CLARKSVILLE, Ind. – The Academy Award-nominated film “Les Miserables” has garnered praise as an overarching parable contrasting the Bible’s Old Testament, where God’s law and wrath is in focus, and the New Testament, where God’s love and grace is evident.
From Genesis to Revelation, however, the Bible conveys a remarkably uniform picture of the God of justice and love revealed throughout the Bible.
The New Testament book of 2 Thessalonians tells of the second coming of Christ in terms of “affliction,” “vengeance,” “flaming fire” and “everlasting destruction from the Lord’s presence” upon those who do not obey the gospel (1:6-10).
According to a popular contrast of Old Testament wrath and New Testament love, this sounds like what one would expect to hear thundered from the lips of some Old Testament prophet of doom rather than from the apostolic author of the Bible’s “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13).
Remember also Jesus’ own words about the tortuous existence of the wicked in the place where “the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched.” Again, this is New Testament – Mark 9:48.
On the other hand there is not a more “New Testament” book than that of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. God speaks to His people with tender love and words of redemption in this gospel-rich book. Consider for instance chapter 53, where the servant of the Lord is described as “bearing our sicknesses” and “carrying our pains” (v.4). The people are described as straying sheep, rescued by God’s servant who bears their iniquity (v.6).
God’s classic self-revelation to Moses includes on the one hand a description of abundant love and grace, while on the other, of his searching justice and judgment:
“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation,” (Exodus 34:6,7).
We must remember that the Old Testament law included divine commands carrying punishment for disobedience, as well as an intricate system of sacrificial worship, indicating God’s merciful will to forgive sinners based on the timeless principle made clearer in the New Testament: “without shedding of blood there is no remission,” (Hebrews 9:22).
Abraham, representing a multitude of Old Testament saints, experienced this himself (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3).
God’s plan of salvation, worked out in the historical panorama of both testaments, could be considered an exposé of these two marvelous aspects of His character coexisting in harmonious tension.
Perhaps in this regard the most instructive passage in the entire Bible is the wonderful self-disclosure from our God Himself: “I am the Lord, I do not change,” (Malachi 3:6). God’s redemption of man is an expression of His character and person and is grounded firmly in it.
The only reason anyone is saved, whether Abraham, Moses, Paul, Peter or the person that received Christ yesterday, is because God is merciful and gracious, offering forgiveness and love to anyone who turns from his or her sin in faith and repentance to the crucified, resurrected and living Christ.
It is the abundant mercy and love of God that moves Him to take upon Himself human flesh and bear the iniquity of us all in His own body on the cross. At the same time, the harsh judgment of sin is necessary because of the blinding white purity and holiness of the God who reigns in righteousness.
For God to do less than judge unrepentant sinners would make Him an inferior and flawed judge of His universe. It is this eternal, changeless God of the Bible who redeems sinners, and He does so – in any age – in a way that is entirely consistent with and that gloriously reveals His perfect justice, love and majesty.
This God of the Bible we can and should know.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell Lievers is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Clarksville, Ind.)