"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 5





Chapter 5: Aspects of God's Judgments

Chapter 5 Contents 


5.1 Introduction

5.2 Recap: the way God works to bring Justice.

5.3 Not a Hasty God: a Cool, Calm and Collected responder

5.4 Not a God of knee-jerks: clear objectives

5.5 Sharpening the Focus on Righteousness

5.6 God's Judgments sometimes involve discipline


5.1 Introduction


As we suggested in a previous chapter, the very subject of the judgments of God creates in so many people negative emotions which sometimes challenge our integrity. What I mean by that is that I have observed two sorts of reactions to the subject of judgment according to the position or outlook of a person.


First of all Christians: Christians often tend to cower and hope that in some way the deep down worries that they have are wrong when it comes to the subject of God's judgment. It is as if in their sub-conscious minds they have this horrible feeling that perhaps God is a ‘hard man' (Mt 25:24), and that He does do nasty things – and they don't know why and they can't reconcile it with what Jesus reveals of Him – that He is love!


But then at the opposite end of the spectrum we have the crusading atheists who pound at God for being a vindictive and destructive despot (who they don't believe exists!) and who make negative comments that so often have little foundation, revealing an ignorance of the Bible.


Now both groups suffer from ignorance, from never having taken the trouble to really go through the Bible in detail and think through the issues in detail. That is what this book hopes to remedy.


However, whenever this subject comes up it also seems to evoke a shouting match which simply cries, “What about xxxxxx?” and lists off a series of snippets of things they believed happened in the Old Testament. Their recall of these things are often quite inaccurate (because they have not read thoroughly and carefully) and rarely do they consider why these things happen or what alternatives there could have been in the circumstances reported.


What these reactions also reveal is an emotional turmoil that comes from being ill-informed and from failing to think through these issues and is based more on presuppositions of prejudices than anything else. Because of this, we feel it necessary here to hold back from ploughing in to view the many judgments in the Bible and instead to pause and reflect on some of the issues that may shed light on it.



5.2 Recap: the way God works to bring Justice


Again and again we want to emphasise that our objective is not merely to observe the acts of judgment but we want to try to look at the reasoning behind them. To put forward such reasoning requires us to think long and hard about what the Bible tells us of God and what we can reasonably infer from that. Let's expand on what we have already touched upon in previous chapters. In His role as Judge we may suggest that there are three stages to be observed:


•  Stage1: He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
•  Stage 2: He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
•  Stage 3: Then He acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgment that appears in the records of Scripture.

Now we need to reiterate what we have said before when we had observed He is perfect. This is vital to understand:

•  In the first stage, His assessment is uniquely accurate because He alone sees and knows all that happens and there is nothing about it that is outside His knowledge and understanding.
•  In the second stage, His decree of what should happen is perfect because He alone has the knowledge, understanding and wisdom to know what various outcomes would produce. So He knows:

•  if He does nothing, what will come about.

•  if He brings discipline whether it will bring a change in life or simply a hardening of heart.

•  In this determining the decree, He knows whether terminating a life or lives will be the best for the circumstances and, even more, for those who are left.
•  In the third stage, bringing about the judgment, we will find that this may come through a variety of means and it will be this that we will go on to consider in two chapter's time. In the meantime there are various other issues that ought to be considered.


5.3   Not a Hasty God: a Cool, Calm and Collected responder


To overcome the false assumption that God acts hastily or petulantly (as certain crusading atheists suggest) we need to regain the bigger picture that the Bible brings to us, specifically that of God who rules on a throne. As we have sought to suggest above, with what we know of God, He doesn't act impetuously but weighs and assesses the circumstances before coming to an objective decision which is then followed by the actions we refer to as a judgment of God.


No, the bigger picture says the judgment of God is the decision and this then followed by the action.


Because it occurs so many times in the Bible, we perhaps take for granted the picture of God ruling from a throne in heaven, and it being a place of sovereign control. See Ex 17:16, Psa 9:7,8, Isa 6:1, Ezek 1:26, Dan 7:9, Rev 4:2-4 and Rev 20:11,12. The last one of those references indicates something significant:


Rev 20:11,12   “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.”


The picture here is of an end-time judgment of all human beings who have to stand accountable before God. When it says ‘and books were opened' these are records kept of human behaviour. Everything about this picture speaks of a cool, calm, accountability, long-term considerations. Nowhere is God shown to act hastily.


This whole concept of a throne speaks historically of a sovereign ruler, one who is all-powerful and with all authority.


In the days of Daniel, an incident occurred involving King Belshazzar and a word from God came to him in the form of writing on a wall that indicated, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” (Dan 5:27) Again the picture that is conveyed is of a judgmental decision that had been carefully assessed – you have been weighed – and the king found wanting as a result. (He also had time to repent but failed to do so and was murdered by a competitor.) There is nothing rushed, nothing capricious, nothing hasty about all this.



5.4 Not a God of knee-jerks: clear objectives


There are two verses from the Psalms that bring a further perspective:


Psa 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you,” and,

Psa 97:2 righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.”


He works to bring righteousness and justice.


So God works to bring righteousness on the earth. What actually is that? If it is His will to bring about righteousness on the earth we ought to understand what that means.


Let's give a very simple definition: righteousness is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to live.


When He created the world, as we've seen, we read it was “very good” (Gen 1:31) – including us. He made us to live in harmony with Him and in harmony with each other and with His world. Now any behaviour that is contrary to that is unrighteousness. (The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about how unrighteous human beings can become righteous by believing in and following Jesus).


Justice, we suggested in the previous chapter, is all about bringing anyone, anything or any situation back in line with that original design which, linking it with what we've just said above, is also all about getting people to live righteous lives.


When He assesses, decrees and acts in judgment, it is to bring justice in respect of the offender and also for the rest of the world. In other words, justice brings right order and outcome to the offender and everyone else. A good life for all is the intended outcome of justice.


This is the objective we find in the revelation of the Bible. However, I am aware that for the sceptic trying to work out these things, so far the definitions of righteous living seem a little cold and so we'll try and remedy that below.



5.5 Sharpening the Focus on Righteousness


It is easy to be too vague about ‘right living' or ‘the good life' and what it means to be ‘righteous' so before we move on we ought to check out what these things mean in more detail. In the next chapter we'll consider the ‘good life' from God's perspective but here let's consider being good from our side. Note the following:


Psa 25:1,2 “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”


The psalmist, David, starts from the point of seeing God as the Creator of all things. That may have various consequences, but he has one particular one in mind:


Psa 25:3 “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?”


David appears in a point in history where Jerusalem has become the city with a Tabernacle on one of the high points and this is seen as God's place of encounter through the priesthood. He wonders and worries about how you can be good enough to approach this God. He comes up with a fourfold answer:


Psa 25:3,4 “He who has clean hands / and a pure heart, / who does not lift up his soul to an idol / or swear by what is false.”


Why are those four things significant?


1. “He who has clean hands.”

•  In the Scriptures speaking of hands like this refers to behaviour; for example, “if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands-- if I have done evil” (Psa 7:3,4) or “the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.” (Psa 9:16) or “repay them for what their hands have done .” (Psa 28:4)

•  Clean hands therefore speaks of behaviour that is guiltless.  

2. a pure heart”.

•  References to ‘the heart' in the Scriptures refer to our inner state, the direction of our will (towards or away from God), our intent and inner desires (to get our own way or live God's way).

•  This is all about right attitudes and motives.

•  A heart of love for God and for His will for us is the second measuring stick or bench mark.


3. “ who does not lift up his soul to an idol.”

  • This again is about being godly, about relying upon and relating to God and not turning to superstitious worship of ‘beings' or ‘spirits' or ‘gods' who are not God, leaning on or relying on anything that is not God.


4. “ who does not … swear by what is false.”

  • We night simply say, ‘who lives by the truth'. Lies, unreality, perjury and so on have no room in God's kingdom.
  • This is all about having truth at the heart of our lives. Truth and integrity are to prevail.

A righteous life? Behaviour that is

  • guiltless,
  • with right attitudes and motives,
  • relying upon and relating to God, and
  • about having truth at the heart of our lives.

Each of these issues are very simple when it comes down to it, and you either have a person who is righteous and godly in attitude, who holds firmly to God and will only speak or live the truth – or you don't! The Cross of Jesus Christ was and is all about Jesus taking our punishment (that was justice) when we fall short in any of these areas, in order for us to be right with God.


(For the sake of those with a weak conscience, a righteous life is one whose heart is inclined towards God and towards His will as found through Jesus Christ. None of us will be perfect this side of heaven and therefore we will get it wrong from time to time. The work of Jesus' Christ on the Cross, we are taught through the Bible, deals with

•  first of all that previous self-centred and godless attitude and lifestyle that we had before we came to Christ and then,

•  second, in our ongoing life, the occasional failures that we make subsequently when we get it wrong).


5.6 God's Judgments sometimes involve discipline


God's judgments, we would like to suggest, bring either destruction or discipline. As we move on in two chapter's time we will see examples of God bringing correction, life changes to people; this is what discipline does, and this is God's preferred intent.


Discipline brings order

I remember a group of us parents talking once and someone was having trouble with their child and the parents generally were exchanging views and experiences. 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 couldn't impose order and discipline, 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 us 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.


Get all the facts

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 the bandits 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.


Now watch! 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.


Get all the Options

So discipline is activity brought to bring about change of behaviour and that, we have suggested above, is what God much prefers to bring.


In chapter 2 we noted the threefold declaration found in 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 ?”


Destructions is God's last option and as we will see with some of the examples in later chapters, far from the capricious and hasty God of the ranting atheists, God again and again and again shows incredible restraint. Death, we say again, is the last option. Discipline that changes behaviour is much preferred.


With this in mind, we are in the next chapter going to take a wider view of the Biblical testimony in respect of God to counter the poorly founded prejudices so often found in His detractors. In earlier chapters we considered His characteristics of love and goodness; in the following chapter we will expand that to consider His restraint, His care and concern, His compassion and His desire to redeem mankind wherever that is possible.



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