It is generally the case, that those who are familiar with both, find God in the Old Testament to be much more unapproachable and foreboding than God as He is described in the New Testament. In the first books of the Bible, God is portrayed as a stern task master; One to be feared and obeyed.
Most of what is known about God in the Old Testament is the knowledge of His Law. The major Scriptures are referred to as the “Torah,” or “the Law.” The scholarly study of God (“theology,” if you will) amounts to little more than discussion of ways to avoid breaking God’s Law—a “hedge around the Law” so that one doesn’t even get close to breaking it.
The Old Testament love of God quite resembles the love of a jealous husband who thinks of his wife as an important piece of property. Israel is described, often enough, as an “adulteress,” and she is commanded to shun and even to put to death all those who might seduce her attentions away from her Lord.
The difference is quite striking when Jesus Christ comes on the scene and we hear about the loving relationship of God as Father, and of His desire to make “sons of God ... of those who believe in Him ... of those who are born not of blood ... but of the will of God.” Repeatedly, the Gospels and the Epistles speak of our adoption as sons and daughters of God the Father. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
And look at the great emphasis that is placed on the true knowledge of God. We are to observe what Jesus has commanded: the moral Law, the concern for the poor, and the Sacraments—today’s Gospel associates these things with our Baptism—but the general emphasis of religion has shifted away from the observance of ritual minutia, to knowledge and belief in the truth. “The truth shall make you free” ... “I am ... the truth” ... “the Spirit of truth proceeds from the Father” ... “Father, sanctify them through thy truth” ... “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth.” When we speak of our salvation beginning with Faith, we are saying precisely that it begins when we believe the truth that God has revealed about Himself.
The love and the knowledge of God are, as we say, “two sides of the same coin.” Neither is possible, to any extent, without the other.
I would suggest that the difference between the way God appears in the Old and New Testaments depends, precisely, upon the revelation of the fact that in one God there are three divine Persons. For His own good reasons (perhaps to separate the Jews from the multiple false “gods” of their neighbors), God chose to present Himself in the monolithic form of “I Am Who Am”—only later did He choose to reveal Himself as a personal God, who lived in a sort of family that we know as the Holy Trinity. Only when we know Him as “Father” can we even begin to imagine that He wishes to adopt us as His own children. Only when we know His Son as “the Word made flesh” can we have a proper appreciation for His unchanging truth, and a firm basis for our Faith. Only when our souls are filled with the Love of the Father and the Son—the Love Whom we know as the Holy Ghost, a Person in His own right—can we truly love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Now, there are those critics who would say that even this personal knowledge of God in Trinity has not been enough to tame the wilder instincts of His erstwhile children—that we are not appreciably different from the Jews who took the Promised Land by sword in the name of the Mosaic Law. There are those who would say that we are also no different from the Moslems, who came a few centuries after Christ, but yet denied what had already been revealed by the Triune God. They wielded that same sword to force submission to the monolithic god of Islam (“Islam,” by the way, means “submission,” and not “peace” as the modernists would have us believe). What such critics of Christianity miss is that the New Testament does not call for the violent conformity required by the Torah and the Koran. The Holy Trinity calls upon us for loving cooperation, rather than for strong armed coercion. As a loving Father, God gives us free will, for only a free willed person can love Him in return—anything else would be mechanical submission.
This is not to say that Christianity and Christendom are without problems. Indeed, today the problems are as great or greater than ever. It might be enlightening to honestly ask ourselves “Why?”
Well, the problems don’t seem to be caused by “too much Christianity”! We are not plagued by an excess of people who want to go to church or to pray, or to give alms to the poor. We don’t seem to hear about people who have disciplined themselves or fasted too much. Society has not collapsed because of any rush by its members to forsake the world and enter the monasteries and convents.
The critics will quickly remind us of the Crusades and the Inquisition. But, at least in principle, both were good things. Over the centuries, those who denied the Trinity of God both invaded and infiltrated the lands of those faithful to His divine revelation, putting many to the sword and forcing a false religion on them. They had to be either converted to the Faith or put out of Christian lands. Only when Church and civic leaders lost sight of their Christianity did some of this become ugly. Usually it became so, when emperors and kings tried to make use of the Church to enhance their political power, or when popes and bishops tried to take political things over from the emperors and kings. The first heretic to be executed, Priscillian of Ávila in 384, was put to death by the Emperor Maximus, who drew the most severe condemnation from the Pope and bishops.
No. Most of the things that are wrong in Christendom—things even the critics of Christianity must admit to be wrong—have to do with too little Christianity. And bear in mind that this charge of “too little Christianity” applies to all levels of society: the Church and the state, as well as the citizen and the man in the pew; the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant alike. Perhaps the more advantaged are more guilty, but the problem exists without regard to guilt.
What is wrong with Christianity and Christendom is that we have failed to make disciples of all nations, because we have failed to make the Catholic Faith the best known, the best understood, and the most reasonable alternative to every other system of belief. Jesus Christ is The Truth—it is our job to see to it that His Truth wins out in the free market of ideas.
We have failed to make disciples of all nations, likewise, because we have failed to show His love to our young and our old, to the stranger, and to the unbelievers of the nations. God is Love, and that may be even more powerful in that free market of ideas. People are only occasionally rational, and very rarely (or never) do they change their minds without first changing their hearts.
What is needed is for Christians to return fervently to Christ. We must demand no less of ourselves, as well as of those in our society. For our imitation and inspiration we have the Christ-Child in the Holy Family. Think of how it would change the world if every Christian modeled himself after Jesus, Mary, and Joseph —if as youngsters we held ourselves to the ideal of growing up as Jesus grew up; and if as adults we conducted our family and our community life as Mary and Joseph must have done; and if everything in our homes and workplaces were done as though Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were there with us. Try to imagine what it would be like to work every day in the Joseph & Son Carpenter Shop at Nazareth—and then do it!
For those who are called to public office, there is the model of Christ the King. Civil society rules legitimately only when its laws closely approximate the Moral Law of God; in every other way it detracts from its own authority, eventually to the point of denying its own legitimacy. Judges and advocates derive their authority not so much by appointment or election, as by faithfully rendering justice in accordance with the Moral Law. Much like the “Carpenter Shop” analogy, we should require our leaders to conduct our government as though all of its business were transacted in the throne room of Christ the King.
For our priests and bishops and Popes and religious we have the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with which we must conform—and our people would be wise to see that we do. Each and every one of us priests must see and emulate Jesus Christ, above all, as the Eternal High Priest and Victim—not as aristocrat, prince, or potentate; not as the leader of social activities, or glib tongue; not as fund raiser or banker or politician—certainly not as an oppressor of the weak, or a protector of the guilty; definitely not an apologist for religious error or worldly transgression. The job of priests is, quite simply, to be priests—“other Christs” who intercede with God for His people. Beyond working with Christ, we must be Christ.
It is a great condescension of God’s love that we know of Him in Trinity; something that we could not have known by ourselves if He had not determined to reveal it to us. It is much like being taken into His own household; not as visitors or guests but as members of the divine family, living in one of those “many mansions” of our Father’s house. If, some day, we hope to live with God in heaven, we will do so only if we get used to living with Him here and now. In every thing that we do, we must do it with the full consciousness that God is with us always and everywhere—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.