A God of wrath or of love?

Is the God of the Old Testament a different God than the one portrayed in the New Testament? The answer is no, there is one God, who is revealed to us through Jesus as a triune communion of love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Certainly, the Old Testament is full of examples of God punishing various nations and people (including Israel, his own people). The following post from Surprising God reader Jerome Ellard, addresses this issue:

"The Old Testament shows that God's punishments (or what he allows to beset his people) are the long, difficult road to restoration of relationship with him that he desires for them. All through the Old Testament we see the phrase "they will be my people and I will be their God." Here is a prime example, right in the middle of warnings and punishments:
“Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” says the Lord. “I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him" (Jeremiah 31:20, NLT). 
"God's overarching love contains what John Eldredge calls a "fierce intentionality," similar to what my wife would say to our son when she must discipline him: "I love you too much to let you act this way!" God loved Israel and all humanity "too much" to let us remain in our darkness and misery.

"Understanding this dynamic that occurs throughout the Bible, helps us to avoid the mistake of thinking God is "mean" in the Old Testament but "loving" in the New. In fact, the Lord of the Old Testament is none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God, as noted by Paul in 1Cor 10:1-4:
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 
"We see God's "fierce intentionality" expressed in Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees. He loves them, but he loves them too much to let them remain where they are. His desire for them is beautifully expressed in Matthew 23:37:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." 
"There is a beautiful coherence to the story of the Bible, and Jesus and his love are right at the center!"

[For a helpful GCI article on this topic, click here. And click here for a previous post on this topic.]


Hey Ted,

I've enjoyed reading here even though it's been ages since I've commented on anything. I'm still growing in my understanding of Trinitarian Theology and working through this paradigm shift. One issue that this post has made me think about is God's sovereignty. How does TT (or TFT for that matter) reconcile God's sovereignty and man's liberty. I've been investigating "open theism" recently and I'm wondering if it is compatable with TT. I'm mainly reading Greg Boyd's material and it seems like it might answer some of the questions regarding this seeming dichotomy between the God of the OT and Jesus, the Christ. (To be fair, Boyd prefers the term "open future" because, for him, it speaks more accurately about the "openness" that is in question)

Have you thought about this? To your knowledge do any Trinitarian Theologians interact directly with "open theism"?

Ted Johnston said…
Good questions Jason. Let me throw them open to the other readers of this blog to see what they think.
Ted Johnston said…
Jason, I think that Torrance would answer your question concerning reconciling God's sovereignty and human freedom, by encouraging you to ask and answer this essential question: "Who is Jesus?"

To do so is not to duck your question, but to get to the one truth that is the root of the answer: Jesus is fully (sovereign) God, and fully (free) human - two natures united in one person.

From this point of beginning, your question can be answered not on the basis of some form of human reasoning, but on the basis of the truth that is in Jesus - true, personal, relational reality, if you will.

In Jesus, we learn that God's sovereignty is an expression of his essential being, which is love. This love (and thus this sovereignty) is not a static concept, but relational (living) and thus dynamic. Jesus reveals to us that God is sovereign in himself as a triune, loving communion of divine persons. And through the incarnation, this tri-personal, relational, God has united himself permanently to humanity in real (dynamic, true given-and-take) relationship.

Thus God's sovereignty with (over) humanity must be understood as relational, not as the static, un-moving, unbending, seemingly uncaring sovereignty often described by people who in their thinking (rationalizations) separate God's sovereignty from his relationality.

The open theism movement seeks to try to understand God's inherent, relational nature. I think this is good. However, it seems to me that their reasoning often suffers from the same weaknesses suffered by other theologies that are not fundamentally Trinitarian and incarnational (participatory).
Thanks Ted,

I'm not exactly sure how thinking in terms of "relationality" offers more clarity on the issue because I don't see myself thinking in non-relational terms. This doesn't mean that I am not thinking "statically" in some (many?) respects; just that I don't consciously think that I am not thinking relationally. Does that make sense?

In any event, the idea of the "wrath" of God and the "love" of God implicates (as do any and all theological topics) the question of God's sovereignty; and it is especially here, as we see God's wrath exercised in the context of "evil" that I was wondering how Trinitarian Theology understands God's sovereignty and human (and angelic/demonic) liberty. I know that God's sovereignty is such that nothing can ultimately twart His plans in reconciling humanity in Christ for it was His very purpose from before the beginning to share His life with His creation by joining Himself to His people in the Person and Work of Christ; in uniting humanity to Himself in Christ by the Spirit to share in perichoretic union for the blessedness of the cosmos (or something like that). And His sovereign purpose was fulfilled in the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. It is finished!

But how, then, does God exercise His sovereignty in the midst of the lives of His people who, along with rebellious angels, oppose Him? As a long-time "reformed" believer, I always just assumed that every single thing that happens is according to God's will because there is nothing, human or angelic, that could ever suceed in opposing God's will. But if that is the case, then how can God exercise any wrath against His creation--human or angelic?

It seems that my initial comment has now veered off the course of your post, so if you'd like to take this discussion offline that is fine with me. I'm just trying to reconcile the theodicy issue with TT (or TFT) and your initial post brought this to my mind. It seems to me that Boyd (at least) has a perspective that seems reasonable. But since it stems from an "openness" view of the future I wanted to interact with him from a TT perspective to find out if they can be synthesized. As opposed to some (maybe) "openness" thought Boyd does not diminish the scope of God's omnipotence and sovereignty, though it does allow for human and angelic opposition to God such that sometimes God's will is thwarted. But don't we see this each and every time we sin? God certainly does not will that we sin?

Anyway, this is where I'm at in my thinking and would like to engage with this more if you are willing; again, either here or offline. It would be nice to here what others out there think about this if you wanted to open up a new forum on this.

I know I have much to learn. Thanks for your patience, Ted.

Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for your follow-up questions Jason. You raise many issues - more than we can address here. But let me add additional information concerning your question about what T.F. Torrance (and other Trinitarian, incarnational theologians) might say about God's sovereignty, human freedom and Openness Theology). I'll do so in this comment and the next.

I think you'll find the core of what T.F. would say in chapter 9 ("The Unchangeableness of God") of T.F.'s book, "The Christian Doctrine of God." There T.F. points out that God's *being* (including his divine attributes) is inseparable from and thus revealed to us in God's *act* (his *doing*). Said another way, we understand what God is by observing what God does, revealed to us most clearly in the person and acts of Jesus Christ.

Pursuing this line of thinking, T.F. next notes that God acts always in covenanted relation with his people: "There is no other God than this God who makes himself known to mankind and who reveals himself to them in this [covenanted] way..." (p235).

In God's acts in covenant with us (particularly the act of incarnation), we see that God is "intrinsically and eternally dynamic being." He is thus not "static being but unique divine becoming" (p237).

But how can God be said to be "dynamic becoming" when in Scripture God says of himself, "I change not"? T.F.'s answer is that God's intrinsic unchangeableness must be understood by observing his dynamic, relational, covenanted acts with us.
This is what I meant in my last note on your post regarding viewing God's attributes from a relational (participatory), Trinitarian perspective.

This perspective is in direct contrast with static (non-relational, not Trinitarian) views of God's sovereignty and the related issues of God's impassability (the idea that God does not experience pain, or suffering or any other such ebb and flow of emotion), and God's immutability (the idea that God cannot change).

Though it is true that God has declared, "I change not," it is also the case that in his acts of creation and incarnation, God has become what he was not before (e.g. Creator and God-in-the-flesh). Thus it is clear that in certain ways, God does change. God in his divine freedom can do this, and our view of God's attributes must not strip God of his freedom to do what he does.

On this point, T.F. quotes Theologian Duns Scotus wwho declared that "God revealed himself as completely free to bring new ideas and realities into existence without contradicting himself" (quoted on p237).

The point I wish to make here is that God's sovereignty, impassability and immutablity must be understood in light of the revelation of God's own freedom to become - to change - to love (which is always about becoming and changing in relationship with the beloved).

[Continued on next comment]
Ted Johnston said…
One final related quote here from T.F. might be helpful in addressing Jason's questions:

"In this utterly new event [of incarnation] God does not change but remains ever one and the same - in his transcendent freedom he became man, one with us in our contingent mutable [chageable] existence, without ceasing to be what he eternally was and is and ever will be in himself. Far from being a deviation in his constancy or a limitation of his essential being, or a compromising of his divine nature, the incarnation was the supreme manifestation, transcending that of the creation, of God's constancy in unbounded freedom and unlimited perfection. ...It is above all through the incarnation, the Word of God become flesh, that God reveals to us something of his own nature as the mighty living God who is who he eternally is and yet who will not be without us whom he has created for fellowship with himself and with whom he freely shares his own divine Life and Light and Love. It is in Jesus Christ, therefore, that we really understand and think aright about God's unchanging constancy, for it is in him, the only-begotten Son of the Father, that we may really know God in accordance with his inmost nature of his eternal being" (p238).
Thanks Ted,

As I've read TFT I've come to understand better how it is that God is "unchanging" and yet, as the Incarnation proves, God is not a "static" but a dynamic being. I appreciate your willingness to interact on this point and also your use of TFT. I have the book you reference and so I look forward to reading through this chapter. I believe I followed your first post pretty well, but I need to read the section of TFT's book and meditate on it because your second post left me scratching my head a little. Of course, as I've been reading through TFT's Incarnation and Atonement books, I find myself scratching my head even as I find my heart resonating with what he is saying such that I'm constantly re-reading sections to my wife because they are so uplifting and Christ glorifying...know what I mean?

Anyway, I will have much to chew on when I dig out "The Christian Doctrine of God". Thanks!