Many think that the portrayal of God in the Old Testament cannot be squared with the portrayal of God in the New. They have a mental image similar to the following: In the Old Testament, God is strict, more than simply righteous, even a bit bad-tempered, and sometimes quite cruel; then the God of the New Testament is gentle Jesus, meek and mild, turn-the-other-cheek, friendly, and loving. Thus the two pictures of God cannot coincide. They are two different religions. But this is a very short-sighted, even distorted, reading of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
In the Old Testament for example, there are seams of judgment, but God is also regularly described as slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness; he will not always try as a judge. Like a father pities his children, so the Lord pities though who fear him. He is pictured by the prophet Hosea in 8th century BC, as the almighty cuckold – the husband who is betrayed by his people and is broken-hearted and sad; and is going after her even though she is committing a kind of spiritual adultery. In tears he declares, “Turn! Turn! Why will you die? The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” This is all part of the Old Testament picture of God.In the New Testament, it is true there is a lot of emphasis on love,
In the New Testament, it is true there is a lot of emphasis on love, forgiveness and forbearance, which ought to be celebrated gloriously. But on the other hand, the New Testament speaks far more directly and frequently at Hell. And the person who has the greatest variety of images of Hell – all of them horrifying, in one fashion or another – in the pages of the New Testament is Jesus himself. There are some passages that are so horrific it is hard to read them in public. For example, read the end of Revelation 14. So the God of the New Testament is likewise depicted as a God of judgment and justice, who will finally hold people to account. Whether in fear and trembling, or in repentance and joy – “Every knee will bow; every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Rather than claiming that God moves from Old Testament angry to New Testament loving, I think it is far closer to the truth to say that from the Old Testament to the New, the picture of God as a loving God is ratcheted up. Likewise, sometimes God is portrayed as a God of wrath and judgment in the Old Testament, but the New Testament picture of a God of righteousness and wrath is ratcheted up to Hell itself. The wonderful images of God as a loving God are ratcheted up to Christ himself. Both of these themes barrel through both Testaments. And they only find the resolution of both in the cross itself.
I suspect the reason why some people think the pictures of judgment in the Old Testament are much more severe than the pictures of judgment in the New Testament is because they are such naturalists. They are far more frightened of natural suffering – disaster, disease, famine, war, and plague. They are more frightened of the natural than they are of Hell itself. But when you take the Bible at its own terms, there is a ratcheting up of images of both God’s love and judgment as you move from the Old Testament to the New. Neither is softened. Both are intensified until they are finally resolved in the cross. If you want to see what judgment looks like, go to the cross. If you want to see what love looks like, go to the cross.