Whenever I get into a discussion with a non-believer about the goodness and grace of God, if they know anything about the Bible, they will often point out to me the horrible things God did in the Old Testament. How he opened up the ground and swallowed thousands of disobedient people whole, how he incinerated on the spot two priests who were burning incense to Him just for doing it wrong, how He killed a man for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling off a wagon, how he authorized that people caught in adultery or homosexuality be stoned to death. Even our own president has said that if you adhere to what the Bible says, then it's an abomination to eat shellfish!
All of that is true. All of that is right there in the Scripture. Also in the Scripture, God declares that He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. But, you might say, we live now in the age of Grace! But even Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law not put an end to it. Hmmm. So, what gives?
Recently, after watching on the news that some poor woman had been stoned to death in Saudi Arabia for adultery, I asked God about this. Isn't that what His law says to do as well? And immediately, He put in my mind the scene in the Gospels where all the teachers of the law brought a woman to Jesus who had just been caught in the act of adultery. Of course they were trying to trick Him to see if He would follow the law. If He didn't they would discredit Him, probably haul Him to prison. If He did, then Jesus's followers would turn away from Him because He'd been preaching about God's forgiveness and grace.
Well, as you know, Jesus outsmarted them and told them that whoever was without sin to cast the first stone, and they soon all left. But did Jesus then turn to the woman and condemn her or chastise her? No, He extended grace and forgiveness and told her to not do it again. Did His actions nullify the law?
What I learned from this was that God's law is still valid and true. He still hates sin as much as He ever did. But instead of meting it out in the here and now, He sent His son to take the punishment we all deserve. Now, each of us has X amount of years to accept the Sacrifice of Jesus. If we die without having done so, then we will be punished to the full extent of the law.
If anything, the brutality of the Old Testament gives all of us a glimpse into the horrors of sin and how a Holy God is forced to deal with it. None of us can ever fathom how holy and good and pure He is. If we were to come anywhere near Him (without benefit of Christ's sacrifice for us) we would be incinerated on the spot. Not by Him, but simply by our wretched selves being so close to something so good. Yet, God loves us so much, He wants to have a relationship with us. Before Christ, He could only do that through a priesthood and tons of sacrifices that covered sin. Why did He punish sin so severely? Because sin is like yeast, it infects the entire loaf of bread. He had to stop it before it grew and infected all of the people.
I don't think we realize in this age of grace, how fortunate we really are. If I had lived before Christ, I would have been stoned to death. And I would have deserved it. I don't know about you, but I often take for granted this incredible grace extended to all of us now, and the horrific sacrifice Jesus took on my behalf.
Is God a bully? No. God is love. The next time you read the Old Testament and are shocked by some of the passages, remember that He sent His only Son to take all those punishments due to us so we could become His Righteousness and live with Him forever. If anything, those stories should bring us to our knees in thanksgiving and praise!