For example, before sending the plagues to Egypt, God had Moses go before the Pharaoh multiple times, asking politely for permission for the Hebrews to leave. But Pharaoh hardened his heart (Ex. 8:32), and would not permit it.  The signs God gave escalated until even Pharaoh’s own court admitted that God was behind the miracles (Ex 8:19).  Yet, Pharaoh became embittered and unjustly made life harder for the Hebrews.  His defiance resulted in God increasing the severity of the penalty.

People sometimes point out the destruction of the Amalekites as evidence of the hostility of God (1 Sam 15:2-3).  Yes, God did in fact order that they be wiped out.  However, we must not forget God’s patience with them.  For over 300 years they had been treating Israel viciously.  It began after Israel left Egypt.  They killed the stragglers (Dt. 25), they later attacked Israel (Jdg. 3), and again robbed Israel’s produce, leaving them starving (Jdg. 6).  They were a particular treacherous people who simply hated Israel and wanted to see them die.  They also apparently had a habit of killing Israel’s innocent children whenever they attacked (1 Sam. 15:33).

It’s actually surprising that God waited 300 years to bring about judgment.  Few of us would wait that long to retaliate against our enemies.  Heck, I know some people today who will make obscene gestures at others when they are simply cut off in traffic.  Allowing violence to go on for 300 years is incredibly patient, wouldn’t you agree?  Which of us would wait that long?

It is also important to note that even in the New Testament the actions of some people brought about the judgment of God.  In Acts 5, God judged a couple who had openly lied.  In Acts 12, God struck down wicked King Herod, and in 1 Cor. 11, Paul admitted that some in the church had become sick and even died because of their actions in the church.  So, just like in the OT, God was forced to use capital punishment in the church when necessary.

God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” but desires that wicked men turn from their sins (Ezek. 33:11).  Over and again I see in both the Old and New Testaments God being patient with sinners, giving them time to change their ways.  In some cases – but not all – God chose to judge these wicked people in this life time.  In most cases it was because their wickedness had become too great.

I do not see a mean God when I read the Bible. Instead, I see a patient, loving God who desires nothing more than to see us turn to Him.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.



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