If you’ve ever studied the Old Testament, you may have come away thinking something along these lines: Why is God so angry in the Old Testament? I like the New Testament better. God is so much nicer after Jesus shows up on the scene.
If you’ve had similar thoughts, you’re not alone. I’ve had them too. But when we pull God and His actions out of context, as we’re often prone to do, it’s easy to misunderstand His character. If we divide Him into three Persons without remembering He is ONE, we may begin to assign certain temperaments to the Persons of the Trinity (i.e. the Father is the angry one; Jesus is the nice one, and the Spirit is the weird and/or mysterious one). The good news for us (as we will come to see in the pages ahead) is that this is theologically impossible. Much to our relief, ”Old Testament God” isn’t unlikable as we’ve believed Him to be. For all of us who have ever felt that way, Scripture is here to set us straight and invite us into something much more beautiful and winsome. Whew!
The heart of God
Contrary to popular thought, God doesn’t undergo a personality transplant at the end of the Old Testament. When we follow the storyline of Scripture, we see a God who created mankind out of an overflow of love, who clothed Adam and Eve before they even repented, who rescued the Israelites out of slavery and then led them as they established a functioning society, joyfully choosing to set up camp in their midst and repeatedly forgiving them, blessing them, and reminding them He was sending a Messiah to rescue
them. This is the heart of God evident in the scope of the Old Testament’s metanarrative. All along He dropped hints of what was coming, and then He delivered on His promise!
Of course, if we drop down in the middle of the Old Testament in a time when He’s punishing the Israelites, He seems harsh. We won’t understand why His laws were helpful and necessary. We’ll fail to notice He’s already told them repeatedly not to do that specific sinful thing, told them what type of punishment to expect if/when they do it, and then continued to provide for them and protect them despite their rebellion. With our limited information, we’ll view Him as strict or angry, and we won’t draw near to Him. We’ll prefer to stay in the New Testament where we can read about Jesus, who paid for all the sins we know we’ve committed. This is a common problem we encounter when we don’t read the story of Scripture chronologically (in the order it happened, not the order it is laid out). Reading the Bible at all is great, but reading chronologically can help us get to know God in the order He chose to reveal Himself through progressive revelation.
There is a necessary process of the gospel: we must be confronted with God’s laws and requirements, see that we fall short and can’t obey His laws, and realize our need for rescue. Jesus came to be that Rescuer—He not only paid our sin debt, but He also granted us His righteousness! This is how progressive revelation works in our relationship with God, and it’s the reason we still desperately need the truths of the Old Testament to see Him rightly!
The same is true of our understanding of the Trinity. Without the Old Testament, it might be easy to divide God into three separate Gods, or even to think God shape-shifts from one ”form” into the other. But when we read Scripture as a whole, we see His oneness throughout, which helps us maintain this doctrinal balance: Each Person of the Trinity indwells the other two. We can’t emphasize one Person of God over the others. It’s vital to view them holistically, or we’ll be led into heresy. But the Trinity doesn’t mean God is divided into three parts like pieces of a pie. Each Person of the Trinity fully possesses/is the complete divine essence. The word we use to describe this is consubstantial—regarded as the same in substance or essence.
Since they are all equally and fully divine within the Trinity unto themselves, no one Person plays an eternally dominant role. They each point to the others. The Father glorifies and points to the Son. The Son glorifies and points to the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit glorifies and points to the Son and the Father. Understanding this truth is VITAL. It shows us so much about God’s character. He is always pointing externally—even with Himself. This shows us the heart of God is focused on outgoing love.
The Persons of God aren’t only united in their essence, but they’re united in their purpose as well. And this divine, eternal unity is inseparable. God has always been One, and He has always been Three. He didn’t become this way to serve some kind of purpose or function; it is who He is and how He is.
This post is excerpted from Tara-Leigh Cobble’s new Bible study, He’s Where the Joy Is: Getting to Know the Captivating God of the Trinity.