Questions Concerning God's Character
As with any biblical subject, dealing with questions concerning the character of God requires a careful consideration of all that Scripture says on the topic. Many people will say, “I take the Bible just as it reads.” The problem, however, is most people only take what one or two verses within a given chapter or a certain event and then formulate their own conclusion. Paul tells us that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Many stories and events in the Bible are also mentioned by other writers throughout Scripture which help us understand the true meaning.
When considering all Scripture, while dealing with the character of God, we will definitely notice some apparent contradictions. Consider the following:
Matthew 26:52: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
Joshua 11:12: “And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD commanded.”
In one instance we see Jesus rebuking the use of the sword, while in another instance we see God’s people destroying with the sword. Here’s another example:
Luke 9:53-56: “And they (the Samaritans) did not receive Him (Jesus), because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias (Elijah) did? But He turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man (Jesus/Messiah) is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”
2 Kings 1:10: “And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.”
Again, we see that in one instance Jesus is rebuking the act of calling fire down from heaven to destroy your enemies, while it seemed perfectly okay for Elijah to do it. We also have the fact that Jesus tells us, that if we are truly our heavenly Father’s children, then we will “Love [our] enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).
In this context of doing good to those who hate us, Jesus also said, “For the Son of man (Jesus/Messiah) is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.” He also said, “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). So, if Jesus doesn’t destroy men’s lives, but saves them, then we can be confident that God doesn’t destroy, but saves. However, in the book of Genesis we read this:
“And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7)
I pray you are starting to see why ALL of Scripture needs to be considered, especially the teachings of Jesus who is “the brightness of His (the Father’s) glory (character), and the express image of His (the Father’s) person.” (Hebrews 1:3). He is the only Being who can reveal the Father's true character.
Scripture is written in such a way that (like a mirror) it helps us to see our own deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, we must read "the Old Testament" through the eyes of Jesus to receive the proper understanding; “for until this day the same veil (of misunderstanding) remains in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is taken away by Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14).
Therefore, when we read such passages in Scripture describing God as acting any differently than what Jesus revealed, we can be confident that there must be something more going on than what we are superficially reading.
A major problem we have in understanding Scripture is that our fallen minds see things in opposites — law vs. grace; justice vs. mercy; faith vs. works; old covenant vs. new covenant etc. But when we allow the mind of Christ to rule, we begin to see things (such as God's Law and the Atonement) in a whole new light.
1. Jesus is not the light of God’s darkness, such as yin and yang, but He is the brightness of God’s glory. There is no darkness in God (1 John 1:5).
2. God’s Law and grace are not opposites, instead grace is the brightness of the Law. The Law leads us to grace (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:24).
3. Faith and works are not opposites, instead faith is the brightness of works. In other words, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Paul says we all need to possess Christ's perfect faith because His faith is a "faith which works by love" (Galatians 5:6).
4. God’s justice and mercy are not opposites, instead His mercy is the brightness of His justice (Psalm 89:14).
5. The Old and New Testaments (covenants) are not opposites, instead the New Testament (covenant) is the brightness of the Old Testament (covenant). With a correct understanding of the covenants, we will see, as in the case of Abraham, that the old and new covenants are not two long eras of opposing time (before the cross/after the cross) but two conditions/mindsets/experiences which each individual must go through. In other words, the old covenant condition leads us to the new (Galatians 4:22-24). In his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Adam Clarke says the reason why it's called "The NEW Covenant" is "not so much because it was a new agreement, but rather a renewal of the old, in which the spirit, object, and design of that primitive covenant were more clearly and fully manifested."
I would also like to point out that as you read through the various articles in this section, you will discover that many times the same principles will be used. This may seem redundant but it is necessary to show how these simple principles apply to each Bible story presented. It will also give the reader who may only read one or two articles the opportunity to learn these principles.
May you be blessed as you consider and meditate on these things.