Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.8 A Hard-nosed God?
John 3:16,17 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
I hesitate to move on because there is something in me that worries that, because of the voices of atheistic crusaders who jump up and down about a hard-nosed God, and the lack of credible voices across the church, and the certainty that deep down many of us are still ‘bad-judgement’ orientated when it comes to God, we may suppress it and try to ignore it but deep down we do have this nagging worry that, “Well yes, God is holy and, yes, God does judge people and, yes, He does kill people – and that’s not nice.”
I remember a bunch of us parents talking once and someone was having trouble with their child and the parents generally were exchanging views and experiences and someone said, “Well I can’t remember the last time we had to discipline (name). I think once you have the discipline thing sorted it doesn’t remain an issue. Yes, it was painful for a while but now we never have trouble, we have a harmonious household.” I think if you had watched that parent and their household at one point in their family experience, you would have seen conflict and painful discipline, but now there is peace and order and they are all happy.
I remember Nicky Gumbel, instigator of the Alpha courses, telling a story of when he took his son to play football and the referee hadn’t turned up. Nicky was persuaded to referee but he didn’t know all the rules and so mayhem broke loose and bad attitudes prevailed. Eventually the proper referee turned up and took over and brought order, and peace prevailed and the boys thoroughly enjoyed playing under the discipline of a referee who knew and imposed the rules.
The point I am seeking to make is that discipline and order is necessary for peace to prevail but experience tells that it doesn’t have to be heavily imposed all the time; once it is established that is it. Thus when it comes to the Bible we find the same thing. Yes, there are times when God brings serious disciplinary judgment but those times are rare. Now I say all this because of the bad press the enemy would seek to give God in our minds – but the truth is different.
Imagine a group of terrorists is holding hostage a bunch of tourists and their country send in special forces to get them back. A fire fight takes place and terrorists are killed, but the judgment on the terrorists means freedom for the hostages. No, the terrorists were not open to reason and so stronger measures were taken. That is probably the nearest I can get with a modern example to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. One person’s judgment can be another person’s deliverance.
Now suppose a bunch of bandits overrun and take control of say, an area in Texas. The FBI turn up and try to reason with them – to no avail. The army is sent for because they are very heavily armed and proclaim resistance. When the army arrives with much greater force, the bandits would be wise to give up, surrender and leave (if that was an option), but they are foolish and so they fight the army and a number of them are killed. Someone hears that the army are going in and later that a number of the bandits were killed and mouths off about how heavy handed the American authorities were. What they didn’t know was that negotiators had sought to talk the bandits off the land for several days before the army slowly advanced with overwhelming superior power – and were then fired upon by the bandits who kept up a rain of fire until eventually the army returned fire. The loud mouth simply didn’t have the knowledge and misjudged the situation. That is what I find happens over the instance of Israel being told by God to take back the land of Canaan from awful pagan practices that included child sacrifice. We’ll come to it in one of the studies on individual judgments later on so we won’t say more here than lack of information often results in wrong assessments when it comes to this sort of thing.
Putting together all we have said in the previous seven studies who is likely to be right? The loud mouthed objector with minimal knowledge or the steady testimony of the whole Bible (it doesn’t vary it!) that God is love, God is good, God is all-wise and all-knowing and God is perfect.
We will see, when we get to look at the judgments in Genesis, a God of amazing restraint – and that is the message that comes throughout the Bible. Bear in mind what the Bible tells us about the big picture. Knowing that with free-will Sin would soon follow, the Godhead did not say, “This is a bad idea, let’s not make this world and these humans, let’s just do something else.” No, Father, Son and Holy Spirit planned how to deal with this Sin in the long term and instead of just ploughing the world and destroying every sinner in sight, they planned how to redeem any one who would use their free will to turn back to them. Hence our verses at the top today, possibly the best known verses in the Bible. God gave His own Son to redeem us and His one and only plan throughout time has been to save us – and Jesus was the way for that to happen and justice be satisfied.
God knows our frailty and hence such verses as, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Note the tenderness of the writer, John, and of the intent of the words themselves. Listen to something similar from the apostle Paul: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1) As Paul said, “God is for us” (Rom 8:31) and that is it in a nutshell. God is for us! I’ll never tire of declaring the prophet’s words from God in Ezekiel: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) It is only stubborn obstinacy that ever results in judgment.
In a world when Sin and Satan prevail to bring pain and anguish, hurt and destruction, we find a God who des not stand afar off, but one who steps down into this world to experience all that we experience – including the most hideous death possible – to say, I love you, I am for you, I am with you, I have come down to deliver you if you will have it. This is not the God if the ranting atheist; this is the God of the Bible who shares in our anxieties. Look, if as Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us (and He does!), then He feels all we feel, so He feels your worries and your anxieties and your pains and hurts. God can’t get any closer than that. Bear all this in mind throughout all the coming studies as we focus on the judgments of God. Remember the sort of God we have seen, and worship Him.