Is God bipolar? Can the same God be gracious and angry, forgiving and strict? A comedian said, “My wife likes to play a game with me every morning: Guess what mood I’m in today?” He said, “I always lose that game…” Is God like that? Does He flip back and forth between warmth and wrath? Or, is the Old and New Testament written about two different Gods?
Mr. Bigelow taught math at my high school. Best teacher I ever had. He could draw a perfect isosceles triangle or circle behind his back without looking while keeping his attentive and steely gaze fixed on the whole classroom. If you wanted to learn how math worked, there was very little that Old Man Bigelow would not do for you; he’d spend hours with you, making sure you saw how interesting and elegant the complexities of math could be. But if you were in his class to disrupt it in any way… watch out! Same guy – two very different responses. He was not bipolar; he was passionate to teach.
After God rescued the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, He gave them a choice:
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)
Much of how God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament is due to those people repeatedly making the wrong choice. The Old Testament is a record of how hopelessly rebellious we humans tend to be. If you feel angry to read that, ready to argue and say that we are not rebellious and that God should not act like that, your attitude proves the point. We are hopelessly rebellious; we tend to want to decide for ourselves what is right to do. Inevitably, we make the wrong choices.
But God still reaches out for us, ready to forgive us and fix us. But even the way in which He reaches out to us through Jesus may seem a bit bipolar. That is because God’s character is a perfect mixture of love and justice. In justice, He requires full punishment for our rebellion. In love, He pays the penalty for our rebellion Himself! He accepts the curse, to give us the blessing. (For a fuller explanation, see: What’s Love (and Justice) Got to Do With It?)
If we refuse His offer to pay for our sin, we experience God’s wrath and justice. But if we accept His gift and receive His forgiveness, the same God pours out His love and grace upon us.