In Hong Kong we have two official languages; Chinese and English. Because of this it is quite common to see information in the city displayed in both languages. Many times however legal documentation will have a clause that reads something like; When a discrepancy between the English & Chinese translation occurs, the Chinese (or English) translation will take precedent.
In principal the legal documentation should say the same thing but in reality sometimes the nuances of language makes what should be the same appear different. In cases like that the proper lens for interpretation must be applied.
The Old Testament and the New Testament operate in a very similar manner. God is portrayed in both but sometimes in vastly different ways. In the Old Testament he can be seen as merciful one minute and wrathful the next. Confusingly showing forgiveness for large crimes but dealing out wrath and death for far smaller.
In the New Testament however, Jesus displays God in a much more consistent way. He confirms the merciful acts and compassion of God we see in the Old Testament but seemingly shuns the violence and judgement.
For this reason there is sometimes a huge gulf in understanding God whereby he can seem to order the wholesale slaughter of children in one testament but proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of ones such as these in the next.
So people have been rightly asking for thousands of years,
What is God Really like?
And so God answered…
He is like Jesus
No human eye has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom–He has made Him known.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,
Basically before Christ came, many prophets explained God to humanity in many different ways…some good, some not so good.
Sometimes they got what God is like right
Sometimes they got what God is like wrong
So God clears away the confusion…
…He sends his Son!
The exact representation of who God is and what God is like!
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father ”Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.…
John 14: 9
So now like the legal example earlier, when a discrepancy exists in the understanding of God between the Old & New Testament the Jesus interpretation will take precedent.
Jesus as the Lens
There is a great story in Luke 9 that illustrates why Jesus MUST to be the lens by which we understand God. In the story Jesus is not well received at a particular village and his disciples want to bring out some good ol’ Testament wrath and judgement!
And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him (Jesus). But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”
James and John knew what God was like…or they thought they did. They had read the scriptures and now wanted to do what what the great prophets of old like Elijah did when they were representing God.
“Let’s kill these unbelievers”
But Jesus is appalled at this suggestion
But He turned and rebuked them (translation, “Are you two crazy or something?”), and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
Jesus says that James and John don’t even know what they are talking about. They had viewed the scriptures (The Bible) through the wrong lens and thought they understood God and what he would want..
…but by viewing God through Elijah and the prophets instead of Jesus they got Him all wrong!
Jesus confirms he is here to SAVE people, not destroy them! If someone doesn’t want to receive us, we simply move on to the next group who does…
…and no one has to die in a fireball from heaven!
Everytime Jesus has the opportunity to clarify whether God is compassionate and merciful OR wrathful and judgmental he ALWAYS comes down on the side of compassion and mercy.
The Old Testament and New Testament have the SAME God but where there is a discrepancy between the two versions, the Jesus language will take precedent!
As my oft mentioned Brian Zahnd quote states:
God is like Jesus. God has ALWAYS been like Jesus! There has NEVER been a time when God was not like Jesus. We haven’t always known that…
…but now we do!