An atheist asked me how I reconcile the blood and guts, “vengeance is mine” God of the Old Testament and the loving, forgiving Jesus Christ of the New Testament. Like most Christians I had no real answer, so I started thinking it through and praying about it. Then during my reading of the prophets, the Holy Spirit started to open my mind.
One of the principles of interpreting Scripture is to take a God centered approach to everything, in other words, look for Christ in all Scripture.
The Old Testament predicted Jesus, the Gospels reveled Him. The Epistles explained Him and Revelation anticipates Him.
It was in this mindset that I really started to form the answer, and that answer is that God loves the sinner and hates the sin. His vengeance, so often spoken of, was carried out against sin, not the sinner. God is the destroyer of sin (1 John 3:8), His rage in the Old Testament is love that casts out and punishes all evil.
Nahum 1:6 Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
His fiery wrath is the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) that burns away everything that does not produce fruit:
“Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:9
This leaves the vineyard of the soul free of the weeds that choke the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-24)
God is indeed a powerful God who punishes sin. He is a warrior who fights for us:
The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name. Exodus 15:3
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment. Isaiah 59:17-18
His ultimate battle was at the cross. Contrary to what some think, Jesus was no pacifist. His sacrifice was not a passive act done to Him, it was a war fought on our behalf against sin itself. His act destroyed the hold sin had on humanity and set us free.
In other words, it is all how one looks at it. From the perspective of the wicked, Christ’s love is full of wrath and vengeance, it is destructive to such behaviors. But to the righteous, His love is life affirming and glorious.
How has the Holy Spirit opened up the Scriptures so you can find God in them for you?