Is there a dichotomy between the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the merciful God of the New Testament? In this episode, Wes McAdams and Marco Arroyo explore how our understanding of God’s nature can profoundly shape our own identities and relationships. The conversation also tackles the crucial issue of how to reconcile God’s love and grace with his judgment and wrath against sin.

Through a thoughtful and nuanced discussion, Wes and Marco unpack biblical concepts that are central to understanding God’s true nature. They explore the depths of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and how these attributes are not limited to the New Testament but permeate the entire biblical narrative. They also shed light on the importance of God’s wrath and judgment, not as contradictory to his love, but as a necessary expression of his holiness and justice. The conversation emphasizes the need to view God’s character and actions through the lens of his ultimate goodness and desire for restoration.

Marco Arroyo is the preacher for the Seagoville Church of Christ and the host of the “In Between Sundays” YouTube channel. With a passion for helping people see Jesus in every aspect of life, Marco brings a unique perspective to the discussion, drawing from his own journey of understanding and embracing the true nature of God. His experiences and insights offer a relatable and refreshing approach to wrestling with complex theological concepts.

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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)

Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. On today’s show, we’re going to talk about the mercy and the goodness of God. My guest today is Marco Arroyo. He’s the preacher for the Seagoville Church of Christ. He’s also the host of the “In Between Sundays” YouTube channel. I really encourage you to check out his videos. He’s doing a great work there. 

I want to begin today by reading from 1 John 4, starting with verse 7. John says this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 

As always, I hope that this conversation is enjoyable and encouraging, but most of all, I hope that it helps all of us learn to love like Jesus.

WES: Marco Arroyo, welcome to the podcast, Brother. 

MARCO: I’m really happy to be with you, man. Really am glad to be talking to you.

WES: Well, I am so happy to finally have you on the podcast. I’ve been watching a lot of your YouTube videos lately, and I really encourage people to go check out your YouTube channel because you’re doing such a great job and it’s such a unique channel, and you sort of highlight different things that are going on in the world and look at it through a Biblical, godly lens, and I think it’s really cool what you’re doing.

MARCO: Yeah, it’s really encouraging to hear that. That’s all I’m trying to do. You know, the name of the channel is “In Between Sundays,” and that’s literally the thought behind it. I just want people to be able to look at the things that are happening in our lives or in the world in between Sundays and to see Jesus in that. And, you know, I love the idea of ‑‑ we’re learning to love like Jesus in the Radically Christian Bible Study podcast, and it’s kind of a similar thought there, too: Just see Jesus in everything, and we really can in the Christian life, so I really appreciate you saying that.

WES: That’s awesome. Well, we had coffee not too long ago and we talked about a lot of different things. One of the things that we talked about is that I think we’re supposed to be changing as people. As followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be constantly growing and becoming different people and allowing the Spirit of God to transform us, and that probably means that our view of God, our theology is going to change over time. It’s going to evolve. It’s going to be hopefully better so we’re going to have a better understanding of who God is and his character and his nature now than we had before, so I would love to just start with that.  How has your theology, your view of God, his character and his nature ‑‑ how has that changed over time?

MARCO: If I had to give you the short answer, I will say God has been getting better and better over the years. He’s been getting better and better. Now, just to preface it, a lot of the times when I talk about like what my growth process has been in my understanding of God and I start from the very beginning, there have been many people who I’ve been talking to where they kind of go, like, “New‑convert Marco was kind of a dummy,” and I agree with you; he was kind of a dummy. But for every reaction that I’ve had like that, there has also been a, “You know, the way that you used to view God” ‑‑ and there were problematic ways that I viewed God when I was a newer Christian ‑‑ “I used to view God that way, too, and I thought I was the only one,” and that always lifts my spirits so much, so I’m more than happy to, like, share my foolishness in this area, in large part because it’s such a testament to God’s goodness on me. 

And so, before I became a Christian, it was, “God is good all the time,” and if I wanted to get real crazy with it, “All the time, God is good.” And, you know, it’s the basic stuff people say: God is love, John 3:16, things like that. But when I started to become a Christian, I was in the process of studying the Bible. I was studied with for like a year, and I was in high school at the time, in Los Angeles, California where I was raised, and that’s when I started to be confronted with the reality of my sin, and I hadn’t really taken that so seriously before. 

And so when I became a Christian, I was very, very new in confronting the reality of my sin and who I was in relation to God. And so, then, my idea of God was closer to, God is good, but you better get it together fast; otherwise, God will be just as readily ‑‑ he will punish you as readily as he was to save you; and as quick as he was to save you, he will just as quickly destroy you. And it’s so funny because, not very long after that, I came into contact with “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” that, you know, 1700s sermon, Jonathan Edwards, and there’s a line in there towards the end. One of the quotes of it is, “And there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning but that God’s hand has held you up.” And every day I was thinking, God is so good and merciful to me, but that was the idea that I had of how God viewed me. It’s like this loathsome creature is kind of what Jonathan Edwards talks about, and he so badly wants to punish you. He’s kind of waiting for you to, you know, commit sin and stuff like that. 

And it took a while, and I was telling you that after a lot of study of the Old Testament, my understanding of God improved so very much. I remember, at one point, thinking, I don’t think I am making it to heaven most of the time, and I’m trying so hard to be more like Jesus every single day, and I would read Hebrews 11, and like the very next thing ‑‑ next best thing below Jesus are those people, Hebrews 11. And so I’m telling myself like, okay, well, I want to read about those people, then. And then I start to study into their lives, and those were some problematic people. They’re lying and plotting and scheming and deception, all these things. And I go, so how did these people make it? I mean, I’ve done some silly things, but like in 1 Samuel 21, David is like spitting on himself and pretending to be crazy, and that’s not even the worst of the stuff that he did. And so I realized their lives, their salvation ‑‑ they were not dependent on the level of goodness that they had attained to, they’d reached, but the goodness of the God who saved them despite them, despite who they were. 

And so, before, it was, how does God feel about sin? He hates it, wants to punish it, and he will punish it. He’s against it. And so then I thought, well, I struggle and I sin. I do that often, so then that means God feels that way about me. And over time, my view eventually became, God gives mercy because he is good, and he wants to save me, not because I’m good, because he is good. It’s not contingent on my perfection. It’s actually despite my imperfection, God wants to save me. And, man, every time I think about the years that I spent not looking at God that way ‑‑ even now I fight back tears thinking about it because God is so incredibly good, and that’s why I say, in short, he’s just getting better and better as the days go by. He’s getting so much better every single day as I come to understand him more. 

WES: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, as you were talking how much our theology affects our anthropology or even our personal identity and how we think about ourselves ‑‑ it’s so interesting. As you were talking, I remember having a conversation, when I first started preaching, and someone said ‑‑ it may have been me who said that when we think about ourselves in relation to God, it’s like we’re a flea. And then someone else said, no, no, no, it’s like we’re ‑‑ it’s like we’re the small toe of a flea. And someone else said, no, no, no, it’s like we’re the hangnail on the small toe of a flea. And we do ‑‑ we have been taught, I think, or we have somehow been trained to think that we are this, you said, loathsome creature, and I think the more we understand scripture, the more we understand the Good News story, it doesn’t paint humanity that way. It doesn’t even paint sinful humanity that way. It doesn’t paint us as being the hangnail on the small toe of a flea. It paints us as being the pinnacle of God’s creation. That yes, we’ve sinned and we’ve fallen short, but God loves us so much that he wants to redeem us and restore us to the place where he created us to be. He wants us to rule and reign with him. He wants to glorify us. He wants to exalt us, and Jesus is that plan. Otherwise, it doesn’t even make sense. The Good News, the gospel, doesn’t even make sense if we really are as horrible as we’ve been taught to think about ourselves. And so I think a right understanding of God does help us have a right understanding of ourselves, maybe.

MARCO: Yeah. The obvious verse with this is John 3:16, and the way I would read John 3:16 was, well, that love that God had for me is what brought me to my initial point of salvation, and now that I’m a Christian, it’s on me, and it’s completely on me, and so God is just waiting around the corner for me to fail so that he can punish me because that’s what he does, and that really did have an impact on me for a long time. You know, earlier on when I was a Christian, there was ‑‑ like almost instantly when I became a Christian, with all the sweetness, there was almost instant bitterness and worry because of that, and it’s so sad to think about that. I remember when I was baptized there were Christians who told me ‑‑ they go, like, “Enjoy this moment. Enjoy the purity that you feel in this moment.” And I don’t know how they meant that exactly, but the way I took it was, this is a fleeting thing and very soon I’m going to go back to my regular life, and my habits, my weaknesses, my shortcomings were not chained to the water ‑‑ inside the water of the baptistry, and so that really did present itself in a really ugly way. 

I got deflated very quickly after I became a Christian. I didn’t, you know, leave God or anything, but I was deflated as soon as I started to be confronted with all these shortcomings. And I didn’t realize that John 3:16 is not just what brings me to salvation at one point, but it’s my entire relationship with God. Jesus did more than just make provisions to allow people to once ‑‑ to initially be saved. You know, you read Hebrews 2:18. He aids those who are tempted. Every single day, this is a ‑‑ as we say, a daily walk with Christ, and it’s all made possible because of the holy love that he gives to us. So, yeah, Jesus didn’t do what he did for fleas or hangnails on fleas.

WES: I’ve heard so many people say, over the years, that it would be better if someone drowned in the baptistry than that they get raised up and then live a life where they’re going to inevitably continue to sin in some way, that that’s the most forgiven ‑‑ I’ve heard people say things like that. “This is the most forgiven you’ll ever be,” or “the most cleansed you’ll ever be,” or “the purest you’ll ever be.” And I have preached from the pulpit multiple times that that’s nonsense, that I am as forgiven right now, as I sit here, as I was 20 years ago when I was baptized. I am just as forgiven now as I’ve ever been because of the ongoing forgiveness of Jesus, that he is, right now, my high priest. He is interceding for me, and his sacrifice is once for all, not only for all people, but for all of my sin. 

And that changes the way ‑‑ in fact, that leads me to my next question, is, how does this idea of God ‑‑ as your understanding of God, your theology, as it has continued to grow, and your appreciation of the goodness and the mercy of God, how does that affect other areas of our life? I think so often we compartmentalize our life and we think about our theology just as being our “spiritual life,” quote‑unquote, and not recognizing that, actually, our theology and having good theology, it affects every area of our life. So how has that affected you and how have you seen good theology or bad theology affect every area of people’s lives? 

MARCO: Well, I’ve definitely been on both sides of the bad and good theology. I’ve definitely been on both sides. I remember, in the week when I became a Christian, that sense of being deflated happened a couple times. I remember the first time I felt the need to avert my eyes. I felt so deflated, and I thought, there goes that purity that I had when I was baptized. There’s a version of that I first heard in Costa Rica when I was doing mission work one time. They were baptizing some people in waters that have been known to have either crocodiles or gators, whatever Costa Rica has. And they go, you know, if one of these guys gets eaten by these things, that’s the best time, you know? And I get the thought process of it, but it’s so wrong at the same time. I remember someone smashed the window of my car when I was a new Christian, the very first week. And, I mean, I had an idea of who it was, and when I tell you ‑‑ I wanted to go mafia on this guy. I remember I was so mad, and I restrained myself. I didn’t curse. I didn’t do anything that I needed to repent for, but even then I felt so deflated that, ugh, there goes that purity. Even the impulse for uncontrolled anger, I just ‑‑ there goes that, too. 

And so the way that the bad theology in this area and our view of God would affect our lives is it just robs you of the comfort of being sure of your relationship with God. I can’t even tell you how many nights I spent going, I’m just really not sure. I know that I became a Christian at one point, but I’m just not sure today. God is good all the time, but he’s not going to be so good to me if I fall short of who he is, and I absolutely fall short of who he is. So all day long, I ‑‑ here’s what this bad theology did to me. I was repenting all day long, all day long, and not because I was actually sinning that much, but any single time I thought about myself, I just thought about my weaknesses, my shortcomings, and who I was in light of who God is, and I just repented all day long. I would repent when I heard a sermon and learned something new. I mean, I was constantly in this misery. To say that that’s bad theology is honestly an understatement. It robbed me of so much joy. It’ll rob you of peace. It’ll rob you of blessings that God has for you to walk in and to enjoy but you think that those aren’t for you because, well, you’re not completely like Jesus at this point of your life. 

And so whenever I think about that, I just think praise be to God, because over time of learning and honest consideration of myself in light of God’s Word, the truth is just inevitable. My view of Christianity has gone from “It doesn’t get any better than this” to “You just have no idea how good God is. You have no idea how good he is, Marco.” And I can only imagine our Father looking at new‑Christian Marco and going, “You have no idea how good it’s going to be.” And these words are true, Wes: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Our God is so good, and the knowledge that you can ‑‑ you can know that there is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus ‑‑ I can truly say every day I am happier. Every day I am more joyful. Every single day I’m more grateful. The more I learn about who God is, I learn how good he is, and every day gets better. It truly ‑‑ it’s not just a saying that I would say to a new Christian. Every day gets sweeter. It’s the best. Our God is so, so good.

WES: Yeah. Well, I think about how timid it makes us when we are constantly afraid that God hasn’t forgiven us or that we’ve, you know, messed up too much or something like that and how we become self‑absorbed and we don’t reach out. I was thinking that it’s amazing the life to which we are called in Christ, to be courageous and to lose our life, if necessary, to not have any fear of death, but how many Christians are terrified of death or the second coming of Jesus because they’re afraid, “Oh, you know, I’m not sure.” I’ve known so many older Christians who have walked with the Lord for decades and they get to the end of their life and they’re worried, “I haven’t done enough, I’ve messed up too much. Maybe I’m not really saved,” and so they’re terrified of the judgment of God when they ought to be able to live their life with such Godly abandon, where we’re saying, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m not afraid.” 

So whether you’re young or old, we ought to be able to go to a dangerous place or we ought to be able to put our life on the line without any fear because we know, “I’m going to be resurrected to eternal life. What can man do to me?” And we’re not afraid of death because we know that our God loves us and he’s going to raise us to life. But we become so afraid and fearful and timid and self‑absorbed when it’s all about, you know, “I’ve got to make sure that I don’t make this angry God even more angry with me,” and “I’ve got to make sure that I stay on his good side,” so that we don’t live our lives with this courageous, fearless abandon where we’re not afraid of the things that the world is afraid of.

MARCO: Can I comment on that being self‑absorbed for a second? Here’s one way it’ll hold you back if you have that wrong view of God. You will become self‑absorbed, and even though you know that that’s wrong, here’s what you’ll do, and you won’t realize that you’re being self‑absorbed. You will stop yourself from being a blessing to Christians who need you. You will say, “I’m unqualified. I got all these problems. I can’t give any counsel to this person. I can’t be of any encouragement to them. I don’t even know if I should be praying for them,” or something like that. But you’ll tell yourself that you’re unqualified or you’ll do this. You’ll go, “Before I can help all them, I’ve got to help myself. I’ve got problems of my own. I’ve got my own weaknesses to sort out. So before I can help this other Christian who’s maybe a newer Christian than I am and needs someone to kind of take them by the hand, that’s not going to be me. I’ve got to find one of the perfect Christians or almost‑perfect Christians to do that.” 

So you’ll think that you’re prioritizing your relationship with God, but you’re not. You’re actually just being self‑absorbed because of this wrong idea about God, and it’s robbing you from fulfilling the second greatest commandment. So if your relationship with God is your priority, then the people around you are going to be your priority. But if you think that, you know, because you don’t have it all together, that your relationship with God is constantly in shambles, then why would you help anyone? Why would you have that impulse? So it’s a really dangerous thing to view God in this incorrect way. It’ll rob you from doing the second greatest thing we’re here to do.

WES: Yeah. Well, it’s so important that we embrace this idea that we are justified by faith in Christ. Yes, baptism is important. Yes, repentance is important. Yes, absolutely. But our loyalty, our allegiance to King Jesus is the basis on which we are saved, which means it’s not on the basis of my works. I have not done enough. I have not been good enough. I have sinned. I have fallen short. But my covenant relationship with God is based on what Jesus has done for me, and when we embrace that, then we can truly believe what Peter says, that we are a royal nation, a royal priesthood. We are a royal priesthood that ‑‑ to your point, I am a priest. I am a holy priest in the Lord. I can serve in the name of the Lord and do these good works in the name of the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, not because I’m perfect, not because I’ve attained some status or because I’ve done everything right, but because of who he is, because he’s gracious and merciful. 

And it does ‑‑ it changes the way that we love people day in and day out and what we do and our courage and our willingness to do those things, because it’s not about us; it’s about them and it’s about the Lord and it’s about our opportunity to connect them to the Lord and to be a conduit for the blessings of God, and that all comes down to having right theology.

MARCO: Yeah, it is so incredibly important. You know, there’s a way that you can answer this correctly, but if you were to ask someone, like, “Why are you saved?” If the answer is all “I” and “me,” then you’re answering the wrong way. Maybe you can say, “Well, I have received, you know, forgiveness,” you can do it that way. Again, there’s a way to do it, I guess, but the reality is it should be 99.9%, if not 100%, “Because this is what God did. This is what God did through Christ for me.”  And I ‑‑ again, I’m not, you know, preaching Calvinism or something like that, but I obviously have a responsibility to, you know, decide to be in a relationship with God, however you want to put that, you know, to have the faith ‑‑ grace through faith, absolutely. But who is responsible for the victory? Who is responsible for the joy? Who is responsible for that? It’s God. It’s totally God, and it’s not even close. It’s not even close. 

Thankfully, God does not have perfection as a requirement. God goes, “No, I know you’re not perfect. That’s why Jesus came to the Earth. It’s because of that, so I can work with that both before you’re a Christian and while you are a Christian. I am powerful enough.” I wish there were a verse in the Bible that said, “My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” There is! And what a beautiful idea! God says, “You’re weak, you’re imperfect, you have all these problems. I can do something with that. I can do amazing things with that!” I mean, what joy! Oh man, I feel so much excitement whenever I think about that idea. God can do something with me despite me! Despite me!

WES: Yeah, we don’t realize, I think, sometimes that our bad theology, our workspace theology, our legalistic theology, it robs God of glory and gratitude and thanksgiving, that it’s like if a parent or an uncle or a grandparent gave someone an inheritance of a million dollars or this huge estate, if the person who received that inheritance ‑‑ and of course they had to sign on the dotted line, they had to ‑‑ whatever it was that they had to do to receive the inheritance, if they said, “Well, why do you have this inheritance,” and they said, “Well, because I did all of the legal requirements to get my inheritance.” Like, no, that’s not why you have this inheritance. You have this inheritance because you have a gracious, a benevolent, a generous benefactor who gave this to you. That’s why you have it, because of their character, because of their nature, so that they get all the glory, so that they get all the credit. We can’t even take a minuscule amount of credit for receiving a gift that was given to us. Yes, of course we had to receive it. Yes, of course we had to put our faith in Jesus, but that’s just a matter of responding in faith to the offer that’s been made to us. And I think sometimes we don’t recognize that that’s what we’re doing. When we get all wrapped up in, “Well, I did this and I did this,” and, “Well, have I done all of these things,” and, “Well, I didn’t do this and I haven’t been perfect in that way,” we’re robbing God of his glory and the gratitude that’s due him.

MARCO: Yeah, but Wes, I used my very best pen to sign the thing, and I made sure my writing was super clear, the most beautiful cursive I’ve ever used in my life. Doesn’t that count for something? That’s what I sound like when I start to put the blame ‑‑ or not the blame, but the glory starts to come to me, or I start to put the pressure, everything on my shoulders. I go, well, I guess I better bring out my very best pen, or I guess I better make sure my words, my letters are super clear and legible. It just sounds so silly when you think about it, but, again, you’ve got to be thinking about what God has done, what he is doing, otherwise you’re going to fixate on what you see, and what you see is mainly what you’re doing. So I get why people come to that point and why they stay there. The clear solution is you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to fixate, you’ve got to focus more on who God is and what he has done, and you’ll understand what he does, even today.

WES: Yeah. Let’s kind of switch gears just a little bit. We’re talking about the mercy of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness and the pardon that God gives, but what about his wrath? What about his judgment? It’s undeniable that that’s part of the character and the nature of God. It’s hard to read. It’s interesting you said the Old Testament really helped you change your mind on the character and nature of God because so many people especially read the Old Testament and they say, “Well, what about his wrath? What about his anger? What about his judgment?” And, to me, I think that this is pivotal to good news. It’s part of the good news of who God is. But let’s talk about that for a second. What about his wrath and his judgment is pivotal to understand the character and the nature of God?

MARCO: Well, you know, if Marco from, let’s say, eight years ago would have been listening to our conversation, I would have been saying, when are they going to talk about wrath? When are they going to talk about punishment? I mean, you better talk about the other side, otherwise you must not believe in that, or something like that, and that’s very silly to think about that. But sometimes I would think like it’s a liberal ‑‑ past Marco would say that where Marco is today is at this liberal extreme that ignores God’s judgment and wrath, but that is so far from the truth. God’s judgment and wrath are the very basic and sobering reminder that God always has been, and God is still serious about sin. We ought to ‑‑ every single Christian ought to understand this, and it is a sobering thing. God is so serious about sin. You read passages like Psalm 5:4. God hates sin. God won’t dwell with sin. He doesn’t take pleasure in it. He doesn’t like it at all. And there are also ‑‑ we have to acknowledge this openly, too. There are countless people in scripture, and countless, to me, that have died because of their sin, that God brought about their death because of their sin. 

You know, on the channel, I’m doing lots of apologetic work, and that’s something that comes up a lot from atheists that I talk to. They go, “What about all these people that God killed because they were bad?” And it’s so interesting when you think about that. They claim that God is this moral monster because of his wrath, but the reason is often because of their ‑‑ the reason why they think that is because they have this limited and subjective human morality, and God has to line up with their morality. The infinite mind of God has to align with atheist YouTube commenters’ morality. And I’ve seen, because of that, many Christians try to downplay the severity of God ‑‑ Romans 11:22, “the goodness and severity of God.” I’ve seen them try to downplay the severity of God to make him more palatable to people, and I’ve seen that, and I think, no, don’t do that. God’s judgment and his wrath, they’re crucial elements of understanding why he does what he does. You can’t downplay that and go, well ‑‑ and people try to do the Old Testament/New Testament thing, and let’s understand this right. 

The God of heaven and Earth hates sin and he will punish sin, and when you downplay that part of God, you are indirectly, if not directly, leading people to be more comfortable with sin. I should have ‑‑ and I aspire to have this in my own life ‑‑ the same discomfort that Jesus had towards sin, and I know I’m not there, but I want to be more and more uncomfortable with sin. And so what I tell people ‑‑ when I downplay God’s wrath and his judgment, I’m doing something that is the opposite of the heart of God and how he feels about sin. So everything I see God do has to be seen with the partial thought that ‑‑ at least partially, if not majorly, that he is acting out of his hatred for sin. In fact, you could probably very easily make the case you can connect that to everything that he does; it’s out of his hatred for sin. Where people start to get this wrong is the way they ‑‑ I guess the best way to say it is, what does hatred for sin look like? A lot of the time we kind of apply that in one way. But does that kind of make sense, what I’m saying here?

WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, it does. And what’s so interesting, to kind of go back to the idea of the skeptic or the atheist who is angry at God for being angry, or angry at God for his wrath and looking at the God of the Bible and saying, “Well, that God can’t possibly exist, or if he does, he’s a moral monster” ‑‑ what’s so interesting is that the same skeptics will seem to ask ‑‑ when there is a school shooting or when there is some horrible thing that happens, they’ll ask, “Well, where was God? Why doesn’t God do something about the evil in the world?” And that’s so interesting, that when God does something about the evil in the world and punishes evil people, we say, “Oh, well, that’s a mean God and that’s wrong and he shouldn’t be like that,” and then when God doesn’t do something about the evil in the world and he allows evil to go, at least from our viewpoint, unchecked, then we say, “Well, that’s an apathetic God and that’s horrible and I can’t believe God would be that way.” 

And what’s interesting is that scripture deals with this. It deals with all of this, where sometimes the psalmist, especially, will be saying, “God, where are you? Why don’t you show up? Why don’t you deal with this? Why do you allow evil people to continue doing what they do?” And the good news is that God will deal with all of the evil in the world. I think about the things that Jesus told his disciples to do, like turn the other cheek and go the extra mile and love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. The only way we can do that and live out the instructions of Jesus is if we really believe that someday God will deal with all of the evil in the world, that God will punish the evildoer, that he will punish the wicked. Otherwise, we should just go take vengeance for ourselves. We should just go and punish all of the wicked people if they’re just gonna get away with it. But because we believe that God does take sin seriously and that he will set everything right, then we can turn the other cheek. We can pray for our enemies. We can love our enemies if we really, truly believe that God really takes sin seriously and that he is even more angry about it than we are.

MARCO: Yeah. To connect this to what we were saying earlier, the recognition of my inadequacy is actually one of the most liberating things in my life, and it’s caused me to have such a great trust in God who knows what he is doing. And when I realize that God knows what he is doing and I accept my inadequacy, life, in a certain sense, becomes so easy because all I’ve got to do is trust God. And, obviously, that takes me to difficult places, and there’s something to be said about that, but all I have to do is trust God, so that might lead to action in certain areas or just holding back, peace‑be‑still kind of things, trusting him when I think about maybe my non‑Christian family and how all that works ‑‑ all I have to do is trust that my God, Isaiah 55:8‑9, that he knows what is best. His ways are not just different than mine; they’re higher. His thoughts and his ways are higher than my thoughts and my ways. So it’s such a liberating thing to look at God as the one whose understanding is infinite, in Psalm 147. I can trust him, and that ‑‑ actually, knowing that I’m so inadequate and all I’ve got to do is trust God, that’s such a liberating thing, but I can see why that’s hard for people to do who are not thinking in spiritual but in carnal terms, because it’s hard to let go of your own sense of morality if you’re not really sold on God, if that makes sense.

WES: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And that is what it is to be a Christian or to be part of the family of God, is to, as you said, trust him, and that’s hard. And I think it’s good for us to acknowledge when that’s hard or when it seems like God is being harsh or when it seems like God is being apathetic, and scripture gives us permission to say, “Hey, God, this is how I’m feeling. I’m feeling like this is really harsh. And why can’t I do this thing that I want to do or why did this thing happen or why aren’t you doing anything and why don’t you fix these problems in the world?” And over and over and over again, the scriptures teach us to wait for the Lord, wait for the Lord, wait for the Lord. And we have to be convinced ‑‑ and I think that’s why the cross has to be at the center of our theology. The cross teaches us that God, one, takes sin seriously, for sure. But number two, that God is good and that he is gracious and merciful and he loves us. And if we’re convinced of the goodness of God, we’re convinced that he really will set everything right, then we can wait for the Lord and we can be patient and we can trust him, even if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime, that God will do all of the things he’s promised to do.

MARCO: Yeah, the statement “God is serious about sin,” it often gets translated into, “God can’t wait to punish you,” and that’s not the right translation. That’s not who God is. And it is an overreaction to that mindset that causes people to downplay the judgment and the wrath of God, in my experience, because they have this idea that God is serious about sin; that means he can’t wait to punish you. And that’s not ‑‑ the better Biblical position and approach, in my mind, is God is so serious about sin that he sent his own Son to save you from it, and after having been saved, he continues to aid you in your daily life in spite of your imperfections. So just trust him, knowing that you are inadequate. He doesn’t want to punish you ‑‑ 2 Peter 3:9, he’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. That’s what God wants. And so God being serious about sin does not directly translate to, he just can’t wait to punish you. No. In fact, if you look at how he acted in his seriousness towards sin, you see something very, very different than such a limited mindset like that.

WES: Yeah. Well, there’s a couple stories to kind of go with that theme that you’re bringing out there, and even to go back to the idea of God killing people in scripture, God putting people to death. You know, we’ve got Nadab and Abihu, we’ve got Uzzah.  Nadab and Abihu were these priests who offered strange fire and God struck them dead. Uzzah was part of transporting the Ark on a cart, and the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to fall and he reached out and touched the Ark of the Covenant and he was struck dead. And so we have these stories, and for me, growing up, preachers, Bible class teachers, we read these stories a lot and these stories, for some people, they may be some obscure story in the Old Testament they’ve never even heard of before. They don’t know who Nadab and Abihu are. They don’t know who Uzzah was, and so they’re just obscure stories, but for me, where I grew up and how I grew up, for a lot of the churches I was in, these stories got emphasized a lot so that they became sort of central for my theology and I did think about God’s wrath that way, that I thought, well, God is just waiting for me to accidentally reach out and touch the Ark. He’s waiting for me to accidentally offer some strange fire and God is going to punish me. He’s waiting for me to step out of line. He’s like a police officer that’s set a speed trap and he’s just waiting for me to go over the speed limit even one mile an hour so that he can punish me. 

So do you think that these stories ‑‑ obviously, they are stories of things that God did, but do you think they get emphasized in the wrong ways or emphasized to the exclusion of other stories or they become too central in our theology? How do you think we should think about stories like that?

MARCO: Yeah, if you take a lot of those stories ‑‑ I mentioned the God can’t wait to punish you, the overreaction to that that causes people to downplay his wrath. There’s another side to that, where there are those who see people downplaying God’s wrath, and so then they go to an extreme and they go, “We need to harp on Leviticus 10 constantly. We need to harp on the story of Uzzah constantly.” And, honestly, I found myself in that camp for a while, where I thought, because there’s so many people downplaying his wrath, I need to just hammer this constantly. And, again, it led to ‑‑ it contributed to an already limited mindset on God because that’s not who God is, to just reduce him to Leviticus 10, to reduce him to the story of Uzzah. 

I was thinking about it in terms like this. You know, I have two daughters. Parents ‑‑ and even though my daughters are both young, they’re both baby toddlers, parents have to discipline their kids in some way, whatever that way is. And I remember this thought, as a kid, towards my parents: All you want to do is punish me. All you want to do is punish me. And, typically, that statement would come from a lack of perspective, but it also would come from this hyperfixation on myself when I didn’t get what I wanted. And so I would just straw‑man almost who my parents were and say, “All they want to do is punish me.” And I used to be so jealous of kids in school, growing up, whose parents did not punish them ever, whose parents had no rules, they got to do whatever they wanted, no limitations. I thought, those are the good parents. I mean, come on. If only my parents would talk to those parents once, they would know those are the good parents. And now I realize those were not the good parents, and I am not jealous of the kids who had those kinds of parents. 

And when you connect this back to God, you gain a way better perspective in this way. If you were to line up all the instances of God’s severity in the Old Testament up against all the instances of him dealing out extraordinary amounts of goodness and mercy, it would blow you away because God has actually given us a perspective of how to understand who he is and what he does all throughout scripture. In Exodus 20, the giving of the Ten Commandments, there’s that famous line where he says, “I’m a jealous God visiting the iniquities,” but he also says, “but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.” So the God who just said, “I’m a God of wrath, I punish, and I’ll punish for a long time,” he also says, “but I show mercy to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.” 

So if I can find, Biblically, just one person in the Bible who was clearly flawed but God showed them mercy, I can prove to you that you can be so flawed and still be one who loves God and keeps his commandments in his eyes, and that gives you incredible perspective. And that phrase in Exodus 20, it’s in Exodus 34, it’s all throughout the Old Testament, it’s in other places, as well ‑‑ it’s a really repeated passage in scripture, and it makes it clear to you that the overwhelming majority of the instances of God’s wrath and severity, they’re also evidence of his mercy, because in so many situations, the consequence could have and should have been way worse than what they got. And so a lot of times people just boil it down to what the punishment was, and they go, “Look how severe God is,” but let’s remember, let’s not get it mistaken here, God could have and was willing, at one point, to finish Israel and just start again with Moses. And the fact that you can read that and then go one chapter later and Israel still exists? That’s God’s mercy on every single part of the page. And so, a lot of the time, we kind of build this straw man or we’re way too reductionist about these acts of wrath. They’re actually incredible examples of mercy on the part of God and goodness on the part of God.

WES: Yeah. Yeah, I’m so glad that you brought up Exodus 34. I’m going to read this ‑‑ I’m going to read that whole passage, verses 6 and 7. It says, “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.'”

It’s so interesting, when we read that passage, that both of those aspects, the judgment of God and the mercy of God ‑‑ both are obviously represented, but to say that they’re balanced would, I think, be the wrong way to put it because they’re not really balanced as if they’re a one‑to‑one equation. Like God has wrath and judgment, and he also has mercy and grace, and you’ve got to have both. And it’s true, you do have to have both, but not in equal measure, that he is far more gracious and merciful than he is punishing, that it’s a thousand to three or four. He is forgiving to thousands and he is wrathful, or he is judging and punishing three or four generations, and it’s not a one‑to‑one equation. 

And I think you’re exactly right. I’m so glad that you said that, so often, the sort of emphasizing of Nadab and Abihu or the emphasizing of Uzzah and God’s wrath is an overreaction to the perceived liberalism or the perceived overemphasis of mercy and grace. And I hear preachers say things like that, “Well, that church over there, they just talk about love all the time,” or “They just talk about mercy all the time.” And, yeah, that very well may be the case, and we certainly don’t want to de‑emphasize the horrible nature of sin. We don’t want to ignore sin and use grace as a license for sin. Absolutely, that can and does happen, but we’ve got to be so careful that we’re not trying to put the judgment of God as a one‑to‑one comparison of his mercy and his grace, that he is far more ‑‑ I’m so glad that you put it that way, that if you put all of the passages in the Old Testament of God being gracious and merciful, they would far outweigh those times where he does have wrath and he does judge and he does punish, and those are both aspects that we need to talk about and emphasize, but not in the same kind of way.

MARCO: Yeah. Actually, I have a good example for the idea that it’s not one‑to‑one. If you read through Judges ‑‑ you know, I mentioned if you can find one flawed person who God showed mercy to, then I can prove that you can be flawed and still love God and be a keeper of his commandments in his eyes. In Judges, they’re in this vicious cycle of sin, consequences, crying out, God gives a judge, delivers them, time of peace, and then rinse and repeat, basically. And in Judges chapter 3, that whole cycle is happening, and then God gives deliverance in Othniel, and then he blesses them with rest for 40 years. After that time, they go back into sin, and then they’re under Moabite oppression, under Eglon, and then they cry out for God’s help. He sends Ehud. And after they experience deliverance under Ehud, how long do you think now God gives them deliverance for? Would it be less time? Does God say they need some probationary period? “Prove to me, give me a couple years of faithfulness, then I’ll do” ‑‑ God doubles the amount of rest from 40 to 80 years. So why would God do that? Were they just so exceptionally good this time, so good at being delivered this time or something like that? No. God is just that good and he wants to bless that much. Why double it? Maybe God is just so good that he is willing to double his blessings to help you see the joy of living for him, and hopefully, that will keep you from leaving him and experiencing sin, suffering, and wrath in the future. It’s nowhere near one‑to‑one. God literally doubles his blessings on people who deserve way, way less than any of that.

WES: Wow, that’s fantastic. Let me ask you this as we’re closing. It’s so funny that we’re having this conversation because I was just asked by somebody here recently who said if Jesus and God were together from the beginning, meaning God, the Father ‑‑ if Jesus and the Father were together from the beginning, why is the God of the Old Testament so different from the God of the New Testament? Obviously, that’s a question that people have been wrestling with and thinking through for a couple thousand years now. So how would you respond to that ‑‑ or how do you respond to that when you get questions like that, sort of pitting the, quote‑unquote, “God of the Old Testament” against the, quote‑unquote, “God of the New Testament”?

MARCO: Yeah, good cop/bad cop, something like that. You know, I have an answer for the question, but I also reject the premise of the question. It just depends what they mean by this sometimes. Sometimes people are saying, “Why does God handle things differently?” And I think that’s a different question than “Why is God so different?” You know, there’s something to be said about God treating them differently in application but not in terms of his character. And God’s promise was to bring the Messiah through Abraham’s seed, and Jesus isn’t coming into the world through the seed of Abraham if they get picked off in the wilderness by enemy nations, if they have large amounts of people dying from eating certain foods or animals that are more dangerous than others, if they’re playing fast and loose with their sexual relationships, they’re intermingling with other nations, if they’re getting each other fatally ill because they’re touching rotting corpses and then their hands are dirty and they handle other situations like that. But, also, if rebellion after rebellion, civil wars, essentially, in Israel are just allowed to happen whenever people feel like it, Messiah is not coming through Abraham’s seed. They’re not going to last very long. If the people are not going to be held accountable for the disrespect of God’s holiness, they’re not going to make it, either. To harken back to Nadab and Abihu, for example, that’s what God says: “By those who come near me, I must be regarded as holy. If you’re going to make it, you have to regard me as holy. Before all the people, I must be glorified.” So God was certainly more severe physically, you can say, in the Old Testament, in part, for those reasons. They needed to be alive. You can talk about that stuff. 

But here’s where I reject the premise. Was God any more or less loving then? No. Was God more or less merciful back then? Was he more or less serious about sin? Was he more serious or less serious? Absolutely not. So sometimes we take one form of application and make the corresponding principle, like, exclusive to that kind of application, that form of discipline, you could say, when a principle can be applied many ways or a characteristic of God’s nature can be applied many ways. So, with God, we need to take the whole of what he did to more accurately understand his nature and the underlying reasons for the kind of application ‑‑ or the kind of treatment that he dealt out, because you’ve got to remember, again, God could have wiped them out, but he didn’t. So the application ‑‑ you can’t just look at, you know, instances of wrath and say that’s less love. No, no, no. All these things come together and you’ve got to get to know God to understand that part, his nature and the underlying reasons for the application of all of that. Does that kind of make sense?

WES: Yeah, I think that’s a perfect answer. I think that’s a great way to put it, that God hasn’t changed, but that he’s dealing with it in a new way, but his character ‑‑ and that’s, I think, the argument that the apostles made over and over again, that the cross and what God has done is perfectly in keeping with the scriptures. And when the apostles talk about the scriptures, they’re talking about the Old Testament scriptures. They didn’t see any contradiction. They saw, oh, of course, this is exactly the sort of thing that our God would do. Of course our God is gracious. Of course our God is merciful. And not only does he want to rescue Israel, because he’s been rescuing Israel for thousands of years, but surprise, surprise, he also wants to rescue the Gentiles. He wants to rescue the world. And we see that as we look through the, quote‑unquote, “Old Testament scriptures,” as well. We see, over and over again, God’s concern is for all humanity and that the seed of Abraham was going to

bless all of the nations, not just Israel. And, yeah, I so appreciate you helping us to see the grace and the mercy of God in both the Old and New Testaments.

MARCO: Yeah, I love that you said that, that the prophets and the apostles, they understood this about God. It’s us that try to stereotype God in the Old Testament and boil him down to something that ‑‑ he’s way more than that. He’s way more than the instances of judgment and wrath, for example. We have such a good God. 

I think about Psalm 23, and one of the biggest reasons why it’s such a beloved and famous psalm is that beautiful, like, culmination in verse number 6, that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” People love the feeling they get when they think about how good God is, and my Shepherd leads me in goodness and mercy. So we have to ‑‑ as such a crucial part of God’s nature, we have to look at everything that he does through that lens. That is who he is. God is love, and we’ve got to look at him in that way, the goodness and the mercy that I get. As someone that ‑‑ I identify with Israel so much, and God blesses me and he shows his goodness to me like he did to them, and what a good God. What a good God.

WES: Yeah. Amen. I think that’s a great place to stop. Marco, thank you for this conversation, but more importantly, thank you for the work you’re doing in the kingdom, Brother.

MARCO: Likewise, man, I appreciate you very much. 

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