"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 3

    

     

    

    

Chapter 3: The Love & Goodness of God

Chapter 3 Contents 

            
3.1 Introduction
3.2 God's Loving Forgiveness
3.3 God's Loving Goodness
3.4 Can God be Angry and Love at the same time?
3.5 To Summarise

  

  

3.1 Introduction

   

In my previous book looking into this area, ‘The Love of God in the Old Testament', I did give over two chapters to the subject of love and one to goodness, so I don't really want to completely rerun that here. Nevertheless we do need to look at these things before we go any further because perhaps, more than anything else, these characteristics fly in the face of accusations from the critics that God is a harsh God.

 

So what I intend to do is start afresh from a slightly different angle to my starting place in the previous book, with perhaps a more wider ranging approach. Because we are focusing in on God's judgments (which so often by implication have to do with sin) we will start by reflecting on the sort of God who confronts sin. What is He like?

 

     

3.2 God's Loving Forgiveness

 

According to the Bible this Creator God is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, eternal and unchanging. Those are givens you will find in any basic book on theology and so we won't take up space providing quotes for that. But when I started thinking about these things, I found I was impacted by the apostle John who declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Yes, he said it twice to make sure we took it in.

 

Now this must mean that everything that God thinks, says or does is an expression of love. It has to be! This means, therefore, that whatever we find God doing in the Old and New Testament has to be viewed through new glasses, so to speak, seeing that whatever He does is an act of love. There's a challenge!

 

Is that just a New Testament teaching I wondered? No, definitely not. Listen! Moses caught something of this when he sung with Israel, In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13) He saw the Exodus deliverance as an act of love, and that even before Israel had been constituted as a nation at Sinai. It wasn't a temporary, frail love but an unfailing love” which suggests strong and enduring.

 

But then later Moses has a particularly close encounter with the Lord and receives the Ten Commandments and we find there is a ‘love element' built into them at one point describing the Lord as, “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:6). Now that offsets the verse before it that speaks about God who is described as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex 20:5b) i.e. a God of judgment. He may punish up to four generations (and we will look at that in a later chapter) but He will bless a thousand generations.

 

At an even closer encounter a little later, the Lord describes Himself to Moses:

Ex 34:6,7 “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

 

So, yes, He is a God who deals with sins and brings judgment but the stronger emphasis is on His love AND His forgiveness. He abounds in love and He maintains His love. Somehow love and punishment sit together in this description, two aspect of the same God. In a later chapter we will look at why God punishes but at the moment we simply note that He does intervene in His world and bring punishment to sinners, those who are guilty and are unchanging.

 

We should note in passing that it did say that he forgives “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” So how does forgiveness equate with punishment. The forgiveness is there for the repentant, the punishment is there for the unrepentant.

 

As the Lord declared through Ezekiel,

 

Ezek 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” and

Ezek 18:31,32 “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel ? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” and

Ezek 33;11 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel ?”

 

THREE times there in Ezekiel the Lord makes this point. He does NOT relish death and would far rather Israel repented and were saved. This is God who longs to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” All it needs is our repentance.

 

So here is our starting place. If we are going to talk about the ‘thinking' aspects of His judgments (decisions) and the acting judgments (acts of punishment) of God, then we must first observe His character and remember from the outset that God does NOT relish bringing death but looks for opportunities to forgive wherever there is repentance.

   

     

3.3 God's Loving Goodness

 

1 Chron 16:34   Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

 

Now I did say I have written about it in my previous book but for those who perhaps have never trod this path before, we do need to ask, what does love mean? What do we mean when we say God is love?

 

Now love, according to a dictionary, might be described as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and in God it is further revealed as “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us.” Note that latter part – unrestricted good will towards us. God is for us (Rom 8:31) and wants good for us, all the time. In fact He is working in our circumstances all the time to bring good out of them (Rom 8:28)

 

We need to anchor that word ‘good'. A dictionary defines ‘good' as having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.' ‘Good' signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.

 

Moses declared of God, He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he(Deut 32:4) and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!” This was Moses' declaration. Everything that God thinks, says and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus. He is good for a character reference.

 

David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up:

•  according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD,” (Psa 25:7) and

•  Taste and see that the LORD is good, (Psa 34:8) and

•  You are forgiving and good , O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you,” (Psa 86:5) and

•  You are good , and what you do is good, (Psa 119:68) and

•  Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good(Psa 135:3)

 

David was described as a man after God's own heart, a man who had wide experience of God; he is good for a character reference. This testimony of God's goodness is repeated again and again and again by a whole variety of people in the Old Testament.

 

Now the verse above - “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever,” – links love and goodness. Goodness is an expression of love. In the many verses in the Old Testament that refer to God's goodness, they always come out of a testimony about what God HAS DONE. We know He is good because of what He has done.

 

We are starting to stack up a pile of data in respect of God which needs to be taken into account WHENEVER AND WHEREVER we observe God revealed in the Old Testament.

 

So He's a God of love and so everything but everything that He thinks says or does is an expression of warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us.

 

He is also a good God and so whatever He thinks, says or does is having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome”.  Not troublesome????  In respect of destructive judgments?  We are going to have to do some serious thinking, but that is where this is going to have to lead us.

 

If these testimonies are correct, without distorting the English language, then somehow we are going to have to see that every act that brings death or destruction comes with selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will toward us and will be done to promote health, welfare and happiness!

 

Ready to do some serious thinking? Well there is something else about God that we find in the Bible and if the definitions of love and goodness nearly blew you away, are you prepared to think about the anger of God?

 

    

3.4 Can God be Angry and Love at the same time?

 

Consider the following verses:

 

Deut 9:18-20   I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too.

 

So often, it appears, God seems to be motivated by anger. The Bible often refers to the ‘wrath of God' and wrath is just strong anger. So how does this fit with a God of love? I believe we need to understand here two things: first, that love shows itself in a number of different ways, and then, second, how emotions and rational assessment of wrong are related.

 

Different ways love can be expressed

 

Let's try and understand how love is there but may be expressed in different ways. Let's think about a loving human father. Some of us may be turned off because we haven't experienced a loving father, but stay with me, if you will, as we consider how a loving father might express his love for his child or children. Here are a variety of ways, and they are ALL expressions of love:

 

i) Sacrificial Earner: He works long hours to earn money to provide for the needs of the family. It often means he is not there for them -  but it is an expression of the strong love he has for them.

ii) Gentle listener and encourager: He sits with his children, reading to them and listening to them, and encouraging them. He is there for them and they feel secure with him there.

iii) Firm Limiter: When they ask for things that are harmful, he withholds them and gently says no. They don't understand and think him mean, but it is an expression of his caring concern for their protection and wellbeing that makes him say no.

iv) Strong Corrector: From time to time he brings necessary correction for he can see destructive traits growing in his child and so he brings correction to try to encourage them to not go in that direction. Sometimes that correction appears hard and painful, but he only brings it when it has become obvious that his wilful child will respond to no other correction.

v) Shadows Watcher: Sometimes he stands back and simply watches his child from a distance. He has conveyed his wisdom but his child needs to learn it for himself or herself, sometimes by the hard way of failure. Yet he is always there in the shadows watching them, ready to come the moment he is called and always there for them.

  

Similarly we may see God doing things that perplex us, but we must realise that they will always be expressions of His love.

  • Sometimes He provides, and sometimes He seems to be there for us and encourages us, and those times seem good to us.
  • But then sometimes we ask for things and He either says no or remains silent, for He knows that either now is not the right time or there is something better He wants for us.
  • Sometimes bad things seem to come into our lives and for a time we can see no good reason for them. Yet in the fullness of time we see how they benefited us, we come to see what God was able to bring about and achieve through them.
  • Sometimes God seems distant and we wonder why, and it is only later that we come to realise that He was teaching us to stand on our own two feet, or to appreciate Him more.
       

In a whole variety of ways God's love is expressed differently – but it is still love.

 

Emotion & Rational Assessment

 

Now to move on to the second aspect, and that is of emotion versus rational assessment. When something wrong or very bad is done, it is right to be angry about it. At Lazarus's tomb, when Jesus wept, there was also in the original Greek a sense of anger involved, anger at sin that had brought death, and anger at the grief it had caused.

 

If we are complacent about wrongs, it means we have become hard hearted and callous and indifferent to injustice. Sometimes it needs something to strike close to home before we wake up and accept that strong emotions rightly arise when evil hits. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “passionate displeasure”. We need to distinguish anger from reactive hostility or revenge.

 

Righteous anger (as seen in God) is simply an instinctive emotion that responds rightly to wrong.

What then follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate, objective assessment of what to do about it.

 

God's judgment is His dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His instinctive anger .

 

God's anger & assessment

 

Our ‘passionate displeasure' rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assesses what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future. Only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now.

He chooses that which is a perfect response, but that all follows His anger which triggers this assessment, a righteous anger that highlights the awfulness of what is being observed. His anger leads to His judgment but that judgment is objective.

 

So when we look at His acts of judgment in the Bible, realise you don't have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly, and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been the best, the only right thing to be done.

 

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgment and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God's judgment is this particular thing - which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

   

Love and Anger: a practical example

 

Imagine you have two children (perhaps you do). The boy is two years older than the girl. One day the girl had been working on a project for school. She had, after several weeks of hard work, produced a beautiful portfolio ready to be handed in. Brother and sister had recently had a disagreement and when she left the room her brother came in and accidentally on purpose knocked a glass of blackcurrent juice over, that poured all over the finished work, completely ruining it.

 

Now you had seen this through the door opening – you had been in the next door room. You were furious at the wilful act of spiteful vandalism. You have two choices: 1. To act in the heat of the moment and fly in and pour out your wrath and retribution, or 2. Allow your anger to calm down, and calmly confront your son and bring a carefully considered course of action to bear on his life.

 

You love them both equally. You were rightly angry at his attitude and actions, but you needed to bring justice in a carefully tempered manner. This is righteousness.

 

Let's have another example. Imagine you have a son who is growing up and about to leave home to make his way in the world. You have conveyed all you can of the Christian faith to him and he has a faith of his own. You tell him that you hope he will keep to this, but this is now entirely down to him. If he abandons it, you will still love him and your door will always be open to him. Years later, he has fallen into bad ways: he takes drugs, has no job and steals to maintain his habit. What do you feel about him?

 

Let's try and make this clear – you love him but hate his lifestyle. You love him because he is still your son and always will be. He is part of you and you have the memories of his childhood and hopes that yet he can still make good. You hate his lifestyle because it is destructive and unrighteous and it drives a wedge between him and you.

 

Many of us fail to make these distinctions and thus we fail to receive God's grace to be there for the returning prodigal. If you are not sure about it, read again Jesus' amazing Parable of the Prodigal Son, and remember, God is the Father! Read it in Luke 15:11-24 This is how the Father thinks about you and me. This is love.

     

     

3.5 To Summarise

  

The problem which we seek to confront in this book is the fact that God seems to act in ways that make us struggle in our understanding, especially when we look at the revelation of His character in the whole Bible.

   

For example it says:

    

  • God is love and if this is true (and it is) then it must mean that everything that God thinks, says or does is an expression of love
  
  • God is good and if this is true (and it is) then it must mean that everything that God thinks, says and does IS good

   

  • God is perfect , and if this is true (and it is) then nothing He thinks, says or does can be improved upon!

   

This is the challenge that confronts us. This is how the Bible says God is, so how does that equate with what we see happening in the Bible? Watch this space!

 

  

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