Joel takes a quote from Apocalypse Revealed and uses it to bring together the image of the Old Testament God with that of Jesus. He writes of how easily the two have been pigeon holed into separate roles, while in truth they embody each other seamlessly.-Editor
Growing up, I would occasionally encounter some variation of the phrase “the angry God of the Old Testament.” This was often contrasted with the loving image of the Lord found in the New Testament. Sometimes it would come up when someone compared the New Church to other Christians, in that they often portray God as the angry God of the Old Testament alongside Jesus, while the New Church claims that Jesus is God Himself. It would be easy, I think, to start seeing the distinction between angry Father and loving Son as the same distinction between truth and goodness. Truth by itself is harsh, so that would be the Father. Goodness is loving and merciful, and so the Son.
I had subconsciously adopted a bit of this attitude when I was younger, so I was surprised one day to read the following passage:
By 'the Father' is understood the Divine Good of the Lord's Divine Love...and by 'the Son' the Divine Truth of Divine Wisdom. (Apocalypse Revealed 613)
In other words, it is the Father who is goodness or love, and the Son who is truth. It took me a bit to start to get this, but once I started to, it gave me a new insight into what truth and goodness really are. But I’ll get to that shortly.
First, I want to look at how this idea plays out in the Old and New Testaments. It is easy to stereotype God. When we look at God the Father in the Old Testament, we might see a God that is distant, and, with the truths of the New Church, dismiss this as a flawed depiction. We (or at least I) can stereotype this image of God as angry and harsh. And not just a little bit either: The God of the Old Testament requires a man to sacrifice his beloved son to prove his loyalty (Genesis 22:2). The God of the Old Testament wreaks vengeance on the children of those who slight Him (Psalm 137:9). The God of the Old Testament is jealous, an uncompromising lawgiver who will have his people killed if they stray just a little from his commandments (Numbers 15:35). Is this really a picture of love? (Now, it certainly isn't a picture of truth either, but we might see how truth could seem like this if it's truth without any love attached.)
Jesus, on the other hand, is so obviously about love. He teaches people to be like little children. To not worry. To trust. To love each other, even our enemies. To give to the poor, the needy, to anyone and everyone. His great commandment is that we love each other as He, God, has loved us. Throughout His life on earth, He made it clear that he came to heal people, both physically and spiritually. How could He not be a perfect representation of goodness and love? And that’s where it starts to come together. Jesus is a perfect representation of love.
If we look back to the God of the Old Testament, yes, He is harsh. But He is also infinitely forgiving. Tender. Caring. Loving. Deeply passionate about protecting His children (Isaiah 49:15, 16). He brutally punishes people, but He always promises that they can come back to Him (Deuteronomy 30:4). He gives a plethora of laws, but then says that all He wants is for people to love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). It’s not so much that the God of the Old Testament isn’t loving. It’s that we, and the children of Israel, are blind to His love. We can’t see it. We don’t get it. It’s just pure, unbridled passion that sometimes lashes out like a flame and other times softens into pure mercy.
We think of Jesus as love because in Jesus we can, for the first time, see what love should really look like. It is a love that we can actually comprehend. We don’t just take it on faith that Jesus is loving; we know from His very words and actions that He is.
And here’s where we come back to that insight into what truth and goodness are. Truth is not about facts or information or knowledge. It’s about expressing love. When truth is actual truth, it is a perfect representation of love. Without truth, love ends up being confusing, harsh, irritable, fickle. If we try to be loving without truth, sometimes it may work, but we’ll end up missing the mark many times. Truth is the tool that links the love that we intend to the reception of that love in another. When truth is in its proper place, all a person will see is the love that is being expressed by the truth. And so when we look at the Lord, all we see is love, because the truth is so clear that love shines through its every facet.