Reconciling Old versus New Testament God

Greg Boyd is an advocate of Open Theism as am I, but He is also a strong believer in the authority of the Bible. I am more skeptical of its authority but convinced, nonetheless, it has extraordinary value. I’m just not sure which parts of it I should apply in which situation in my life.

So when Greg’s blog, “What’s at Stake in Trying to Explain the Violent God of the Old Testament?” appeared, I read with great interest what he had to say. And although I agree with his general conclusion over what we, as individuals, may have to risk in attempting to reconcile the Old with the New Testament God, I also think Greg missed the boat because Free Will provides the key that unlocks this apparently contradictory behavior by God.

So I emailed Greg.

  • Subject: Old vs New Testament God, and Free Will
  • Date: Wednesday 19 March 2008 13:36
  • From: Ed Skinner
  • To: “Greg Boyd”

In the discussion of Old versus New Testament God, you’ve neglected the role of Free Will which, I believe, plays an absolutely essential role.

In the old testament, as you have noted, we see a violent God but in the New Testament, Jesus brought us a kind, loving God.

What happened to the old curmudgeon, the grumpy-gus? Where did the old mean God go and where did the new loving God come from? Are they one and the same?

And so to the question of did God change, I have to say, “Yes.” It is a necessary consequence of man’s Free Will and of God’s responses to our actions.

God gave man Free Will. In granting that gift, God had to give up His ability to predict what man would do. He had to because if He didn’t, we wouldn’t have true Free Will.

God truly doesn’t know what we will do at any given moment.

While I think most would agree there is a long term plan for the universe – scientists call the process entropy and it ends with everything cold and dark, no life – and in the shorter term there are certain eventualities called “day” and “night”, seasonal changes and so forth, man’s Free Will does, nonetheless, have its limits. We aren’t Gods, but we do have one God-like ability: Free Will. We don’t know what we will do in the future, and neither does God.

Free Will grants us certain abilities that God cannot predict. I won’t argue the details as I think you’d agree we are free to make choices.

So, here’s this creature, made by God but, like many parents know of their children, they have minds of their own which the parent cannot always predict. So when the child does something the parent doesn’t like, the parent tries something to change the child’s behavior. Perhaps sitting down with the child and appealing to their logic will work. Or sometimes the parent has to tell the child the rules and, when the child asks “Why”, the parent must respond, because of the child’s limited ability to understand the adult world, “because that’s the way it is.” And sometimes, parents resort to stronger methods and, whether or not we agree with that extent of response, the point is that the parent *responds* to the child’s behavior and uses different approaches to see what works. Sometimes an appeal to logic is sufficient. And sometimes the child is sent to the corner for “time out.” And sometimes the parent simply reaches in, grabs the child’s hands and removes the loaded gun from the child’s grip because to do anything less would be disastrous.

I believe the Old and the New Testaments simply show us that God gave man Free Will, that it is an awesomely powerful gift, so awesome and so God-givenly powerful, that God Himself doesn’t know what we will do, nor how we will respond to what He does.

And so when we do things contrary to His wishes, God tries things to try and guide our behavior. He reasons with us, He scolds us, He spanks us, He banishes us to wander in the desert for forty years.

In the New Testament, we see a watershed event, a realization by God (yes, that means He is fallable – because He gave us this awesome power called Free Will truly means He cannot outguess us) that maybe (!) sending his Son (Himself in human form?), and sacrificing Him, and through Him the message of His abiding love, that maybe through that, we might finally *get* the message.

And that message is, of course, that no matter what we do, He still loves us, and is ready to receive us into His loving arms.

This gift of Free Will makes us, to a very real degree, God-like, not in the ability to work seeming miracles (but some did), but rather in our God-given ability to do as we please. It is another facet to the phrase “made in His image.”

The parent accepts and marvels at the extraordinary creativity and exuberance of the child. What the parents sees, He had not imagined the child could, or would, do.

He loves us, wants us to be happy, will grant [some of] our requests for help, and He is fascinated by us because we truly are His children and because He gave us true Free Will.


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