This year members of the Church are studying the Old Testament. In the Old Testament we see how Jehovah is very vengeful and seems to some to not be a loving God. In the New Testament we see Jesus Christ (who is Jehovah) and how loving and kind he is. Why the stark contrast? Does it have to do with the Law of Moses vs The Higher Law?
There is no question that the Jesus of the New Testament was loving. There should be no question that the Jehovah of the Old Testament was loving as well. I think it is a mistake to judge God’s interactions with His children from our own, limited, mortal perspectives.
Elder Holland taught us how it is quite common to view New Testament teachings in a “popular down at the village love-in” light. It often seems as if many like to cherry-pick New Testament teachings for these “comfortable” and popular ideas, like loving one another, and to totally disregard the uncomfortable and harder doctrines that are taught. I quote Elder Holland further:
“And what of those who just want to look at sin or touch it from a distance? Jesus said with a flash, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off. “I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword,” He warned those who thought He spoke only soothing platitudes.”
Cutting off one’s own hand if it offend is not a very pleasant idea.
Additionally, there is, in fact, a great deal of love shown in the Old Testament. I previously addressed this here. Adding to this, I think the idea of what was once termed “tough love” has been lost a bit. Understanding that there are those who abused this idea—tough does not unequivocally equal love—I think it problematic that we seem to have lost sight of the fact in today’s culture that ofttimes a harsh response is motivated by true love, meaning a desire for the well-being of someone above potential hurt feelings.
The Old Testament sets an example for us of this in a fairly extreme manner. God loves His children all equally. He loved the Israelites in the Old Testament as purely as He loved those who hung Him on the cross. Because He loves us, He teaches us. Sometimes He teaches us by setting an example of forgiveness—something He has commanded us all to do—and sometimes He teaches us by punishing the wicked—something that we are sometimes required to do. Through all of this, He loves His children—something that we are also commanded to do. And He always set the example by doing the will of His Father. We should always do likewise.
That being said, it does seem clear that there is a contrast between the Old and New Testaments. Part of this may be because there are simply different principles being taught, but sometimes it may be a cultural misunderstanding. We need to look at the Old Testament with view that it was a different time and culture with a different view of life and the world. For example, I think we struggle in our day to see animal sacrifice beyond barbarism. But we must remember that we do not butcher our own animals for food anymore. We are mostly buffered from this our entire lives. In Old Testament times, killing animals for food was an everyday and common part of life. They would not have viewed this practice in the same way we do. And this is true of many things. We must be understanding of this cultural divide when we judge the Old Testament and the teachings within it. Part of this cultural difference, as I explained in my other response, and as you alluded to in your question, was certainly the Law of Moses.
Finally, we have to remember that the Bible is missing many plain and precious things. With that in mind, I think it best to forgive those things that we do not understand, and instead look for what is there for our benefit, what we can learn from it, and how it can draw us closer to our Father in Heaven.