In the second century, Marcion proposed that the Jewish God of the Old Testament and the God represented by Jesus were not the same god. Marcion did not stay in favor with the church for long - he was excommunicated. Yet his idea lives on in many of us. In the past month I have heard church leaders refer to the "harsh Old Testament" and give thanks for the mercy now available to us through Jesus.
But if Jesus is God, then Jesus is also the God of the Old Testament. Either he changed - which scripture says he does not - or I missed something. And I think the "something missed" is an unbiased - or at least less biased - reading of the Old Testament. After years of confronting this in myself and starting over once again reading through the OT for the New Year, I am struck by the mercy of the Old Testament God.
Consider this -
EDEN: Rather than come down in anger at the first sign of sin, God comes walking in the garden, asking questions, clothes the offenders and does not end their lives physically.
CAIN: God gives him advice ahead of time, comes asking questions and marks him so that others will not kill him.
FLOOD: Instead of total annihilation and starting from zero, God delays for years and saves a family who found favor in his eyes.
SODOM: God appears to Abraham ahead of time, explains that he has come in response to outcries, allows Abraham to bargain with him, rescues Abraham's family in Sodom, and even allows them to bargain for a different escape route.
If Jesus per John 1, John 17, and Colossians 1 and the Holy Spirit per Genesis 1:2 were per-existent to creation, then prior to creation our God was relational. It is his nature to come seeking, asking, connecting and showing mercy. Its what relationships are all about.
If this is who God is and if scripture has not changed for thousands of years, then the real question here is not about God but about me. Why do I come to scripture and fail to see mercy? How can I look at a series of events where mercy is lavished on people and be blind to it? Why do justice and punishment jump off the page while mercy can go completely overlooked? What does it say about my outlook on life? What does it say about my heart?
When I practiced veterinary medicine, an older doctor once told me, "I look for today, what I diagnosed yesterday." Perhaps we can't see what we don't look for. And we don't look for that which is not significant or valued. So when I look but do not see the mercy of God, I am confessing my values. Thus in the revelation of a merciful and relational God, I find reflected a revelation of my own heart.
And I do not always like what I see.