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Does God Do Unjust Things?

Tim Staples

Tim Staples explains why the apparent difference between God’s behavior in the Old and New Testaments does not mean that He changed or show that there are two Gods, but rather signifies a change in man’s relationship with God from the Old to the New Covenant.

Host: We go now to Roger in Texas, listening on EWTN online. Roger, your question for Tim Staples.

Caller: Hi, can you hear me?

Host: We can, yes.

Caller: Great. Basically, the New Testament sees God as a peaceful God, a loving God, one who forgives us. But in the Old Testament, God is really harsh; like, He condemns Hagar and Ishmael for sins they have committed. I’m thinking about how the sons of Egypt are killed because that’s what the Lord decrees during Moses’ time. So my question is, well, how do you reconcile God, who we believe is just and right, with the kind of unjust things that he does? Or seems to do, at least.

Tim: Yeah, it’s a great question, and I would make two main points in response.

First is, I think, and I’m obviously not accusing you of teaching there’s two Gods, but back in the second century there was a famous Gnostic heretic you may have heard of named Marcion. And Saint Irenaeus was one of his– well, certainly his most famous interlocutor that was dealing with Marcion, and he writes about…Marcion took your premise here to an extreme. He so much could not reconcile Old and New Testaments that he said there have to be two Gods, if you will. There’s an evil God of the Old Testament that is the source of all that chaos, and is the source of the material world, and there’s a good God of the New Testament that is the source of all spirit and good. And of course we’re talking about a Gnostic heresy here.

And what Irenaeus says is fascinating. In responding to him he says, “Marcion’s got it wrong. It’s not that God changes. There’s not two gods, and there’s no change in God. It’s that we change.” The reason why there is a tendency to be a difference between Old and New Testaments is because–think of it this way: I have seven kids. If I treated my two-year-old or my four-year-old the same way I treat my thirteen-year-old, we would have some really messed-up kids, right? You treat them differently because they’re they’re very different in their mental abilities, their maturity, and so forth.

So what we’re talking about here in the Old Testament is a tribal and very barbaric culture out of which God calls Abraham. Remember, if you go back to Adam and Eve in the beginning, God created all things in perfection. There was no sin, there was no war, there was not even any pain until Adam and Eve chose to sin, and that’s where the chaos started. So it doesn’t come from God at all, it comes from man, and then sin proliferates, as we see there, because of Original Sin, but God keeps coming and bringing prophets, you know, Abraham and then the prophets and David and so forth, until the fullness of the revelation of His life and His love comes in and through Jesus Christ.

So the bottom line is, it’s not different Gods; we’re talking about a very ancient and tribal people where God has to deal with them very differently than He does with the fullness of the revelation we have. That’s point number one.

Point number two, though: we have to remember that God is a merciful and loving God in the Old Testament as well as a God of justice. I mean there’s no doubt, you read Psalm 136, “The mercies of the Lord are without end.” Over and over and over, the mercies of the Lord, the love of God, the way He loves his people and He woos them even though they reject Him. I mean, you read Song of Solomon, read Hosea, you know, Jeremiah, where He talks about being spurned by his lover Israel, and yet He keeps coming with more prophets, and they kill the prophets and He sends them more, and He loves them.

So then you go into the New Testament, and certainly, yes we have a God of love, Jesus Christ is love manifest, but you also have Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter five, who, you know, to whom much is given, much is required, but God brings judgment upon them through Saint Peter in Acts chapter 5; as we see also with Simon the Sorcerer in Acts chapter 8:14-17, right in there, you know. So we have the same God in both covenants; what’s really different are the the people. God has given us more grace, we are more mature in the New Testament.

And let me make just one more point, this will be a third point. A lot of folks misunderstand this very important point, though. In one very crucial way, God deals with his people much more harshly in the New Testament than he does in the Old. In the Old Testament, yes, there were, you know, the plagues you mentioned, and the judgments in this life. There was the death penalty for a lot of things that there is not anymore and all of that, right? But there is a sense in which, you know, we say in the New Testament, for example, that those people who were even judged by God did not necessarily go to Hell. Some of them went to Heaven.

In fact, we read about that in in 1 Peter 3:19-21, where the Scripture talks about how, when Christ died on the cross, He went down into phulake, the prison, or we would say Limbo of the Fathers, proclaimed the truth to those–and some of them were disobedient from the time of Moses, He says, and yet they make it to Heaven. So, you know, a lot of times we look at everything in a “this worldly way,” while God has an eye to eternity.

So really, in the New Testament, we’re judged much harsher than in the Old Testament because of the principle we find in Luke required. And this is why, in the Old Testament, if you disobeyed God’s authority, His prophet, you’re not necessarily going to go to Hell–although that’s a possibility. God is ultimately a judge. But we know that some of those people who were even disobedient still made it to Heaven; whereas in the New Testament, man, whooo, you have some strong words from our Lord.

He says, for example, in Matthew 18:15 -18, right, if your brother offends against thee, go tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears, you have gained your brother. If he won’t hear you, take one or two with you. If he doesn’t hear them, tell it to the Church. And the one who fails to hear the Church is to be as a heathen and a publican, for whatever you bind on Earth is bound in Heaven, right? That is talking about excommunication. If you disagree with the Church in the New Testament, you’re cut off, cut off from the Sacraments, and in fact, you’re in danger of Hellfire. I mean, how many times does Jesus say that?

In the Sermon on the Mount, right, what is it, Matthew 5:22, if you hate your brother in your heart, you’re in danger of Hellfire, right? Matthew 5:28-29, if you look upon a woman with lust in your heart, you know, you’re in danger of Hellfire. He says it’s better to pluck out an eye, cut off your hand, right, you know, because it’s better to go to Heaven without a hand– of course you’re going to get it back in the resurrection of the body–than to have a healthy hand or healthy eye and be cast into Hell. So Jesus seems to up the ante, let’s put it that way, to where Hellfire is the real possibility, not just the judgment in this life that is really focused upon in the Old Testament.

So I guess with those three points, I would challenge you to try to think about these things a little differently.

Caller: Can I read about this somewhere? Could you give me some references that I could look at?

Tim: Sure, yes, absolutely. We have a great book that one of our apologists just put out called Hard Sayings, and there’s a section in that book where he deals exactly with this question, but he deals with a whole lot more than that. It’s by our apologist here, Trent Horn. I did the apologetic review on that book, that means I checked it for errors and stuff, and I can tell you that book is exceptional. But he deals with this and a whole lot more.

Host: Thank you very much for that question.

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