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. * Scriptures in this paper are quoted from World English Bible.
No. It is not God, it is man who is cruel or unkind by nature. As it says in Romans 3, “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.”
Considering the eternal torments that await the sinner, God’s many warnings and 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 from evil 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 for 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. In so doing we seek 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?” (Job 40:8)
I worry about a trend we Christians have in declaring to the lost, “God loves you.” I don’t question its truth but I do question what we hope they’ll take us to mean by telling them such a thing. Do we want them to infer that God is not only approachable through the Gospel, which I also agree with; but that God is also willing to meet their felt needs like happiness or their material or physical well-being? If love connotes anything generally to the minds of people it is something like those things. Warnings to the lost about eternal judgment awaiting them get pushed out completely from that kind of opening narrative.
I wonder if any Christian would accuse John the Baptist of being harsh and unloving when he said to the arriving Pharisees in Matthew 3 or crowds in Luke 3, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”Or about Jesus who told the religious leaders they were out to turn their converts into twice the children of Hell they were? Can anyone imagine our famous seeker-sensitive mega-pastors and TV evangelists calling their worldwide audiences a brood of vipers? No, even though they need to hear it. Thing is, neither Jesus nor John the Baptist were looking for donations to get themselves a gated mansion and a Rolls Royce. Nor were they out to write New York Times Bestsellers about defeating depression or low self-esteem. What they got from their message was to die as though they were enemies of the people.
It is the love of God to warn people in jeopardy about their jeopardy. To leave out the warnings because it will scare people off or anger them is to be indifferent to their peril.
But, there is a more disturbing reason for the lack of warning – modern preachers don’t believe there is any peril to come once you sign up for Jesus. Salvation is as easy as falling off a log. Passing through Judgment Day will be like pushing through a stiff turnstile into a a very nice, fun park. The only “loving thing” left to tell them anymore it seems is how to get ahead in this life. Spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, Bible meditation and obedience are actually pathways to acquiring those earthly benefits. That’s about what the American Gospel amounts to today.
There is no question the Bible speaks of the Love of God. It goes so far to say God is Love. I do not doubt either the love or kindness of God toward man. Isaiah 55 tells us that the Lord will have mercy on man and that God will abundantly pardon him. That is a picture of Love. Yet, it comes with a costly demand on the object of that love – Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. To receive the enduring benefits of God’s love is conditional on forsaking wickedness and unrighteousness.
Christians are responsible to ensure their hearers understand what the love of God for them means. That it means Christ died for their sins. That it means he seeks to save them from their sins. It is also important to include that he chasten them for their good, if need be, because of his love. 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? Good for congregations who have preachers and teachers who do. Paul warned churches he founded not to live unrighteously because they will not inherit the Kingdom of God if they do. But, that goes against the modern belief of inalienable salvation once Jesus is received. Paul apparently did not know about that or he would not have burdened them with a warning meant only for the world.
Praise God for those 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 or themselves are always blessed out of their socks. (Tip: they got that way by collecting money from all those people eager to hear about a blessing-only, never-chastening God. Oh, and there are plenty of them.)
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.” That’s something to recall the next time you hear of Christians whose life has never been anything but blessings on blessings – never afflicted, never persecuted or ostracized for their faith. They’re most likely a tare, a false brother or sister to whom God is only being kind to in this life. But, Jesus told the Laodiceans, “Those whom I love I rebuke and chasten.”
We need Jesus to love us enough to judge us “so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” If he does not chasten us for our sins, it means he has handed us over to them. Those who are in this category will even prosper in them. (See Ps 73:3-12.) This is the worst condition possible – prosperous and happy in one’s sins. It is a strong delusion sent to them by God himself.
Hebrews 12 tells 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, or, as 1 Corinthians 10 testifies, not 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 or Lazarus the beggar about those sores dogs took care of.
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 our evil that 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 intentions about the righteous are different than with the wicked. The trials may be of the same type (death in the family, loss of a job, a sudden hopeless disease, and so miserably on). 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.
The Lord’s people must also understand and testify of God that he does not enjoy afflicting or punishing man. ‘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).
He wants them to have eternal life, as Jesus made plain in John 12:50a, “ I know that His command is everlasting life.” But everlasting life is of a certain quality, and certain requirements are made of those wishing to enter it: Unless you are converted and become as a child in heart; that you are not a worker of iniquity. These things are accomplished in us through the Spirit. (Romans 8:12)
The best way to see God’s native attitude toward mankind is from how he prepared the world for them originally. It was called “Paradise,” a word meaning “pleasant park.” 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 of God.
Man would have never been threatened with a Gehenna prepared for the Devil and his angels had we all 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; 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 class of beings was denied redemption – the fallen angels; the other – man -was offered it.
Tragically, God’s patience and reluctance to punish is too often taken as tolerance or even indifference toward the sins even those that name Christ’s name might practice. However, when it comes to sin, God has no favorites. The apostle Paul warns those in churches against living evil lives, that if they do they will not inherit the kingdom. See 1 Cor. 6:10-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:8 – three witnesses of this. Or a 4th, in Revelation 21:8 at the mouth of the resurrected Jesus. Paul taught in Acts 17 that all men must repent in view of the coming Judgment of Christ at his return. “All men” includes Christians, does it not?
However, before God judges, he strives with man to get them to repent. He did that with David over the Bathsheba and Uriah scandal, 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 had sought the destruction of Jesus’s 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. It’s on the same basis of repentance and faith in Jesus that we will not have the shameful things of our past broadcast before family, friend and neighbor who may have never known of them.
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. “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 – not scorn and rebellion.
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 the Day of Judgment and for hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”