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Many people avoid reading the Old Testament because they feel that it reveals a God they don’t like: a mercurial, judgmental dictator who punishes His children when they don’t do what He wants them to do.
I often hear people claim that God never gets angry. Only last week, a Sunday school teacher said, “Jesus never lectured anyone.”
The more often these opinions are repeated, the more people start believing them, and they become a cultural “truth” that has been accepted as doctrine simply because of repetition—but not with any real basis in scripture.
When people come to believe these convenient “truths” just because they have heard it so many times, they tend to recoil with horror and confusion when they read scriptural accounts where God’s anger is described.
The debate has gone on for millennia: Is God a punisher, or is He a forgiver? If there is a hell, how many people will actually go there? Didn’t Jesus love everyone and, therefore, forgive everyone anything that they would do? The pendulum constantly swings between opinions.
What does it mean when we read chapter upon chapter in the Old Testament about judgments being poured out upon God’s people? Are the God and teachings of the Old Testament negated and replaced by the suffering Jesus of the New Testament, as many people assert?
In Ezekiel, God is described as both fierce and jealous. But why should that surprise us, when in the very first of the Ten Commandments, God describes Himself in this way: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
We should believe the Lord when He describes Himself and explains His nature, for as Jesus stated in the Garden of Gethsemane, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Joseph Smith explained: “Let us here observe that three things are necessary for any rational and intelligent being to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists: Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes: Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will” (emphasis added).
The Lord specifically chastens those who say that they belong to Him, those who have entered into covenant with Him, but who have, in reality, turned away from Him. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
But what does this mean about God’s love for us? How do we define that love? God gave us the agency to do what we want to do, to make our own choices. Does God’s love for us as His children mean that we can use that agency to run from Him, rebel against Him, and still receive the same sort of reward as those who have been constantly faithful, as were Abraham and Sarah, our covenant parents?
Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
Sadly, much of modern Christianity does not acknowledge that God makes any real demands on those who believe in Him, seeing Him rather as a butler ‘who meets their needs when summoned’ or a therapist whose role is to help people “feel good about themselves.” It is a religious outlook that “makes no pretense at changing lives.” “By contrast,” as one author declares, “the God portrayed in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures asks, not just for commitment, but for our very lives. The God of the Bible traffics in life and death, not niceness, and calls for sacrificial love, not benign whatever-ism.”
We must come to realize and understand that when His people failed to heed the voice of the prophets, God called upon them with the voice of earthquakes, disasters, and even conquering armies—all with the intention that through their trials and chastisement, they would repent and return to Him so that they might inherit and receive all of the blessings that He had promised to their mothers and fathers through the covenant,28 and ultimately so that He might heal them.
Such had been the case with the people of ancient Jerusalem. They had received numerous invitations, numerous warnings, numerous events of destruction, famine, or disaster, but they would not heed them. Destruction was surely coming, yet even up to the day the city walls were broken down, the Lord continued to send His prophets to warn them and plead with them to return to Him.
The following was taken from the book Redemption of the Bride: God's Redeeming Love for His Covenant People by Lynda Cherry, currently on sale at cedarfort.com.