I suppose it’s inaccurate to call it God’s secret since He put it in the Bible. I mean, if God wants to keep something about Himself secret, no one is going to pry it out of Him and no one is going to sneak behind His back and discover it.
But you’d think it was a secret, seeing as how few people seem to know and understand this basic fact — God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
People think He does. Some say He’s blood-thirsty and tyrannical. Others say He repented of His Old Testament violent streak which is why He sent Jesus. Some think He rightly takes pleasure in killing off the wicked and so they gleefully announce the doom awaiting those who scorn God’s Son.
What all these people are missing is the difference between announcing something that is true and announcing it with gladness.
I don’t suppose parents say it any more, but when I was growing up, it became quite a standard joke. Before a parent spanked his child, he’d say, This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you. Ha! all the kids thought.
My dad said that line to me once, and I asked him how he could say such a thing. He explained how he did not want to spank me, how sad it made him, but how necessary it was for me to learn to obey. So my dad was willing to take the hurt of going against his true nature, inflicting temporary pain on the children he loved and only wanted to protect.
I have no way of measuring the degree of anguish spanking caused my father, or of comparing that to the physical discomfort I felt because of the swats he gave. But I certainly understood, my dad did not delight in punishing me. Yet he gave me spankings.
Undoubtedly my parents’ approach to discipline has helped me understand God’s judgment. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that He delighted in destroying the wicked. If He did, He would never have promised Noah that He would refrain from wiping out all living beings with another flood. Instead He would have been more apt to say, That was fun; let’s do it again!
He would never have gone to such an extent to send Jonah to Nineveh or Jeremiah to Jerusalem or Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar if He wasn’t more interested in repentance than in judgment.
If He took delight in the death of the wicked, why would He have sent His Son to provide a way of escape from the consequences of sin?
It’s a silly thing, really, to accuse God of delighting in killing off the wicked. But apparently the people of Ezekiel’s day were saying the same thing. God gave a clear answer to the charge:
“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? . . .
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:21-32, emphases mine)
I can only imagine that God has been maligned by those who think He shouldn’t punish people at all — or that He shouldn’t offer grace and mercy to those people.
In other words, some judge Him to be cruel because He holds people accountable for their actions, so they deny that He does. A different group judges Him to be sentimental in offering forgiveness to the most heinous sinners, so they deny that He does.
The former pass out copies of Love Wins and the latter waves signs along with the Westboro Baptist crowd. Both obscure the truth about God: He loves the world and He will not allow sin to go unpunished. That doesn’t mean He delights in the death of those who reject Him. Instead, He wants them to repent and live. That’s the secret so many are missing.