Some readings of the Bible can give the idea that somewhere between the Testaments, God switched from being a vengeful God to a loving God. There is even an ancient heresy called Marcionism that states the God of the Old Testament was a tyrant or demiurge, distinctly separate from the God of the New Testament, who is loving, kind and merciful.
Even though some passages might give this idea, we must remember that it is extremely far from the truth. There do not exist two different Gods in salvation history, but one God who has been leading his people closer to him ever since the Garden of Eden. He is and always has been a merciful God, looking out for us and calling us back to him.
Saint John Paul II dedicated an entire section in his encyclical Dives in Misericordiato the merciful love of God in the Old Testament and expertly laid out this truth.
In this way, mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection nevertheless love is ‘greater’ than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice – this is a mark of the whole of revelation – are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His mercy.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, here are five quotes from the Old Testament that highlight God’s merciful love and help show how he continues to call us to wash ourselves clean in the unfathomable depths of his mercy.
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)
At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built. (Jeremiah 31:1-3)
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and repents of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)
Nevertheless in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them; for you are a gracious and merciful God. (Nehemiah 9:31)
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)