One of the more common critiques of the Christian faith and the Christian Bible is that God seems inconsistent: the “Old Testament God” seems to be a God of wrath, while the “New Testament God” (in Jesus) seems to be a God of Love. I even ran into this thinking in the church, as people in my Sunday School classes suggested that this seeming shift in divine posture was God’s way of changing tactics–as if the “stick” didn’t work, so He decided to use the “carrot.”
The truth, however, is that God’s grace and His wrath are both displayed throughout the entirety of Scripture. The God of the Old Testament speaks of his rebellious people like a Father who will not abandon His wayward children. The God of the New Testament judges sin and pours out His wrath (Jesus “meek and mild” is also the blood-soaked Rider on the White Horse in Revelation 19!). Why? Because God in the Old and New Testaments is the SAME GOD. He does not change. His character does not shift. He is fully loving and wrathful and gracious and jealous and merciful and holy and just and righteous and all-powerful and all-knowing and all-present and timeless and self-sufficient and forever perfect, and this is displayed in both the Old and New Testaments!
I was reminded of the grace of the “Old Testament God” the other day, when I saw this in Jeremiah 18:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’
See here the grace of God! He judges evil and punishes wickedness, but to those who repent and turn from their sin, He shows mercy. He demonstrated this with the wicked people of Nineveh, who heeded the warning of Jonah and turned from their sin (even if only for a time).
I bring all this up to say this: no one is beyond hope, on this side of the grave. The God of the Bible is a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will still show mercy to those who recognize their sin, confess it before Him, and turn from it in obedience to Him.
If you are running from God, if you are choosing to be your own ruler instead of submitting to the God of all the earth, let me plead with you: you have broken God’s laws and rejected His authority, and because of this, His wrath remains upon you. He is a just Judge, and He will punish all wickedness to the fullest extent–including yours. But there is time yet to repent, to turn from your sin and your selfish ways and be forgiven. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to pay the penalty for sinners, so that they might be spared, and then rose from the dead victorious, promising eternal life to all who believe in Him. Run to Him, believe in Him, follow Him, and be saved, while there is yet time.
If you are in Christ, and you are burdened for someone who is far from Christ, let the lesson of the potter be an encouragement to you, as well: As long as that person is alive, there is time for God to rescue them. Do not grow weary in doing good, and do not lose heart. God may yet have mercy and save even the most hardened of rebels. So share the Gospel, pray, and trust God, believing that He is faithful to save all whom He will.
All praise and glory to the only God, full of grace and wrath, full of mercy and justice, who does all things well! He is kind to the undeserving, and patient with the weak and foolish! May He be praised in all the earth! Amen.