The way we picture God is a collective sum of all the experiences we’ve had with Him, but it’s just that–a picture. Unless that picture has been influenced by accurate experiences, we won’t have an accurate picture of God.
For me, I grew up going to a church that preached morality as the number one virtue. So the picture of God I received was a dichotomy of an angry judge and Santa Clause. If I was “nice,” God blessed me. If I was “naughty,” punishment and curses would ensue.
As it turns out, this is not an uncommon way to view God. In fact, when we read through the Old Testament, this sort of angry, judging God seems to be the predominant character.
I often hear people comment about the differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as if He were two different deities. God didn’t have an identity crisis during the intertestamental period. Something did change, yes, but it wasn’t God.
“No one has seen God at any time… he [Jesus] has explained him” (John 1:18 NASB).
Jesus was not just the Son of God, as in the child of God. He was the exact representation of God. He WAS God. He was God in the flesh.
When Jesus walked onto the scene some two-thousand years ago, He took people’s perception of God and completely flipped it on its head. Not because God had changed between the books of Malachi and Matthew, but because the Old Testament view of God was incomplete and in many ways flawed.
In the Old Testament, God was not fully revealed, so the Old Testament writers had only a limited understanding of His character. But when Jesus came to earth, He revealed His true identity. As Colossians 1:19 tells us, the fullness of God dwelt within Jesus.
The God of the Old Testament was cloaked in mystery. He was separate from humanity. His face was one that none could look upon and live. He bore a name so sacred, humanity dared not utter it. His presence was so holy that no one could enter into it without perishing.
Then He came as a man. He took on flesh that was ordinary, and for the first time in history, He removed His cloak.
God became one with humanity. No longer was His face hidden from us. Instead of perishing in His presence, we looked upon His face and found life. He was separate from us no more. His presence became the place of our refuge. His sacred name that once communicated, “our God is above us,” was changed to Emmanuel, “our God is with us.” His name became our anthem and the identity we proudly bear. No longer do we refrain from speaking it; now, we proclaim it. We are told there is power in His name. If it’s the only word we whisper in the midst of our sin, it alone can bind up the darkness.
In this one man, the infinite became finite. The unknowable became knowable. The incomplete became complete. And the flawed became perfected.
Jesus came to show us, not that He as God had changed, but that we as humans had it wrong. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is our understanding of Him that had to change.
Thankfully for us, we live on this side of the cross. We have the perfected and completed picture of our God. Our job now is to get to know Him.