God did not create man in His own image,” claims Christopher Hitchens in his latest book, God is Not Great. “Evidently, it was the other way around,” he continues. In his view, those who claim to be God’s soldiers have poisoned the well of life and do the dubious concept of God no credit.
In a similar vein, the evolutionary, Professor Richard Dawkins, and the philosopher, Daniel Dennett, propose that atheists like themselves should be called “brights” in contrast to those who believe in God. These are some examples of a rising surge of emotionally charged vindictiveness from people in the news, who militantly reject the existence of God in any form.
Many, without advice to the contrary, are swayed by this rational look at the level of chaos, pain, trag edy, perverse cruelty, wanton selfishness and senseless destruction in every area of our world’s existence today.
Even those who actually pick up the Bible with an earnest desire to understand the heart of God from His perspective ask questions. It seems at times that the God presented in the Old Testament is different from the God in the New Testament. It is certainly clear that most of the Jews in Jesus’ day, having taken the Lord of the Old Testament as their God, after 1400 years of national history, had embraced many misconceptions about the character and values of God as clarified by Jesus.
The accounts of Jesus’ life share several instances of this sort of thinking.
When a tower collapse killed 18 people near the Pool of Siloam, Jewish thought jumped to the conclusion that God must have been punishing the people for sin in their life (see Luke 13:4).
Even the disciples were not immune from this fallacy. As they were walking through Jerusalem, they saw a man blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2).
We have to ask ourselves whether the Old Testament really did portray God in that way. The facts are that God is called a loving heavenly Father in the Old Testament as well as the New. Here are some examples: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).
“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
“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” (Exodus 34:6-7).
Two landmarks tower over everything else in Old Testament history; the creation of the world and the deliverance of Israel as a nation from slavery in Egypt, accompanied by the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Both of these events reveal the heart of God in its true reality.
At the end of the biblical account of Creation week, God saw all that He had made, and it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This is an understatement when we reflect on what actually happened.
Humankind were the crowning climax of the whole process—the sole purpose for the existence of everything that had been created beforehand. It was as if God was going out of His way to prepare a mind-blowing world for our first parents to live in. It was lavish and overwhelming in every detail, aesthetically and functionally. It reflected the heart of a Father who wanted only the best for His new children (see Psalm 8:3-4).
When God revealed His holiness and majesty on Mount Sinai, the people in their lack of knowledge of His heart were afraid and did not understand His true motives in coming to them (see Exodus 20:18-21). In reality, it was an invitation for them to enter into the intimacy of a covenant relationship with Him, similar in nature to that of human marriage. The Hebrew language used in the Ten Commandments was expressions of a heavenly bridegroom to His bride. The call to the 70 elders to come up onto the mountain and share a meal with Him was the equivalent to a marriage supper (see Exodus 24:9-11).
It is not the heart of God at question in the Old Testament—it is the heart of His children who chose, out of their God-given free will, to distrust the Word and inner heart of their beneficent Creator (see Genesis 3:1-13). That heart was revealed to them in His subsequent generous promise to send Jesus as a Saviour to rescue them from the results of their rebellious choice (see Genesis 3:15).
What does a Father God do, when He watches His children sink to depths of depravity, resulting in cruelty and self-destruction? He calls for change: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32). Any occurrence of God-ordained death recorded in the Old Testament, when viewed in the light of this statement, is comparable to any human being facing the merciful necessity of putting their beloved pets down, when they are facing unbearable pain and imminent death. Death in those circumstances is an expression of love.
In order to awaken His children to the ultimate outworking of such ongoing rebellion, God often warned them, pleading with them to consider the inevitable consequences (see Proverbs 3:11-12). He asked them to remember the ways He had cared for them, in the face of all those who dedicated themselves to wiping out every memory of their Creator, with the same vindictiveness demonstrated by many contemporary authors today. “There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place” (Deuteronomy 1:31).
It is not until the coming of Jesus that humanity witnesses a living manifestation of the character of God (see Hebrews 1:1-3). It is no coincidence that Jesus’ favourite term of address to God was “Father.” It saturates all the Gospels, especially John. Such intimacy with the Sovereign of the universe was unknown to the Jews of His day, and sounded like blasphemy to most of His hearers. In reality, however, Jesus was addressing God as He had been portrayed in the Old Testament. Through His Spirit-filled reading of Scripture, Jesus was able to put all the passages that we may question about His Father’s heart into proper perspective.
Jesus is the fullest revelation of God possible. The New Testament tells us we don’t need to know anything more about God than Jesus has revealed to us in His life and ministry. In answer to Philip’s request to show him God the Father, Jesus replied, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.
From now on, you do know him and have seen him… . Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:7-10).
Hitchens, and other doubters, are asking the wrong questions. Rather than focusing on all the negative things in nature and history that seem to raise questions about the existence of God, let alone His heart for us, they should be asking, “What do I make of Jesus’ claims concerning His identity as God Himself, God the Son who spoke everything into existence and has had an acquaintance with the heavenly Father for all eternity; who knows His heart better than we ever have because of our self-inflicted independence?”
All of nature and history needs an interpreter. In one story, Jesus said God was like a father, abandoned by his son, who paces the porch awaiting the son’s return (see Luke 15:11-24). What better interpretation of God’s nature could we get than that of a heartbroken father, waiting for his child to wake up to the truth of the Father’s loving heart.