Last week we talked about how in the context of life and death situations God’s parenting style doesn’t seem so harsh but actually the healthy and helpful response of a loving parent. And as I promised you last week, this week I’m going to try to unpack the question: Does God parent differently in the Old Testament versus the New Testament?
A while back, I wrote a post entitled “Punishment is Different from Evil” in which I talked about our mindset toward God’s response to Israel and those around them. This time let’s look at how God response to individuals in the Old Testament and New Testament and let’s note His parenting style.
When we look at the Old Testament, I think it’s important that we put God’s commands into their proper context for the people of Israel. The law (Torah)(The first five books of the Bible) was not some religious information consulted by the people for nuggets of wisdom if they felt like it. This was the legal system of Israel. This was the rules and ways by which they were instructed and required to live (Deuteronomy 11:1, Deu 12:1), for always, all the days they lived on the earth. (Their King) God gave them the law, and they promised to be His people and to do all that He commanded them (Exo 24:3, Deu 27:9, Jos 24:21).
The Torah was given by God as a parent to define exactly the rules and requirements that He has for His children (the law), what would happen if they violated those rules (punishment), and what would happen if they kept them (blessing).
As a parent God spends the time to clearly communicate to His children what is right and what is wrong. (His rules are in front of us. If we choose not to read or listen to His instructions that is on us not on Him.)
- Side note: There are a lot of people who feel like the Bible is excessive and over the top in what it requires, but let me just say, have you ever attempted to read through all of your country’s laws? 1. it would probably take you over a week to do so, if not far longer. 2. there are probably also some pretty strange sounding laws that your country has which someone from another country might consider weird and unnecessary, and 3. you might actually be surprised how many of your country’s laws are strikingly similar to the very rules God laid out.
As a parent what does God do when His children disobey and do something wrong?
In Numbers 16 we read about a group of people who rise up against Moses and Arron, God’s chosen leaders. Korah, who is also a Levite along with Dathan and Abiram along with a few followers: “two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown” come spitting accusations and claims against Moses and Arron.
Not only do these men challenge God’s authority, they also go so far as to disregard and defy God’s authority (Num 16:11), while specifically seeking positions of authority in the congregation of Israel (Num 16:10). They even call Moses a liar. (Num 16:14).
God has already told them what would happen to them for what they were doing wrong.
“. . . if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: . . . [a long list follows of possible consequences, and this] . . . You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.” ~Leviticus 26:14, Lev 26:38~
God has also already told them how to fix their wrong.
“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me . . . if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt— then I will remember My covenant . . . ” ~Lev 26:40-42~
In God’s parenting style, is there the ability for His children to question or make an appeal to Him?
“And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.’ Then they fell on their faces, and said, ‘O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?’ So the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’ ” ~Numbers 16:20-22~
God carries out the consequences He has laid out for the wrong that was done.
“Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. ~Num 16:31~
What is created? Children who understand the significance of right and wrong.
“Then all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, ‘Lest the earth swallow us up also!’” ~Num 16:34~
More examples: We can clearly see God’s parenting style play out this way in many other stories throughout the Bible. Some of the most distinctive stories that come to mind for me: Eli and his sons who perish because Eli does not curb their ungodly behavior, King Saul who loses his kingship because he disobeys God, King David who loses his son and his kingdom because he commits adultery, murder, and lets his heart wander from God. And the list goes on.
Now, is this or isn’t this the same parenting style that God uses to deal with His children in the New Testament?
Well, let’s read the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Are you familiar with this story? The church is just getting started and two people conspire to lie to the leaders and to God.
Do they know it is wrong to do so? Yes, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” Lev 19:11
Do they know the possible consequence of their actions? Yes, “. . . if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes . . . I also will do this to you: . . . [a long list follows of possible consequences, and this] . . . I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant” Leviticus 26:14, Lev 26:25
Is there a chance for an appeal? No.
What happens? “Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.” Act 5:5 “Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.” Act 5:10
Result: “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” Act 5:11
God has not changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament nor has His parenting style changed.
So why do we have this perspective that He is harsh about sin in the Old Testament but loving about sin in the New Testament? I think this is because our perspective of God’s parenting style has been impacted and twisted by the disobedient response of the church in regard to the instructions God gave the church in how to deal with sin. Basically God instructed the church how to parent, and instead of following the parenting style God gave, the church has created their own parenting style which often looks far more like the other three versions we discussed in part 1 of this series. Therefore churches who are supposedly representing God are actually representing Him falsely.
How should the church be parenting? Here are links to posts I’ve written on this topic.
The truth is, God is not any more lenient when it comes to sin in the lives of His children in the New Testament than He is in the Old Testament. The only difference we encounter in the NT is that God talks more often about the consequences of a spiritual death than He does the consequence of a physical death. But as we see in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, clearly both are still possible.
“For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” ~Romans 11:21-22~