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The Angry God and the Loving God

The rightwing with its confusion of law and gospel must be fought with truth. The selfless agape love of God is a love without return favor. God is total help for total need, not a convenient expedient for justifying unprovoked wars.
The Angry God and the Loving God

The Old Testament in the Relation of Judaism and Christianity

By Christiane Muller

[This article originally published in: Christ und Sozialist (CuS), 3, 2000 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, file://A:\godrevengelov.htm.]

Rejection of the Old Testament

The Old Testament was rejected again and again in the history of Christianity. The series of those who rejected the book as too Jewish extended from Marcion in the 2nd century to the "German Christians" in the "Third Reich".

Marcion only knew an angry, avenging God from the Old Testament who could do nothing but repay. On the other hand, the New Testament testifies of the true, living God revealed to people in Christ. Previously no one knew this God. Marcion rejected the Old Testament as a book of revelation of the terrifying God of the Jews.

The German Christians demanded that the church free itself "from everything non-German in the church service", in particular "from the Old Testament with its Jewish reward morality". Religious instruction in the national socialist spirit should occur without the Old Testament.

With a different intention while accepting the ancient arguments, many authors today still have reservations against the Old Testament. The journalist Franz Alt ("Jesus the First New Man") sees in the Old Testament a book that tells of a God who despotically imposes rules on people and demands blind obedience. He contrasts Jesus' deeds with this dark negative background. The psychologist Hanna Wolff adopts Marcion's view in her book "New Wine and Old Wineskins".

Many imagine that the Old Testament emphasizes a God
Who gives many laws and then demands blind obedience,
Who is "jealous" and visits the sins of people without grace,
Who wages wars and does not spare the conquered.

The New Testament corrects this picture. Instead of the angry, distant God, we experience the near and loving God of Jesus Christ.

The Old and New Testaments are Connected

This way of looking at things raises the following problems:

Two thirds of the Bible impart a false picture and only a third of the Bible communicates a true picture of God and his will.

We must decide independently what we will retain from the Old Testament, what "suits" us and what does not. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a suggestion to change entirely or partly the picture of God of the Old Testament.

The knowledge of the "true" God had its beginning in the New Testament. This contradicts our faith in God the Creator who from the beginning of creation accompanied and still accompanies his people as the Old Testament proclaims.

The classification Old Testament - angry God and New Testament - loving God implies a false relation of Jews and Christianity. The impression arises that Jews only had a knowledge of the angry God and that this is the main difference between the two religions. Through Jesus' message and the New Testament, Christians alone would be in possession of knowledge of the true God.

On the other hand, the church has always held to the Old Testament. The church has regarded this part of Holy Scripture as a first and unsurpassable source of the revelation of the one God. The Old and New Testaments are inseparably connected.

The Old Testament, the Holy Scripture of Jesus

The scripture of the "Old" Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the foundation of the first Christian communities. According to the evangelist Matthew, Jesus warned against dealing carelessly with scripture:

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets... For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5, 17-19).

When Jesus was asked about the greatest and most important commandment, he answered with the "Hear O Israel", the central commandment from the Old Testament (Mark 12, 28ff).

Christians gain access to the Old Testament through the New Testament. Conversely the message of the New Testament is only opened up by reading and studying the Old Testament. Common study with Jews can be very enriching by opening up a new understanding of the Old Testament.

The Merciful God Encounters Us in the Old and New Testaments

Jews who ground their faith in the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament are not handed over to despotically imposed laws and a judging God but - like Christians - live from trust in God's grace and mercy. This corresponds to the movement found in both testaments in the Bible where God's goodness precedes his demands to people. First, God makes a covenant with his people; then he gives his commandments through Moses. First, God presents freedom to his people; then he makes his demands. For that reason, the 10 commandments are introduced with God's words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exod 20,2).

The God who makes possible the freedom of his people gives commandments. These commandments are instructions for successful life in the gift of presented freedom. The cycle of Jewish feasts clearly emphasizes this. God's grace and faithfulness always precede and make possible the conversion of people.

The prophets point very bluntly to the consequences of human conduct. They consistently set Israel's works under God's judgment. Disregard of God's will entails God's judgment.

This idea often seems alien to us. The picture of the judging God arises. Nevertheless human and divine action are interwoven in the Old Testament much more closely than we customarily think today.

According to the Old Testament, God does not emphasize judgment and punishment but the life of people. "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33,11).

Remaining alive - in the comprehensive sense - is the basic desire of Israel's God for his people and for all people. An ancient Jewish legend says:

"When God contemplated his creation and carved it on a stone as an architect sketches his ground plan or outline , he saw that the world could not last. Then he created conversion or repentance. Now the world could survive since deliverance was possible."

The Old Testament knows that God's heart turns inside out - before the repentance of people - and that God's grace is great: "My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender... for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy" (Hosea 11,8f).

In the Old and in the New Testament, one and the same God faces us who mercifully accepts people ready to repent. As a Jewish prayer proclaims:

"You nourish the living with grace, you animate the dead in great mercy, support the falling, heal the sick, liberate the captive and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust... Who is like you, Father of mercy, who in mercy remembers your creatures?"

An Avenging God?

God guarantees the right to life of all people. Desires for revenge cannot be endured. A legend connected with the Jewish passover feast underlines this. On the seventh day of the festival which celebrates the exodus from Egypt, the march through the Red Sea is recalled. In the synagogue, only half of the Hillel prayer (psalms of praise) was recited. When the angels wanted to strike up the victory song over the defeat of the Egyptians, God rebuked them: "My creatures... drown in the sea and you sing a song?" The joy of the community should also be subdued on this day. The brokenness of the experience which meant freedom for some and death for the others cannot be ignored.

God's Claim

God wants the life of his creatures. In this connection, both testaments speak of the judging and angry God. Paul says:

"We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ so that everyone receives according to what he did in his body, whether good or evil."

Matthew formulates this as follows" "I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter" (Mt 12,36). In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, a scene is shown to us in which people and whole nations will be judged according to their works. God's anger is obviously present to the authors of the New Testament. Therefore Paul describes Jesus as "our Deliverer from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1,10).

In both testaments, pictures of God's anger and judgment make clear his claims on people. However both testaments also proclaim the possibility of repentance which God constantly gives in his grace.

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