The New Testament Picture of God

(5 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)

When you picture God in your mind, what image do you see?  Because God is so unique, so holy, so multi-faceted in His attributes, there are a variety of images that could come to mind.  Think now about the New Testament image of God.  In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus gives us a picture of God as a compassionate father; looking, longing, running, kissing, embracing, forgiving, and celebrating his son’s return.  The apostle John highlights in his letters the love of God as the very essence of His character.  And the apostle Paul refers over 200 times to God or Christ living inside us.  Let this New Testament picture sink in and realize that it is largely the opposite of the common view of God as distant, vengeful, and unfeeling.

Let’s not miss the point.  In the Old Testament, God clearly carried a big stick, often punishing sin right on the spot.  His ways were also clouded in mystery.  His answer to Job’s suffering was not an explanation of “why”, but a description of “who”.  God’s point?  “Where were you when I set this world in motion and now keep it going with My incredible power?  You have very little insight into My ways.”  Throughout the Old Testament, the summary of our understanding of God is, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:9).

But that all changed at the coming of Christ.  It is easy to get hung up on the word change.  We fear that change implies that God is not the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But this is not the case.  God did not change at the coming of the new covenant.  But two important things regarding our understanding of God did change: God’s revelation about Himself and God’s arrangement with man.

Concerning His revelation about Himself, the New Testament explodes with new revelation about God, largely through the appearance of His Son, Jesus Christ.  In the upper room, Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).  God’s revelation about Himself as “tender Father” describes our relationship to Him in the present age of grace.  So our new arrangement is not as distant subjects of a distant King, but as children who address the sovereign of the universe as “Abba Father”.

Jesus continues the father analogy in Matthew chapter 7.  “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:7-11).

So getting back to the topic of God’s discipline, God is not in the business of giving His children a “stone” or a “snake” or anything evil.  His gifts will always be good and I think that is one reason we can expect to understand where God is taking us in His training program.  In fact, is it too much of a stretch to say that because we have the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, that God’s ways are no longer “higher than ours” and beyond our understanding?  Something to think about.

But, of course, we often cannot make sense of the bad things happening to us and to those we love.  So if we expect God’s ways to make sense in our renewed mind and to always be good, but keep running up against this angst about the bad things that happen to us, what gives?  We will answer that question next time.