I heard this question this morning during church. The pastor described those who see the judgment or more violent stories in the Bible as proof that the Bible is a book of hate. The implication is that God is therefore hateful, especially the God of the Old Testament. But I think this view of God in the Old Testament is like looking at a road in the forest, always looking at the road and missing the beauty of the trees.
I'd like to offer up a concept on God's character, from the Old Testament, that I think most of us have missed. Here it is: God is obligated to love you. In fact, God is obligated to love you, in a legal way. Let me explain what I mean. There are three ways that God is obligated to love you: (1) because of his nature, (2) by his volition, and (3) in a legal way.
Would it surprise you to know that God wants to love you? God's love for you is his big idea. We didn't come up with it, he did. He wants to love us so badly that he has obligated himself to demonstrate that love, first through our creation, then through our freedom, then through his forgiveness, and then through his free pursuit of us.
The scripture says God loved us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). This tells us that his plan to love us began before anything was ever created. When he created us, he gave us free opportunity to love him or abandon him. We see that freedom given to Adam and Eve when he gave them a good place to live, a purpose to fulfill, and the opportunity to reject it through sin if they so chose (Genesis 2:15-17). Then, when sin occurred, he offered his forgiveness, and not just to Adam and Eve, but to anyone who sins. He offered his love freely. Consider his free act of love to Israel as one example. "The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you…" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). And as we continue to grow in Christ he continues to pursue us in relationship (Psalm 23:6).
God does all of these things by the first two aspects of his love, by his nature and his volition. It is God's nature to love. "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love" (Psalm 103:8). Even the New Testament signifies this. "God is love" (I John 4:16). But, God loves us not only because of his nature to love, but also by his free choice to do so, his volition. Ephesians 1:4 tells us that, "In his love, he chose us as his own in Christ."
But to demonstrate to us how strong his commitment really is, God obligated himself in a legal way to love us. How did he do this? By initiating covenants of love.
A biblical covenant is not like a simple contract as we understand it today. Contracts in our day and age are negotiated between parties, terms acceptable to both are drawn up, and the parties mutually agree to abide by the terms. In addition, contracts can be canceled under certain conditions. This is not how biblical covenants work.
Biblical covenants are imposed, not negotiated. God imposed a covenant of love upon his people. Covenants are not negotiated. We were not given a choice by God as to whether he would love us or how he would show us that love. God obligated himself in covenant to demonstrate acts of love to his people. Our agreement was unnecessary to the covenant. As already state, the covenant is imposed on God as well as on us. And unlike contracts, covenants cannot be canceled. God is always obligated by his side of the covenant. He can't wiggle his way out of its terms any more than you can.
Where in the Old Testament are these covenants of love? Consider the terms in Genesis 1-3. Consider God's covenant with Abraham and his promise to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. In Deuteronomy the Mosaic covenant provides strong terms about God's love for his people (as mentioned above). His covenant to David was a response of love. In fact, it is safe to say that God never enters into a relationship with anyone without a covenant. In this way God goes beyond his simple nature of love and his free volition to love, but he obligates himself to love. And he can't wiggle his way out of it.
Now, this doesn't mean that God will prevent your suffering (he didn't prevent it for his own son, Jesus). It doesn't mean he will give us whatever we want (he didn't give Jesus what he wanted when he asked that the cup of suffering be taken away). And it doesn't mean that he will give us material prosperity (Jesus was poor). But it does mean that he will demonstrate acts of love according to the needs that he sees we have that are most important in his sight. The greatest need we have is a solution to our sin problem. His love for us was so great that he took the punishment for our sins upon himself through the cross. And his love for us continues as he grows us to spiritual maturity and the knowledge of him.
Be encouraged. God loves you because of his nature. God loves you because of his free volition to do so. And God has obligated himself to love you in a legal way. His love for you, if you know him, is guaranteed. It is not in any doubt. It is sure, and true, and solid. It will never cease. So, the next time you suffer whatever it is you suffer, whether small or great, whether health or harm or life or death, remember how God has obligated himself to those who love him.
"Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
The Bible is not a book of hate. It is a book whose author is obligated to love those who have entered into relationship with him. You have nothing to fear from God. "Perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18).