I think it is fitting at the start to speak of the goodness and kindness of God. For it may seem a grievous thing that the severity of God’s judgments fills the Bible so much, but, it is really a good thing. It shows that the Lord is loving enough and patient enough to warn sinners many times before finally acting against them. But God desires that everyone might escape “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” He had Amos admonish Israel, “Prepare to meet your God.” and had Paul warn his hearers, “But now He commands that all people everywhere should repent, because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world. . .” If God was unkind or as cruel as his vicious critics blasphemously say of him, he would have kept his wrath to come a secret, leaving man unaware and unprepared for eternity of “weeping and gnashing of teeth in everlasting fire where their worm never dies.” Nor would he have sent His Son to redeem man at the cost of his very life if he was unkind or cruel by nature.
No. It is not God but it is man who is cruel or unkind by nature. “Their throat is an open tomb. With their tongues they have used deceit. The poison of vipers is under their lips whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways. The way of peace, they haven’t known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”(Romans 3:13-18)
Considering the permanence of the torments that awaits the sinner, God’s many warnings and the examples of judgment He executed, such as on Sodom and Gomorrah (unbelievers) or on those in the Wilderness He led out of Egypt (his people), shows us how seriously God wants us to fear his judgments for sin. “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” David wrote, “My flesh trembles for fear of you. I am afraid of your judgments.” (Ps. 119:120) Jesus gave his own disciples reason to fear God by saying to them, “I tell you, my friends, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear. Fear him, who after he has killed, has power to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Luke 12:4-5).
God has not only warned over and over about it, but He has also made available a way of escape. That’s the Gospel message – Turn back to God and put faith in His Son, whom He delivered over to death for the offenses that bring His wrath. It is by this that God most demonstrated his love for us. His resurrection ensures that we might also live again as Jesus does.
To find fault with such a God because of the great judgments He has sent upon sinful man like the Flood or the torments to come for the wicked is really a desire to justify our own selves in our sins and to condemn God for his divine justice. It’s an attitude that might even be found in the best of us. God praised Job to Satan, yet finally had to confront Job at the end of his long bitter trials, saying, “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?”
I don’t think Job would have ever believed he was capable of “condemning God that he might be justified” back when he was “the greatest man in the East,” secure within that hedge of blessing God had placed all around him. That came out of him in his trials. It had been sitting there, a hidden thing within Job, unknown and unimaginable by him, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?” But God knew it. It remained buried in the depths of his heart until God put him into the furnace of affliction – a crucible to drive to the surface the worthless ore of his self-justification.
But Job also had gold, bound up with the ore as it might have been, for he testified of himself, “But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” The passage may have been what Peter had in mind when he wrote, “though now for a little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in various trials, that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” James says the same thing in his book. Job’s gold was his faith. It led to his monumental repentance in the last chapter of his book, “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” His desire for self-justification against what he thought was God’s unfair treatment was finally and permanently driven from his soul by the dealings of the God who loved him.
Affliction is deeply connected to our topic of God’s Judgment of our ways. Jesus chastens us that whatever deeds or secret things in us that are displeasing to him might be judged now, in this life, for the purpose of cleansing them away by repentance so there is no spot or wrinkle on us on that Day. John the Baptist called it “his winnowing fan” by which “he will thoroughly cleanse his floor.” Jesus gathers his true people, the wheat, who, “when they are tried come forth as gold” from those who are chaff, workers of iniquity, the tares, among the wheat as members of churches, but not members of the family of God. They do not seek the grace to endure temptation, testings and chastenings that “arise for the Word’s sake” but fall away because of them.
God’s treatment of Job is not unusual for the righteous, except perhaps in its suddenness and severity. Psalm 11 v.5 tells us he tests the righteous. There are many cases recorded: For example, David was persecuted by Saul. Peter was sifted as wheat. God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac; Joseph, about whom Psalm 105 says that he, “was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word [the dream that his family would pay him homage] came: the word of the Lord tested him.” Or Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32, “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” That’s the point of all testing – to know what’s in our hearts, i.e., by our doing or not doing the deeds that trials and temptations pressure us to do.
Are we being tested? God is examining us. Are we under judgment? God seeks our repentance. Are we being afflicted? God is “perfecting that which concerns us,” in this case, to work patience (or endurance) in us. That’s what Paul says, “tribulation works patience;” and James says “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Jesus says “affliction arises for the Word’s sake.” Hebrews 12 tells us that “For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.”And “if we lack his chastening we don’t belong to him but are illegitimate.” Jesus told the Laodiceans, “Those whom I love I rebuke and chasten.” We often say “Jesus loves you” but do we include his chastenings in that love or do we leave that out even though it’s one of the chief ways He proves it? But, how often anymore is this aspect of God’s love spoken of from the pulpits? Paul boasted in his infirmities but who does that today? Praise God for preachers who declare the whole counsel of God, but we must beware of teachers, no matter how famous, who seem to have little use for the Bible’s “unpleasant” truths.
We need Jesus to love us enough to judge us “so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” A sign that he does not love someone is if he does not chasten them for their sins. It means he has handed them over to their lusts. They might even prosper in them. (See Ps 73.) This is the worst condition possible – happy in one’s sins. Hebrews goes on to tell us the critical reason for his chastening: God wants us to “be partakers of his holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord.” We mustn’t “take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when we are reproved by him” since he does this with our good in mind. We must trust the Lord to do right by us, nor, as 1 Corinthians 10 says, to allow more than we can bear. For this we must be thankful and patient, “for every man shall bear his own burden” that God places on him for as long as necessary. Just ask Paul about that thorn.
Jesus, our beloved, compassionate High Priest “rushes to the aid of the tempted,” having personally experienced them himself. Therefore, he counseled, not only Peter, but us as well, to “pray that you do not enter into trial.” It’s also the closing request in the Our Father he gave us to pray. It’s for our benefit. Hopefully, we’ve been paying enough attention to what’s recorded in the Bible to grasp that counsel with hoops of steel to our hearts. Certainly it’s impossible to have all testing eliminated, for as Peter said, there may be need of them; and God (as we are so fond of quoting) will supply all our needs. But, praying that prayer regularly means that trials and temptations that might otherwise come won’t. No sense of going through more than we have to by neglecting a simple prayer that God is willing to answer. “We have not because we ask not.”
After Job repented God closed the interrogation from the whirlwind. In those trials, God had done what Jesus tells us of, “For there is nothing hidden, except that it should be made known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light.” The revealing of what is hidden happens either now, as it did with Job, leading to “repentance unto life,” or later, on the day of Judgment, to the wicked leading to their eternal condemnation.
God’s dealings with the righteous are different than with the wicked. The trials may be of the same type (death in the family, loss of job, sudden sickness, etc). These are common to man. Through them the wicked show themselves wicked. They, like those in Revelation 16, blaspheme God who has the power over the afflictions and judgments but don’t repent and give him glory. The righteous however, do repent and give thanks to God for his care though these be grievous things to bear. Remember, God is driving out the worthless from the gold of our faith so that we may have great treasure stored up for eternity. Paul says that “our momentary light afflictions are not to be compared with the glory to come.” If we “set our affections on things above,” we can see this truth with the eyes of faith. Paul certainly did in 2 Cor. 12 where he says when he was weak [from “the thorn in the flesh”], then he was strong. If they’ve served their purpose they can be lifted from us.
Christians must also understand and testify of God that he does not enjoy punishing man. He wants them to have eternal life. ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ez.33:11). Jeremiah tells us, “For he does not afflict nor grieve the sons of men from his heart.” (Lam. 3:33). Paul says that God “desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4) Peter says “the Lord is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9b).
The best way to see it is from the beginning. God spent six days preparing a Paradise for man to live in. In it there was no pain or lack. God pronounced it all “very good,” in keeping with his good nature. In it were delights forevermore to be enjoyed by innocent, harmless people made in the image and likeness of God. Man would have never been threatened with a Gehenna prepared for the Devil and his angels had we obeyed. Perhaps we would have never even known of its existence or its eternal prisoners who once were innocent, glorious beings themselves. To what purpose would there be a Day of Judgment for sinless beings? None. If you removed all statements about judgment from the Bible how much of it would be left? Would there be a reason for its writing if man obeyed the Lord?
Of course, all that’s the ideal, the hypothetical; but we’re dealing with the real. Moral creatures have sinned, both angels and men. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. In our case, it’s all mankind; in theirs, it seems that it was a third of them. One of them was denied redemption the other was offered it.
Tragically, His patience and reluctance to punish is too often taken as tolerance or even indifference toward the sins we might practice. However, when it comes to sin, God has no favorites; but before he judges, he strives with man to get them to repent as He did with David or the notoriously wicked king Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-18). The two most well-known Apostles knew the depths of their sins: Peter denied the Lord with oaths and curses and Paul once sought the destruction of Jesus’ disciples. The Lord’s dealings with them made them outstanding examples of the mercy He is willing to give through the Gospel. Though each of these 4 men’s evil deeds are eternally recorded in the Word, their repentance and faith ensures they will not be brought up against them on the Day of judgment. That is our hope too and it’s on the same basis of repentance and faith in Jesus.
God not only strives with man through His Word, conviction of the conscience, or if necessary, affliction; he also uses his great kindness to bring people to their senses and turn from evil (Romans 2:4). “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” and in Acts 14 Paul says “he didn’t leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from the sky and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” For these things God expects thanksgiving and obedience. Romans 1 says man is not thankful but became darkened in his heart, worshiping the creation but not its Creator. That’s what leads to his many sins for which he will be judged.
Miracles were God’s goodness even more on display. Like his natural gifts, their purpose was to lead to repentance. Jesus was compelled to condemn the people in various towns in Galilee who did not repent for the miracles done in their midst. Yet, on the Day of Judgment, they will try to use their familiarity with Him as grounds for entrance in the kingdom: “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ He will say, ‘I tell you, I don’t know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.’ (Luke 13:26-27)
How often have miraculous answers to prayer been taken by professing believers as God ignoring or even approving of them in their sins? What a tragic misreading of those Heaven-sent benefits. What Jesus said to the Galileans apply especially to all who receive such things from the gracious hand of God. May He help us to “see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts” the meaning of His dealings, whether through his Word, by conviction of conscience, affliction or His goodness and by them to live lives fitting for reward on Judgment Day.