The Tale of Two Gods?

There was a heresy in the second century AD named after Marcion of Sinope (ca. 85-160) that claimed the God of the Old Testament was not the same deity as worshipped by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Marcion believed that the Yahweh of the OT was a “demiurge” (subordinate to Supreme God) which had created the material universe; a tribal God of Israel characterized by wrath and jealousy. He also believed that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed in the NT as a God of love and compassion. (See Marcion’s work Antitheses)

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, has a similar perspective on the God of the OT: “petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, blood thirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (p. 31) Wow! Sounds like an all- round bad guy.

I would not place Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Church in Georgia, into the same category as either Marcion or Dawkins, but he nonetheless has walked onto thin ice having suggested that Christians need to “unhitch” the OT from their understanding of faith and solely focus on the Resurrection of Jesus. He believes that we need liberation from the Law of the OT to the grace and mercy of the NT.

Perhaps you have shared similar feelings as you’ve read through the OT. You’ve run across things that God said or did that just rankled your senses. What are we to make of this, especially as we compare it to the NT? Not to over simplify, but I would like to point out two things for you to think about that may help you work through this supposed discrepancy:

First, it is important to read the Bible (OT and NT) over and over on a regular basis— from beginning to end, from front to back, in order to gain a sweeping view of God’s character and actions. Most of us find ourselves (naturally) put off by babies being slaughtered and tribes being eliminated because of the sin of one of its members. However, if we focus just on these and ignore context then we can make as wrong an assessment of the OT as the arborist who judges the health of a forest on the basis of one or two trees. While I still struggle with some passages in the OT, the more I read the more I see God revealed progressively as a God of compassion and mercy. For example, I read through the book of Jonah this morning and saw this clearly portrayed. Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the great enemy of Israel, and to preach judgment. Jonah ran away from the task. Why? Because he was a chicken? No. Look at Jonah’s response when God suspended his judgment because Nineveh repented: “That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing (initially) to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents in sending calamity” (4:2). Jonah knew the character of God and he thought it was just plain wrong that God’s mercy should be available to any nation other than Israel. (Aren’t you glad Jonah is not God?)

I also think of the example of Moses in Exodus 33–34, whose view of God was deepened by the events surrounding the punishment of Israel for worshipping the golden calf. Poor old Moses was frustrated. He felt caught in the middle between an unruly people and a God who threatened to abandon them because of their disobedience. In hindsight, we see that all of this was a test of Moses’ faith to bring about the desired effect of making him yearn for a deeper knowledge of God… “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) And so, God brings Moses back up on Mount Sinai where he puts the frustrated leader in the cleft of a rock while the “backside of God’s glory” passes by: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished….” (34:6–7) A God of justice- absolutely! A God of compassion and mercy- yes!

Second, and this is basic, there is no indication that Jesus ever adjusted the thinking of his followers to worship any other God than Yahweh of the OT. Instead, he came to further reveal his Heavenly Father. Jesus’ stinging rebuke of the Pharisees and his call for sinners to repent were just as poignant and powerful as any of the OT prophets. In fact, he did not come to set aside the OT and its call for obedience and righteousness, but to fulfill them—to show what obedience and righteousness looked like. What seems to soften the NT for us is that God becomes personalized in Jesus Christ. We see Yahweh’s compassionate and loving nature more clearly hallmarked in the life and sacrifice of God’s very own Son because of his great love for us. And we receive his open invitation to receive the forgiveness of our sins and to enter into the Family of God through faith in Christ’s work for us.

Does that mean justice and righteousness are set aside in the NT by the work of Christ? On the contrary, “he (God) did it to demonstrate righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 3:26) Christ died, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that the just demands of the law might be satisfied. Justice being accomplished, God showed his mercy in justifying (putting in the right) those who have faith in Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

No, the OT and NT do not contain the tale of two Gods. They contain the story of one God who progressively revealed himself to his people Israel as they grew in their understanding of him; ultimately revealing himself to the whole world in his Son. Someone described the OT as a house standing without the roof and the NT as the roof without the house. The OT ends somewhat abruptly, begging to be completed by something new that God was going to do. The NT begins somewhat enigmatically with a Jewish remnant again captive to a foreign power, waiting for a new Moses to deliver them. Jesus appears as that Deliverer—not only of Israel, but of all the nations who would believe—”For God so loved the world….” The Bible is a well-built house where justice and mercy meet in both Testaments and whose doors are open to anyone who repents and believes in Jesus.


Things that delight the heart of God…

In my reading through the Scriptures, I have been paying attention to those passages having to do with things in which God takes pleasure; in which he delights. This is not so I can accumulate interesting little bits of bible knowledge for future use, but so I can presently better understand my Heavenly Father and show my love for him. Perhaps you can add to this list:

Psalm 104:31- He delights in his works; his works of creation, which reveal his glory. So, as I praise him for a beautiful morning or stand awed by a gorgeous sunset, I am glorying in the very things that give him pleasure.

Psalm 149:4- He takes delight in his people, especially those who are afflicted. “… he will beautify the afflicted with salvation.” What an amazing thought, that my Father delights in me even when I feel lost in my suffering! In fact, he takes pleasure in me especially when I face the unloveliness of affliction. (I’m going to write a separate blog on this.)

Psalm 147:11- God delights in those who reverence him and trust him and put their hope in his unfailing love. God does not delight in strength (v.10) but he delights in us when we acknowledge our weakness and our need of him. What an encouragement to come into his presence in those times when I am overwhelmed by all those things that I cannot control.

Proverbs 11:1- He takes delight in honesty and dealing fairly with others. Hmmm… what a novel thought in our world, where the end justifies the means in personal, national, and international affairs.

Proverbs 11:20- “… he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” Blameless does not mean perfect, but it describes a person who strives to keep the way of God’s Law as the standard for right living. Job wasn’t perfect, but he strived to live uprightly and with integrity. King David wasn’t perfect, but in Psalm 25 where he acknowledges he is a sinner, he also prays that his integrity and uprightness will protect him against the criticism of his enemies. My Father takes delight in my attempts to walk in obedience to him, just like I rejoiced in the first steps of my children before they fell down again.

Proverbs 12:22- God hates lies but delights in those who tell the truth. But the implication here is that God delights in those who are “trustworthy” (ESV). People whose lives and dealings, as well as speech, are characterized by truth-telling. Are you being a little shady in that business deal? Are you telling the whole truth to the bank when they ask about how you are going to use that equity loan? Do you have a financially addictive hobby that you are not telling your spouse about? At those times, just think how much your Father takes pleasure in you when you simply tell the truth and do the right thing!

Jeremiah 9:24- God delights in loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness. Rejoice when you see these things evidenced in this world and in your life because you know your Father is very pleased.

Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Isa 42:1- God delights in his Son, Jesus. It is little wonder then that God will use the difficult circumstances in our lives as a whittling tool to cut away things in us that do not resemble Jesus. Romans 8:28 indicates that “all things work together for good for those who love God,” and 8:29 defines “the good” as being “conformed to the image of his Son.” God delights when I think and act like Jesus, so he is in the process of reconfiguring me to make that happen. It’s a painful process and I have a long way to go, but one day, when Christ returns, it will be completed. “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

What God cannot do…

We believe that God is All-Powerful. Have you ever had anyone say to you, “OK, then, can God create a rock so big that he cannot lift it or a snowball so heavy that he cannot throw it?” Ah, trick questions, but they have filled cynics with glee and provided Christians with head-scratcher for centuries. I couldn’t trace who first asked the rock question, but did find that it is  part of a larger system of questions composing “the omnipotence paradox,” which actually dated back to the Middle Ages. They were addressed by Christian Theologians like Thomas Aquinas and even the Muslim Scholar Averroes. Enough history…

The point I am going to make here may surprise you but I believe that there are things that God cannot do.  Some theologians have tried to explain these paradoxes by making a distinction between power and ability. In the words, God’s power can make the big rock- no problemo – but he does not have the ability to lift it because he cannot do what simply cannot be done.

Clear as mud? Let me get more specific. God cannot do those things which are limited by the illogical. I am not saying that God is limited by the laws of logic because he is Logic. Just as he is Love, he is also Mind, Intelligence. Thus God is limited by that which is not logical.

For example, Aquinas said, “God cannot make the things that are, never to have been.” In other words, God cannot make something that has happened to “unhappen.” While he forgives the sins of the past and does not deal with us according to them in Christ (treating us just-as-if-ied never sinned), he cannot make us so that we never committed those sins in the first place. In the same way, God cannot make a square circle, a giant midget, a jumbo shrimp (sorry- that’s an oxymoron) or a rock so big that he cannot lift it. These concepts are not even “things”; they are contradictions that have no reality.

This “limitation” is actually an encouragement to my faith. I believe that God does not use his power to play around with things that do not matter, like some immature wizard. But his power is demonstrated in things that directly affect us, such as Creating the universe and Redeeming sinful people like me, through Jesus Christ  (Colossians 1:13-20).

I’ll let you think about this and maybe you can come up with some other things that God cannot do. By the way, I’ve got two more… later.

What God cannot do (3)

We have discussed the fact that God cannot do that which is illogical (make a rock so big he cannot move it), and he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make us free moral agents and prevent us from choosing evil at the same time).

There is one more thing that God cannot do. God cannot do anything that morally contradicts his own nature. For those of you who have studied philosophy, I am not going to get into the Euthyphro Dilemma or argue the Divine Command Theory. Suffice it to say, that the Bible reveals that what we know of goodness, rightness, justice, morality, ethics, law, etc., flow from the very nature of God. How can I grasp goodness apart from a God who is good? How do I really understand social justice apart from a God who is just?

To digress: A question that is often debated is relevant here; can someone be good (moral) without God? Well, yes and no; how’s that for being definitive? By saying yes, I mean that a person can be a moral person without believing in God. Atheists can be good people from a human point of view. However, by saying no, I mean that if God did not exist we would not know what good or right means in an absolute sense. Every culture might have its own code of “ethics,” but this code would have little significance in another culture. Thus there would be no Geneva Conventions, International Tribunals, International Criminal Courts (Hague), or International Courts of Justice (UN) because there would be no common understanding of morality by which justice could be determined.

Back to our main point: God, therefore, cannot do anything that is contrary to his own moral nature. In Hebrews 6: 18, it says that God cannot lie; Psalm 89:34, God cannot break his promise. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted with evil nor can he tempt anyone to do evil. In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read that God cannot deny himself, which in the context means that God can never be faithless or untrustworthy. Habakkuk 1:13 states that God “cannot look upon evil,” which means that he cannot approve of evil. Finally, in Malachi 3:6 God declares “For I the Lord do not change…” God is eternally consistent with himself; he is not subject to mood swings and never reconfigures himself for a new generation.

“It would be appropriate to say God cannot do what is incongruous with himself. He is morally prohibited from doing what is not right because that would be disconsonant with his own (nature) of rightness. The limitation on his ability…is not logical but moral.” (JonTal Murphree, Loving God and a Suffering World, 31)

In summary, there are 3 things that God cannot do: God cannot do that which is illogical (make something that has happened never to have happened); he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make a square circle); God cannot do anything that is against his own moral nature (he cannot lie).

Now, what are things God can do? Find out for yourself and read the Bible!