"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 6

    

     

    

    

Chapter 6: Focusing God's Intentions

Chapter 6 Contents 

6.1 Introduction

6.2 God's Greater Desire: restraint and redemption

6.3 The God of Second Chances 6.4 God's Reputation 6.5 The Glory of God 6.6 God of Anger & Favour 6.7 A Brief Testimony  
 

6.1 Introduction

 

In the previous chapter we said that when God 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. We cannot emphasise this enough in respect of the justice you find applied in the Old Testament.

 

I once wondered how one might summarise the whole Bible in a single tweet with its limited number of characters. I came up with one offering: “God has come to us to give us better lives than we have at present.”

The implications behind that over-simplified gospel is that He has come to earth to redeem us from our unrighteous lives, deal with our guilt (bring justice), empower us and give us hope for living new (righteous) lives, that are more enjoyable than the previous lives we had.

 

Also built into that should be the New Testament teaching that when we become a Christian we embark on a life where God is constantly changing us so that tomorrow will be better than today, because tomorrow I will be more Jesus-like than I have become so far today.

 

If we accept what we have said in the earlier chapters – that God is love and God is good – then we may summarise it by saying God is benign and wills good for us all the time and a ‘good life' means an enjoyable life.

 

A life full of peace, purpose and power (the righteous Christian life) is better and far more enjoyable than a life that is full of worry, wandering and weakness (the unrighteous non-Christian life).

 

The Old Testament summary equivalent to this is found in a prophecy of Jeremiah to Israel:

 

Jer 29:11-12   “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

 

God's intent or objective is to do good to people but that often means they need to change and that change is the means of brinign them into a better life. As we will see as we continue in the following chapters, acts of judgment come with a variety of reasons and anticipated outcomes

•  to stop wrong behaviour in an individual,

•  to punish an individual,

•  to correct and change the individual, and

•  to act as a warning and teaching to all onlookers, and

•  to bring a sense of wellbeing to society as far as that is possible.

    

When justice has been done, we can say, ‘The right thing has been done! it was just and fair and right.' That is justice and it helps bring righteousness (good living) to God's world.

 

We may not have seen this before, but judgment can also be a blessing. The removal of a terror or threat of evil, by the judgment, blesses the world by

•  stopping and removing that terror or evil and

•  leaves the world benefiting

•  because it is free from the effects of that terror or evil and

•  it is now open to be blessed by all of God's goodness

  

Evil prevents God's goodness flowing and so sometimes it has to be removed so that His goodness can be received.

 

    

6.2 God's Greater Desire: restraint and redemption

 

We will see, when we get to look at the judgments in Genesis, for example, 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 turn back to them. The famous verses of Jn 3:16,17 tell us that God gave His own Son to redeem us. 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 follows:

 

1 Jn 2:1 “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.”

  • Note the tenderness of the writer, John, and of the intent of the words themselves.
  • Listen to something similar from the apostle Paul:

 

Gal 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”

Rom 8:31 “God is for us”

  • That is it in a nutshell. God is for us!
  • I'll never tire of declaring the prophet's words from God in Ezekiel:

 

Ezek 18:32 “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”

  • It is only stubborn obstinacy that ever results in judgment.

 

Destructive Judgment is NOT God's first response!

 

In a world of pain and anguish, hurt and destruction, we find a God who does 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 let me.

 

This is not the God of 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.

 

    

6.3 The God of Second Chances

 

The acrimonious denunciations of the crusading atheists just do not fit the Biblical Testimony. Instead of a harsh and judgmental God out to destroy everything in sight, consider the following summaries of what the Bible tells us about God's activities:

 

a) Creation

  •   As we have noted before, when God finished creating the whole of the earth, including us, His assessment of it was that “it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
  •   As a world without strife or disharmony in any shape or form, it was good to live in and the provision of fruit and vegetables was amazing. (I am told there are over twelve hundred varieties of edible bean in the world today!)
  •  God's provision for us is all about pleasure and enjoyment within the boundaries He established. Wonderful!

b) The Fall

  •   When Adam and Eve fell (rejected and disobeyed God) He did not destroy them but simply put them outside the garden area where they had known the Lord. (we will look at this in detail in a later chapter)
  •   He did not give up on His plans for mankind.
  •   When we come to look at the judgments of Genesis we will discover that although mankind constantly got it wrong and went from bad to worse, God's activity was incredibly restrained when it came to dealing with them.

c) Abram

  •   We then find Him starting to build a relationship with a man called Abram and when he doesn't do very well on occasion, God still keeps on with him – and with his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob.
  •   In fact His dealings with mankind simply reveal the folly of sin in man and the grace and goodness of God who does not give up on us.

d) Moses & Israel

  •   Indeed God works within the sin framework of the world that exists after the Fall, and so copes with Jacob's self-centred twisting, uses spoilt brat Joseph and allows the chosen family to end up in Egypt where they settle and prosper but end up as slaves.
  •   He then takes a failure called Moses and uses him to confront the awful pride of the Pharaoh of Egypt and delivers Israel out of his hands.
  •   He puts up with the moanings and groanings of Israel as they travel to Sinai and eventually when they refuse to enter the land God has chosen for them, He waits patiently until the generation of unbelief has died off and then takes the next generation into this land described as “a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Ex 3:8) a picture of wonderful provision.

  

e) Saul, David and Solomon

  •   When, long after they have settled there, they demand a king, the Lord does not give up on them but gives them one who fits exactly the king they have in mind, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites--a head taller than any of the others,” whose name is Saul (1 Sam 9:2).
  •   Unfortunately he fails and so God give them another to be king, David, who does unite and establish the kingdom.
  •   When it comes to his son, Solomon, we see the peak of God's blessing when the Queen of Sheba comes to visit and is absolutely overwhelmed by God's provision (see 1 Kings 10, esp. v.7-9)

 

f) Solomon and future kings

  •   When Solomon eventually drifts away from the Lord, the Lord does not give up on them but splits the kingdom to give two opportunities for blessing to flow out of relationship with Him.
  • The northern kingdom fails from the word go and the southern kingdom has good, bad and very bad times.
  •   The northern kingdom eventually fails and is carried away and when the southern kingdom settles in for very bad, they too are eventually swept away in what we call the Exile.
  •   Now we might have expected God to have given up on these people and utterly destroy them but to our surprise we find He brings them back to the land and restores them. Four hundred years later His Son, Jesus, is born into this land.

 

g) Jesus

  •   When we observe the ministry of Jesus the simplest way of describing it is to say he simply did good and kept on doing good in his Father's name. Through him blessing followed blessing.
  •   When he formed a group of disciples he did not give up on their misunderstandings but patiently taught them.
  •   He allowed himself to be arrested, falsely tried, condemned and crucified. Three days later he rose from the dead and instead of preaching death and destruction for this foolish world (both Jew and Gentile), he promised blessing, which came in the form of the outpouring of his Holy Spirit in what was to become the Church.

     

h) The Early Church

  •   When you watch the movement of the Holy Spirit you see power and joy and then gifting of both spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12) and spiritual ministries (Eph 4:11,12), all of which are expression of his ongoing loving intent for us.
  •   In and through the Church we see his ongoing blessing of individuals; it is an ongoing picture of the love of God being poured out and poured out in abundance on a less than perfect people.

  

This is as brief a potted history of the Bible that we can manage and what it shows is that every single figure (with the exception of the Son of God, Jesus Christ) was flawed, frequently failed and fell down morally in some way or other in their life.

 

The other side of the coin, however, is that God never gave up on them and persevered in seeking to bless them again and again. The only times that did not see that happening, was when an individual or a nation set its heart against God and refused to listen and therefore refused to receive His love and goodness.

 

This overall picture is NOT of a capricious and unkind God, a God who looks for any and every opportunity to condemn and destroy people. The truth is exactly the opposite.

 

    

6.4   God's Reputation

 

While researching for my previous book, “God's Love in the Old Testament”, I was amazed to find out just how many times in the Old Testament God's reputation, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, came to the fore. All of the early leaders of Israel realised that their calling was to be as a light to the rest of the world, revealing God to this world.

 

Again, this is another of those things seldom thought of by God's detractors. The truth is that throughout the entire Bible, His desire to reconcile mankind to Himself is paramount, therefore it was important the sort of God that was being portrayed to the rest of the world through Israel. Very often so-called acts of judgment were God intervening to stop the downward decline of Israel, to turn them around, and get them back on an upward path where God's goodness was revealed through them.

 

The pinnacle of this was the revelation that the Queen of Sheba had when she came to visit king Solomon, that we mentioned earlier. Although I covered this in the previous book, it bears repeating here. First of all the description of what God did for Solomon:

 

1 Kings 4:29-34    God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, …. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.   Men of all nations   came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom

 

Then the testimony of the Queen of Sheba:

 

1 Kings 10:1-10    When the queen of Sheba  heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions… When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the LORD, she was overwhelmed. …… happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of   Israel . Because of the LORD's eternal love for   Israel , he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness."

 

Note also in that amazing passage that she recognised that under God he had been called to establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness. Remember all we said about that in the previous chapter.

 

      

6.5   The Glory of God

 

As an extension of what we have been considering about God's reputation we would do well to briefly consider the subject of the glory of God. The glory of the Lord refers to, as the dictionary says, “great honour and admiration won by doing something important or valuable; fame; renown, the condition of highest achievement, splendour, etc., radiant beauty or splendour; magnificence.”

 

When Moses and his people sung a song of victory they sang, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Ex 15:11)

 

In other words they sang, who is like you with such a wonderful reputation.   All that we saw above in the potted history of the Bible under the heading, “The God of Second Chances” goes to confirming that reputation. The message that comes through the Old Testament and then the New Testament again and again, is that God wants us to know about Him and then know Him personally. The Old Testament is full of the phrase, “so that they will know” and the knowing is knowing that He is God, that He exists and desires to have a relationship with us based on His love.

 

We cannot say enough times that this is one of His primary goals that is revealed in the Old Testament. As we will later go on to consider individual judgments, we will see again and again that the Lord's intent is that the judgment will not only correct a wrong situation, but it will also teach the surrounding onlookers something of the glory of the Lord. A few verses will suffice as we close to make this point:

 

Gen 12:2,3 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

 

This is reiterated a number of times more with Abram, then with Isaac and even through Jacob. See also Deut 28:8-10, Josh 4:23,24, 1 Chron 16:8,24, Psa 57:9, 1 Kings 4:29-34, 1 Kings 8:41-43, Isa 11:10, Isa 42:6 and lots, lots more verses. God wants the world to see and know the wonder of who He is, and His love for His world, and thus turn to Him and enter into a loving relationship with Him. This is vital to remember throughout these studies, this glory or reputation of the Lord.

 

     

6.6 God of Anger & Favour

 

We have already touched on the subject of Gods anger but we need to refocus it here in this chapter in the light of all we have been saying.

 

Imagine a wholesome family. Despite how good this family is, there will be times when a child does wrong and it is right and proper for that to stir displeasure in the parents, and that we may call anger. But the wise parent lets the anger disperse before correction is brought (we implied that in an earlier chapter when we envisaged God making objective assessments of wrong, provoked initially by His anger.)

 

Consider the wider life span of this family and times of anger over wrong doing are few and far between and they last only a moment – that is in a wholesome godly family. That is how wrongdoing and anger is – momentarily. And that is how it is with God. It is right that He becomes angry when He sees wrong but His anger gives way, we saw previously, to a dispassionate, objective assessment of what to do about that wrong doing. This brief anger is always tempered by His overall desire to bless and redeem His world.

 

The prophet Isaiah saw this when the Lord spoke through him:

 

Isa 54:7,8 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer.”

 

God is first and foremost a redeemer. Everything else is tempered by that. In the midst of the Ten Commandments and then later in Exodus we find the Lord speaking:

 

Ex 20:5,6 “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

 

In the Ten Commandments, it follows the prohibition against making idols. It says that sin tends to be passed on to the immediate next generations and He will deal with them – all of them in each generation who follow the example of their fathers so that they may not give the excuse, ‘we were led astray by our parents'. (He also deals with the fathers who led the family astray.) It may take four generations for them to come to their senses but each of them will be held accountable. He is not like a powerless block of wood carved into a human shape, He is a living God who will deal with those wayward ones, but He will love and go on living all who will hold fast to him for ever. So yes, while there is warning, there is also great encouragement and reassurance – He is a God who WILL love all who turn to Him, for ever and ever. He will never change and give up on mankind's imperfections. As we said before, when the heart is inclined towards Him He will be there for us, even while we are still imperfect.

 

    

6.7 A Brief Testimony

 

The early part of this chapter has sought to refocus our thinking on the good works of God in His people in what we have referred to as the good life. The Christian Church has been notoriously bad at defending itself, but gradually that is changing. Increasingly, something that the crusading atheists have been very bad at noticing, testimonies of the effects of the Christian life have been increasing in the media. Note this one expression of the good life that comes from the pen of Philip Yancey in his book, ‘Vanishing Grace':

 

“A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported on Harvard undergraduates who experienced a religious conversion in their student days. The students had a 'radical change in lifestyle' shown by a marked decrease in the use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Not only that, their academic performance improved and they seemed less prone to depression, preoccupation with death and bouts of 'existential despair'.”

 

He goes on to testify: “I have seen many examples of ordinary Christians who cheer­fully serve the common good, a fact that gets overlooked in the media's focus on Christians and, politics. Robert Putnam, author of the ground-breaking book Bowling Alone, documents that religious Americans are more likely to give money to a homeless person, return excess change to a shopkeeper, donate blood, help a sick neighbour with shopping or housework, spend time with someone who is depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, or help someone find a job.”

 

This sort of testimony, about the good life that God leads His people into, could be multiplied a million times over. For every verse about judgment or discipline in the Bible there are probably well over a hundred about God dealing with His people in other ways, ways that bring what we have been calling the good life. This balance should always be held in the back of our minds as we progress through this book.

 

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