The number one phrase that makes me question whether someone has opened a Bible lately is “The God of the New Testament is loving and forgiving, but the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and demanding.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it and read it.
In fact, there’s a lot of love and forgiveness in the Old Testament. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”—which for the record doubles as an instance in the Bible where God is compared and described in traditionally feminine rather than masculine terms. God shows forbearance time and time again in the Old Testament despite the Israelites going astray. And after God has punished them for their transgressions, He is quick to forgive. The prophets of the Old Testament, who pronounce judgment upon Israel, always end on the note that God will restore His people. The last words of Amos are:
“…I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
and they shall never again be plucked up
out of the land which I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
There’s also a good amount of wrath and demands in the New Testament. In Luke and Matthew, respectively, Jesus preaches the following:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!”
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
You’d almost think the OT and NT were written about the same God. On a related note, Jesus talks about hell a decent amount too. Yes, Gehenna is a reference to hell. No, Jesus is not literally talking about your soul going to a burning trash pit outside Jerusalem in the afterlife. Yes, Jesus uses imagery to help his listeners understand the gravity of the situation.
Sheol/Hades (in Hebrew/Greek) is more ambiguous, mostly because our understanding of the word hell, which is an English word, is much narrower than it used to be. Rather than referring exclusively to the realm of the eternally damned, hell was used generally to refer to the abode of the dead, both good and evil. The CCC gives a good summary:
Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.