The Old Testament tells the story of God rescuing fallen humanity and even when he had to break into human history to deal with the destructive power of sin and preserve a line that could receive his grace. People saw God’s passion and its occasional severity as proof that he was angry with humanity. I used the analogy of my wife bridging a relationship with battered, stray dogs that showed up at our house in Visalia. Instead of rushing to us, they cowered in the bushes or in the darkness, afraid we would harm them, too. Winning a dog that has been abused takes some time. You have to work with their hunger to invite them closer to you until they can begin to believe that you are not out to hurt them but help them.
And then this thought came to mind, “The Old Testament is the story of God’s rescue told from the dog’s perspective.” I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but the more I’ve meditated on it, the more I like it. That’s why there seems to be differences between the Old and New Testaments. While God has not changed, our perception of him changes greatly through the Incarnation of Jesus.
Before we saw him through our eyes and our mistaken conclusions. Just like the Old Testament writers who saw God through their grid of shame and fear and deemed him a terrifying judge. Their words reflect it. We’ve got to understand they write from a place of fear and rejection, which only makes it all the more miraculous when they get a glimpse of the loving and gracious God whose “love never fails”, whose “lovingkindness is better than life”, and whose “mercies are new every morning”. They were torn between a God of great affection and the blindness of their own guilt and shame.
Thankfully, Jesus comes to tell us and to show us what God is really like. He’s not angry with us for our sin, but sees us as harassed and helpless and wants to rescue us from our bondage into his life. He woos us into the Father’s affection and prepared a way for us to be at rest in his presence, confident that he wants us there, as he untangles the mess we’ve made of our lives. The writers of the New Testament tells us that same story of rescue told from the dogs’ perspective who are now inside the house. In Christ they found peace with God and no longer needed to cower in the bushes as they had become at home in him.
We all undergo that same process, don’t we? Abused by sin and fearful that God would either ignore us or punish us, we cower in our own self-effort or self-pity, hoping against hope that he’ll be good to us, but too overwhelmed by fears to come to him. And yet, he keeps reaching out to us until we can finally be won into his affection.
Then when we are won into his affection, we can hold a more complete view of God and even in those moments where God is intense and severe in setting us free or keeping the world in check, we see that as an expression of his love, not his anger or rejection of us.