Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

We have relatives who are not believers, and want to argue that the "harsh" God of the Old Testament could not be the same as Jesus of the New Testament. They ask, "How would a loving God wipe out whole nations, including babies. I would like to know how you respond to this question.

Dear Beth,

I know what you mean. I've often wondered the same thing.

For example, how do we reconcile Joshua 11:20 in the Old Testament with John 3:16 in the New Testament?

"For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lordhad commanded Moses" (Joshua 11:20).

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

I've tried to sort it out for many years and couldn't--until you asked your question! So, after reading your question I decided to focus on getting a satisfactory answer that had some substance and satisfaction.

Here Is How I Used To Answer The Question:

First, we cannot honestly overlay our morals, values and behaviors upon a previous generation or culture. Certainly, God's directions for Israel to destroy entire cities wiping out all men, women, children, babies and live stock was normal behavior for people in the Old Testament. The average person in Old Testament times did not question God's behavior or motives. This was just how life was lived.

That is not a very satisfying answer. I know. I didn't like it either, but it was the best that I had at the time.

Second, I told people that this was just one of God's mysteries and we must be content with not knowing until God reveals all in Heaven. I didn't much like this answer either.

Finally, I told people that when our questions are "faith-threateners," we have to stand in faith on the resurrection. Jesus cheated death and promised that if we believe in Him that we can cheat death, too.

This belief trumps my doubts about an angry Old Testament God who did things that I can't understand. Take time to read what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians 15.

Here Is How I Answer The Question Today:

God Is Immutable. He Never Changes. He Is Always The Same.

In the Old and New Testaments God can be seen acting both harshly and lovingly. In the Old and New Testament, God (Jesus) can be seen acting both harshly and lovingly. God is consistently the same in character, values and behaviors both in the Old Testament as well as in the New.

Anger and harsh behavior are always the result of judgment for sin. Compassion and love are poured out on those who are hurting and suffering.

Let me share several examples.