Is the popular conception true, that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament? The Old Testament seems to be full of cataclysmic judgements (the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt…) and harsh punishments for what we would deem to be trivial offences (such as the death penalty for gathering firewood on the Sabbath), while the New Testament contains the famous statement that “God is love” (I John 4:8). But the reverse could also be said; the Old Testament also contains many references to God’s love (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Jeremiah 31:3), while Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of Hell (e.g. Matthew 25:41; Luke 12:4,5).
The fact is, that God has two sides to His ‘character’: kindness and sternness(Romans 11:22). To say that ‘God is love’ does not mean that He is a soppy sentimental being who would never hurt a fly. Whether we like it or not, both His wrath and His love are evident throughout the Bible, and it is only against the backdrop of His wrath that His love can be demonstrated. Only after narrowly escaping destruction for worshipping the golden calf could Israel begin to understand that He is “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; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of their parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6,7). The God who must punish the wicked (in order that justice may be satisfied) will in fact go to any lengths to postpone or avert that judgement (Ezekiel 18:23; Jonah 3:10). The ultimate resolution of this dichotomy is the death of Jesus, where God diverts His wrath onto Himself so that the wicked can be spared (Romans 3:25,26).