Sometime last year, I heard screaming from my son's room in the middle of the night. Jackson was five at the time and in an obvious panic. "What's wrong?" I panted out in my own frenzy. "The paintings!" he screeched.
In May of 2012, my wife and I, along with my father, dragged our three young sons through the Alte Pinakothek gallery in Munich, Germany. The protestations from my philistine children were visible (and audible) for all onlookers. The collection of 14th- to 18th-century paintings made its impression, though our children grew antsier by the minute. However, their mood changed once they saw Peter Paul Rubens' magisterial work. Their disinterest turned to fascination as they gawked at the bigger-than-life angels, demons, and skeletons. The evocative paintings had a profound and haunting impact on all my sons, especially Jackson. He was scared, and so was I.
We do no favors for God or ourselves when we lessen his severity, even in our attempts to make him acceptable to non-believers. While many of our worship songs today speak of touching and seeing God, most biblical characters did not line up for such an opportunity. Isaiah knew his life was over after seeing Yahweh. Jacob never walked the same way again. Job asked for a day in court with God and then regretted it.
God is indeed an overwhelming mystery. His severity cannot be separated from his mighty love. Although the prophets speak constantly of Yahweh's anger and judgment, they also picture him as a loving and faithful husband. After Israel's affairs, after the divorce, after the fragmentation of the covenantal relationship, Yahweh's love wins out. Not because he ceases to be severe, but because his severity is an aspect of his unending love for and faithfulness to his people, despite our sinfulness. "Having loved his own ... he loved them to the end" (John 13:1).
As long as we see the God of the Old Testament as none other than the one Christians call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then Marcion's voice will remain where it belongs—buried in the second century.
Mark S. Gignilliat is associate professor of Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School and canon theologian at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama.