Chris Thayer is the Director of Discipleship at Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, NC where he oversees adult life groups and Biblical education. On Thursdays I share his weekly “Thayer’s Thoughts” for small group leaders, which are based on the previous Sunday’s sermon. Click HERE to watch or listen to the accompanying sermon.
An unfortunate caricature of the Old Testament is that it is all about God’s wrath. People often believe the Old Testament presents God as angry and vengeful, whereas the New Testament portrays Him as a sort of teddy bear.
This is not only a shortsighted and inaccurate view of the Old Testament (and New Testament for that matter), but has dangerous consequences. It views God as a sort of dual personality who can’t make up His mind. This dualistic understanding of scripture, and ultimately God, makes it easy to fall prey to poor theology and ultimately negatively affects how we relate to God and/or the world around us. When we view God as being two distinct personalities like this, we eventually pick one of the two to believe: Old Testament mad God or New Testament happy God.
This consequently manifests in either the belief that God’s ultimate disposition toward humanity is one of sadistic anger, or that He doesn’t really care how we act or what we believe. Both of these views are sad distortion of reality.
How we understand the Old & New Testaments and the way God acts in them colors our understanding of how God interacts with the rest of the world—an understanding that is then lived out by us. History has shown us time again that orthodoxy (right thinking) leads to orthopraxy (right living). It has also, and unfortunately, showed us innumerable examples of the opposite. What we think about God and how we understand Him influences how we live and interact with the world around us.
Far too often when people think about the Old Testament they remember only the shocking portions of the stories, the parts where God does get angry. We forget that these stories were about consequences for heinous acts, and almost always after repeated warnings and forbearance. The writers of the Old Testament knew this. They had every opportunity to present God as a capricious and uncaring God if that’s what He actually acted like. However they didn’t. They went out of their way to describe God as patient, loving, caring and just.
Prophets such as Ezekiel remind the people that though He will when necessary, God never delights in punishing the wicked. He wants all people to turn to away from their sin and to Him (c.f. Ezekiel 18). Today’s Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 130 is one of the many places in the Old Testament we can point to in order to see that some of the strongest pictures of God’s grace are found in the Old Testament.
Several weeks ago we learned that Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC. This destruction came about after repeated warnings and opportunities for the people of the Southern Kingdom to turn back to the Lord and away from their idolatry and injustice went ignored. However, they weren’t left without hope. As prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel continually pointed out—destruction would not be God’s final word. Redemption would be.
Eventually Babylon fell and the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it and the Temple. Psalm 130 is one of the Psalms of Ascent that looks back at this time period about what they had done, how God responded, and how He would bring about redemption. On their way to the Temple, the community of Israel sang this song together to remind each other who God was. They and their immediate ancestors saw the entire nation reject God, go into exile, and return to Jerusalem—and their response to all of that was to not to say that it was unjust or that God was capricious for doing so. Their response was to cry out for mercy knowing that with God was forgiveness. If there wasn’t, they wouldn’t be there.
The God of the Old Testament isn’t a spiteful God. Far from it. Just as in the New Testament: God is waiting to forgive when people turn to Him. He longs for it. This forgiveness, didn’t start in the New Testament. Just as God’s justice is evident in the New Testament, His grace and forgiveness is evident in the Old Testament. Psalm 130 is one of many such places.