"When The God Of The Old Testament Seems Scary"
Updated: Apr 25
By Drew Zuverink
"So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth, but the valley of Slaughter. In this place I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds."
Sometimes when we read parts of the Bible that describe God's wrath and judgement, it can make us very uncomfortable. Critics of Christianity bring up passages like this one to argue that God is basically a jealous, vindictive, bully, who might lash out in anger at any moment. Those critics aren't alone. Actually, plenty of Christians wish that passages like this one didn't exist. God seems harsh, dangerous, even scary, and it can be hard to reconcile this with the God of love in the New Testament. So whether you are a Christian or a skeptic of Christianity, if you are disturbed by God's violence in the Old Testament, know that you are not alone. That being said, I hope to show you that, believe it or not, sometimes God's wrath is exactly what we want from him.
Throughout the book of Jeremiah we learn a lot about what the nation of Israel was like at that time. In chapter 5 we learn that the social elite, those with power and money, had created a corrupt justice system. They took advantage of orphans and poor people, using their positions of power to exploit the vulnerable. Then in chapter 6 we learn that people were incredibly violent towards one another, no doubt often murdering each other. In chapter 7 we learn that they oppressed foreigners, widows, orphans, and they shed innocent blood. In chapter 18 when the prophet Jeremiah is rebuking the nation for doing such things, they make plans to kill him. Then in chapter 19 we learn that they would even burn their children alive during worship services for Baal. My heart aches just imagining the pain that Israel must have caused people back then.
It's important to understand who exactly God is threatening and why. Because a common misconception is that God has a temper, and if you make a mistake and maybe you go a little too far sexually with your boyfriend or girlfriend, oh man you better watch out! But that completely misses the point of these passages. God is not threatening to destroy the nation of Israel because a few of their college students partied too hard, he's threatening a group of people who were perpetuating truly evil things. God even tried to warn them, telling them that if they changed their ways he wouldn't destroy them, but they would not listen.
So honestly, let me ask you, what do you want God to do with these kinds of people? Because God asks the same question in chapter 5 when he says, "Should I not punish them for these things?" Do you really want God to do nothing, to just stand idly by while people like the Nazi's continue their evil? Of course not! I think Christians and skeptics would both agree that if there is a God, we would want him to intervene in those situations. But here's the problem, the same critics of Christianity who claim that God's judgement is a bad thing also blame God when he doesn't stop murderers and rapists. You can't have it both ways, you can't critique God for judging evil and then cry out for it later. You can't get mad at God for doing what you want him to do.
None of us want to live in a world without justice, but I think the issue is that sometimes God's justice seems a little too intense for us - and I get that. The reality of an all powerful God who sometimes pours out his wrath on evil people can be a scary thought. That's ok to feel that way, maybe even healthy, but it's important to understand God's heart as well. Scattered throughout the book of Jeremiah are verses of God crying out with grief, wishing that the Israelite's would repent so that he would not have to punish them. It was not with a joyful heart that God eventually poured out his wrath on Israel, but it was with a broken heart.
I wish we lived in a world where God's judgement was not necessary, but we don't, and so I'm grateful for it. May God help us to learn to appreciate this important aspect of his character, even asking for it in our prayers, because God's judgement is a good thing that makes the world a better place.