We have relatives who are not believers, and want to argue that the "harsh" God of the Old Testament could not be the same as Jesus of the New Testament. They ask, "How would a loving God wipe out whole nations, including babies. I would like to know how you respond to this question.
I know what you mean. I've often wondered the same thing.
For example, how do we reconcile Joshua 11:20 in the Old Testament with John 3:16 in the New Testament?
"For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses" (Joshua 11:20.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" John 3:16).
I've tried to sort it out for many years and couldn't--until you asked your question! So, after reading your question I decided to focus on getting a satisfactory answer that had some substance and satisfaction.
Here Is How I Used To Answer The Question:
First, we cannot honestly overlay our morals, values and behaviors upon a previous generation or culture. Certainly, God's directions for Israel to destroy entire cities wiping out all men, women, children, babies and live stock was normal behavior for people in the Old Testament. The average person in Old Testament times did not question God's behavior or motives. This was just how life was lived.
That is not a very satisfying answer. I know. I didn't like it either, but it was the best that I had at the time.
Second, I told people that this was just one of God's mysteries and we must be content with not knowing until God reveals all in Heaven. I didn't much like this answer either.
Finally, I told people that when our questions are "faith threateners", we have to stand in faith on the resurrection. Jesus cheated death and promised that if we believe in Him that we can cheat death, too.
This belief trumps my doubts about an angry Old Testament God who did things that I can't understand. Take time to read what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians 15.
Here Is How I Answer The Question Today:
God Is Immutable. He Never Changes. He Is Always The Same.
In the Old and New Testaments God can be seen acting both harshly and lovingly. In the Old and New Testament, God (Jesus) can be seen acting both harshly and lovingly. God is consistently the same in character, values and behaviors both in the Old Testament as well as in the New.
Anger and harsh behavior are always the result of judgment for sin. Compassion and love are poured out on those who are hurting and suffering.
Let me share several examples.
God was sometimes harsh in the Old Testament: He, at times, instructed the Israelites to destroy completely an idol worshipping city.
"They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys" (Joshua 6:11).
Jesus was sometimes harsh in the New Testament: He was incredibly angry when He used a whip to drive the money changers out of the Temple. Also, He will sit on the throne at the Great White Throne Judgment and cast non Christians into Hell. That is very harsh behavior for the one we call the Loving Jesus.
"In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, 'Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!'” (John 2:14-16).
"Then I saw a great white throne and him (Jesus) who was seated on it. … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:11-15).
God was often seen as compassionate and loving in the Old Testament. I often use Psalm 103 at funeral services. The picture here of a loving and comforting God is incomparable.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
Jesus was often seen as compassionate and loving in the Old Testament. The "Angel of the Lord" was a theophany of Jesus appearing in human form in the Old Testament. When the "Angel of the Lord" saw a sobbing woman and her son dying of thirst in the desert, He gave them water to drink and led them to safety.
"When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of the Lord (Jesus) called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.' Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink" (Genesis 21:15-19).
The key to understanding that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament revolves around the issues of sin and justice. As holy, perfect and righteous, God must punish sin harshly. As loving and compassionate He extends grace, mercy and forgiveness to those who humble themselves and trust in Him as Savior and Lord.
Well Beth, I hope this gives you some ideas on how to approach your relatives with the gospel.
Let me know how it all turns out.