God’s Judgment Misunderstood


The book of Isaiah portrays the truth of God’s judgment.

Yet some people reject the God of the Old Testament for this very reason—He brings judgment.

In reality, however, He first brings warning.

It’s something I was taught to do as a teacher. I had one principal in particular who required that we reduce our classroom rules to a basic group, then post them along with consequences for breaking them. In other words, no surprises. We were not to expect kids to abide by some standard they didn’t know existed.

My principal didn’t invent that process. Instead, by proceeding in that fashion, we were mirroring the way God works. He clearly set the standards for Adam and Eve, for instance, and spelled out the consequences. No surprises.

He did the same for the nation of Israel. First the directive — obey these laws, which He wrote down for them. Then the consequences, this time accompanied with a list of benefits for obedience.

In the same way, He worked with individuals such as Saul, David, Solomon, even Nebuchadnezzar.

His approach was the same for a city like Nineveh, to whom He sent the prophet Jonah, and for a nation like Moab, to whom He sent the prophet Balaam.

In other instances, God sent affliction as a warning:

So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. (Judges 2:13-14)

When Israel cried to God for help, He raised up judges to deliver them.

Ultimately He brought about the exile of His people — the fulfillment of His judgment which He’d warned Israel about from the beginning — and still He brought back a remnant.

So here’s the first think people mistakenly think about God’s judgment: He acts out of uncontrolled rage against people He perceives to have messed up, however slight the offense might be. Such a characterization of God is not consistent with Scripture.

Another thing I learned about God’s judgment from Isaiah is that lots of people will be cheering for Him because His judgment frees those who are being oppressed.

The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the LORD,
And the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the ruthless will come to an end and the scorner will be finished,
Indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off;
Who cause a person to be indicted by a word,
And ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate,
And defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments. (Isaiah 29:19-21 – emphasis mine)

People who misunderstand God’s judgment believe He brings wrath down on innocent people, not guilty people.

Society agrees that those who harm children should be stopped, that someone gunning down people in their homes should be held accountable, that drunk drivers putting others at risk ought to be taken off the road. In other words, we believe in justice. We believe that authorities should stop and should punish those who do harm.

Consequently, if we understood that God’s judgment is and has always been upon guilty people, we would be like those Isaiah talked about — rejoicing in Him.

Instead, we take to ourselves the right to judge God — to determine if, in fact, He is only bringing down judgment on the guilty, or if He might be bringing down judgment on the innocent.

The most popular view today is that of course the people God judged were innocent — by reason of the fact that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Apparently that legal guarantee of the US Constitution has become our operating principle — Man is innocent, Man is good. Consequently, God has to prove to our satisfaction that Man deserves to die, and quite frankly, simply eating a piece of fruit does not qualify.

The truth is, since Adam, Man has not been innocent.

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD
;
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions.
Get out of the way, turn aside from the path,
Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Since you have rejected this word
And have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them,
Therefore this iniquity will be to you
Like a breach about to fall…”
For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing
Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isaiah 30:9-18)

What’s the truth about God’s judgment? It is handed down to guilty people after He has given clear commandments and warned of the dire consequences of rejecting or neglecting God’s word, God’s way. In the end, some choose not to listen to God who in His goodness and mercy has reached out to them.

Any other characterization of God’s judgment comes from the father of lies, that serpent of old who first said to Eve, Has God really said …

This post was first published here in March 2012.

Published in: on February 9, 2016 at 5:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Do Nice People Go To Hell?


gas_craterIn the Facebook atheist/Christian group I’ve mentioned, one person asked, “Who here is going to hell?” The question was glib and the answers ranged from a Christian’s bemoaning the message in a picture of someone holding a sign that said “Going to hell and PROUD,” to a couple people who either echoed the sentiment or said they weren’t going because there was no such place. One person who embraced the idea that he’d be going to hell said, “The company will be amazing.”

In light of those comments and some of the questions that arose in another post here this week, I decided to revisit an article that originally appeared here in March 2011.
– – – –
What a question: Do nice people go to hell? There are a couple things we have to define, the first being “hell.”

In the New Testament, Jesus used the word we translate as “hell,” more than anyone else, which kind of shoots the ideas that some professing Christians have—that Jesus is loving and the Father, as the Old Testament reveals Him, is wrathful.

Even a casual reading of the gospels shows that Jesus made a clear statement about the judgment of those who reject Him. But how does He characterize this judgment? Sometimes as a place of darkness. Other times as a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In one parable, Jesus says the evil servant will be assigned a place with the hypocrites. In Luke’s account of Jesus sending away those who claimed to know Him (“I never knew you”), He said they would be put out of the kingdom of God. And, yes, sometimes He made reference to a furnace or a place where there will be fire and brimstone.

Interesting that we camp on the image of fire, when all these other descriptions are also in Scripture. One pastor I recently heard believes we have formed our opinion of hell more from classic literature than from Scripture. For example, he pointed out that hell is the place created for Satan and his demons—spiritual beings. Consequently physical fire, it would seem, would have no effect on them.

What we know for sure about hell is that it is the just judgment God will assign to the wicked. “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:39).

So that brings up the question: Can nice people be “wicked”?

We know that there is none righteous, no not one. If we aren’t righteous—and what makes us “unrighteous” is that our own righteousness is nothing but contaminated tatters—then we are all, at our best, sinners.

Can sinners be nice people? Actually, yes. Before we were sinners we were made in God’s image. We have that about us still, though His glory is marred by our love of and commitment to ourselves. We are still a nice bunch … as long as I can be nice and receive credit for it. Or as long as I can be nice without going out of my way too much. Or as long as I can be nice and receive the same in return.

In short, we might look nice, but we come back to what Scripture says about our very best—it’s not pretty. And it most certainly is not efficacious for that which we need most—an answer to our sin condition.

Published in: on January 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Pre-Flood World


NoahLast year Noah, supposedly an epic film inspired by the Biblical story of Noah, turned the spotlight, though not particularly brightly, on events recorded in the Bible. Like Exodus that followed it months later, the movie deviated from the historical account—understandable since most atheists such as the film maker don’t look at the Bible as history and would have a hard time showing God as the Bible reveals Him.

I didn’t see the movie, but I saw trailers and clips. One of the more memorable had a mob of people clamoring to get on board the ark, only to have Noah hold them off at gun point under threat of violence.

Interesting since the small amount of information we have about the pre-flood world mentions violence as one cause for God’s judgment. Of course there was the whole Sons-of-God-copulating-with-the-daughters-of-men issue. Nobody really understands what that was all about, of course. Some scholars insist the “sons of God” refer to angels, but then there’s not a good explanation why God would judge Mankind for what angels were clearly responsible for.

Be that as it may, we can put down as fact that something immoral, of a sexual nature, was taking place. My theory, which I may have shared in this space before, is that Adam and Eve had children before they sinned. These would have been “sons of God” in the sense that they didn’t have a sin nature. Daughters of men would have been born in Adam’s likeness, with a sin nature.

But that’s a theory.

The bottom line is that humankind didn’t just sin occasionally:

the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

A few verses down, God references their violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (v 11)

We don’t have details here, but we know that Cain killed his brother—2nd degree murder, or premeditated murder, we don’t know for sure. Either way, God didn’t respond with capital punishment. Instead he protected Cain from those who might want to kill him by branding him with a special mark. This was not a curse as some have suggested or a mark he passed on to his descendents as others have said.

There’s no indication it was anything more than a way people could identify Cain as a man under God’s protection. God’s promise was that if anyone killed Cain, they’d pay sevenfold.

Perhaps the people of the day took this to be a license to kill. We know in fact that one of Cain’s descendents, Lamech, also committed murder. In fact he confessed to two murders:

For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me (4:23b)

Lamech then claimed the right of seventy-sevenfold retribution against anyone who would seek to kill him.

One more thing Lamech is famous for: he’s also the first recorded bigamist.

Apparently he was a trend-setter because few men from that point on until the first century were monogamous.

So here are the facts: God said to Adam and Eve, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Their descendents were killing each other.

God established marriage as a one man-one woman union that made them one flesh. Adam and Eve’s descendents were partnering inappropriately—in the wrong way (multiple partners), with the wrong people (sons of God with daughters of men).

So apparently humankind was 0 for 2—they failed to obey the only two commandments God had given them. And things were only getting worse:

God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

As we know from Romans, humankind’s corruption affected the rest of creation.

The point I want to make here is that God judged Lamech and his sons and their sons, not because they were good people and God just had a temper tantrum. He judged them because they were mass murderers and rapists and adulterers and bigamists. They rejected God’s right to rule their lives in the simplest, most basic aspects.

Noah alone was righteous.

And still, after God passed judgment, after He gave Noah the command to build the ark, it took a hundred years to get it finished.

Yes, these were the days when humans still lived long lives. Scripture intimates in a number of places that humans didn’t lose their faculties as they aged at the same rate we do today. So at 75, for example, Sarai, Abram’s wife, is still referred to as very beautiful.

But to the point, God didn’t strike down all the corrupt of the earth in a fit of anger. And Noah wasn’t off in some corner happily preparing his escape from the coming judgment while other “good people” were unaware of the coming catastrophe.

Scripture refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness,” suggesting that he was splitting his time between building the ark and telling everyone else about God, His expectations, and His righteous judgment.

The people who died in the flood were “ungodly” according to 2 Peter. They’re listed along with the angels God judged and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which God also judged and destroyed.

God does not whack innocent people like some gangland kingpin who’s having a bad day and wants to take it out on whoever is in his way.

God is a righteous judge.

He’s sovereign, but He’s good; his judgments are pure and right, every one of them.

I’m convinced we don’t have to fret over the people who died in the flood. God says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He carries out the judgment against them. I have no doubt that he made the right call. Am I happy many people died? Of course not. But God knew each one of those people by name. I’m confident He wanted more than I ever could, for them to do an about face so that He didn’t have to carry out the judgment upon them.

How do I know this? Because of the prophets and the ways God worked to spare Israel and Judah—the extent He went to in the effort to induce His people to turn back to Him. And ultimately, the fact that He Himself went to a cross to die in my place.

Would a God who loves that much, have done less to win and woo the pre-flood people? It’s not consistent with His character to think He was uncaring in His judgment. But His judgment is a fact and a warning to us that God’s patience is long-suffering but not endless. There is a day of judgment for our world that is also coming.

Would that people today will learn the lesson the pre-flood people failed to grasp.

Published in: on July 30, 2015 at 5:52 pm  Comments (7)  
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Who’s In Charge, The Potter Or The Clay?


Clay_artist_workingAtheists say God doesn’t exist but then hurl accusations at Him as if He does. There’s a two-prong attack I’ve seen: on one hand it’s, why doesn’t your god stop the bad things that are happening in the world; but then they see something like His action against the Amalekites to stop them from inflicting more wickedness on the world and it’s, Why is your god genocidal?

The amazing thing is, a group identifying as Progressive Christians takes a similar approach. They wrestle with some perceived dichotomy between God’s actions in the Old Testament and Jesus’s teaching in the New Testament.

The thing is, there is no such dichotomy. Jesus didn’t soften the truth displayed in the Old Testament that God is a just Judge and sinners will one day find themselves under His judgment.

This answer is not satisfactory to these Progressives because they have determined that they know better than God. In other words, they, the clay, have determined that they know better than the Potter and that they need to tell him where he messed up.

It’s such hubris!

And yet we get people saying things like, there’s a “growing concern among a segment of Evangelicalism over this issue [God’s perceived genocide].” (commenter to Mike Duran’s Facebook Discussion) The implication is that it’s just come to light that God did such a heinous thing as to order King Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and the powers that be in that segment of Evangelicalism are looking into it more closely.

There is so much wrong with this kind of thinking, starting with the attitude toward God.

Is it really so hard to trust His evaluation of the Amalekites? Do we think we are in a better position to judge their hearts in order to determine if they deserved God’s judgment?

On top of that, do we not believe that the wages of sin is death? Why do we think God is somehow unfair for carrying out the very judgment He’s told us sin brings?

But above all might be this idea that we, the created can bring accusation against the Creator. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the incongruity with an analogy: the potter and the lump of clay he’s fashioning.

First he addresses the atheist’s position:

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,
And whose deeds are done in a dark place,
And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”
You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:15-16)

He followed up with a rhetorical question that could be directed at Progressives:

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—
An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!
Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’” (45:9a)

Jeremiah picked up on the analogy in his prophecy, using it to address the very issue these Progressives are accusing God of:

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. (Jeremiah 18:3-10).

If that weren’t enough, Paul takes up the same analogy in his letter to the Romans, demonstrating God’s sovereignty over humankind, whom He created:

who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)

These rhetorical questions carry the assumption that of course the one who makes has the right to make as he pleases.

Yet in our “progressive” twenty-first century thinking, we now believe we can hold God up to our standard and judge Him.

I remember the first time I understood this Romans passage. I was in college and a friend said something I didn’t agree with—don’t remember precisely what it was—but she said, God had the right to do what He wanted and opened her Bible to this passage. I didn’t want to believe it. I went back to my room and studied it out. I couldn’t deny the logic and I couldn’t pretend the Bible wasn’t saying God has the right, the authority, the position to do what He wants.

In the end it boils down to trusting Him to do what’s good or becoming His enemy and fighting Him over control of . . . well, of my lump of clay. Clay can’t exactly intervene on behalf of any other clay, and in actual fact, can’t do anything about its own condition either.

But here’s the thing: the more I trust God, the more He shows me the purpose and plans and power He’s ordered for me. I’m to be His ambassador, I’m to represent Him before the world, I’m commissioned by Him. In the end, it’s an assignment I know I can’t pull off—except God is the one in control. My overriding job is to trust Him and let Him work through me.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalI like the idea that mercy triumphs over judgment. It seems like something most people in western society embrace. We admire people who forgive, especially in the face of unjust hatred or abuse or mistreatment.

Take the story of Louie Zamperini depicted in the movie Unbroken. Why would that man’s life have such an impact on people today? I think in part because of the mercy and forgiveness he extended to his torturers. Yes, his strength and will to survive were admirable, but if his story had ended with the post traumatic stress he experienced and the drug and alcohol abuse he resorted to as a way to cope, I don’t think Unbroken would have been made.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. That phrase is actually a portion of a verse from the book of James. It’s the first part that gives it context:

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:13)

The discussion has been partiality—favoring the rich over the poor. James then builds the case that those engaged in favoritism are sinners. In contrast to that practice, Christians are to speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. Then verse 13.

So what is this law of liberty? I think it is the first part of verse 13: “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”

Liberty? Well, yes. We liberate others from our judgment and we are liberated from bearing the responsibility of judging. The point James is making in this section is that we’re not to judge others based on things like how they dress or the gold they flash around for others to see. We’re not to judge the rich as more worthy of our time and attention, of our best service and favored place.

On the flip side, we are not to consider a poor person as unimportant, not worth our time, someone to be dismissed or kicked to the curb.

Verse 13 basically spells out the consequences for treating others that way: we will be judged without mercy if we show no mercy. If we show no mercy to the poor, we’ll receive no mercy in return. This thinking echoes what Jesus said as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-2)

In other words, the one judging others by what they wear and the gold they possess, will himself be judged by what he wears and what he owns.

If on the other hand, he refrains from judging others and accepts the poor as well as the rich, he himself well be judged by the standard of mercy he’s shown the poor.

This is a practical matter, I think. Too often in our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualistic, entrepreneurial society we are quick to look at someone who is struggling and reach the conclusion they are drug addicts or lazy or shiftless or takers. I know people who don’t want to give to the homeless because “they’ll spend it on booze.”

I’m not saying we should start giving money to every beggar who asks for “bus fare to get home” or whatever the pitch might be. I am suggesting we should extend mercy instead of judgment—which to me means I should not assume the worst in people, especially in people less fortunate than me. It means I should consider taking Peter’s tact when he was faced with the beggar at the temple gate:

And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.

When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”

And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:2-6)

OK, I’m not suggesting we can fix all the external problems of those with whom we come into contact—not our friends or co-workers or family, let alone strangers we encounter on the street. But we can give them what we do have—the love of Jesus.

How to demonstrate that love is something God needs to show us, but He never will if we’re mentally filing through our list of judgments against the person.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. If we wish mercy to be extended to us, why would we hold onto judgment of others?

Cold Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


winter-1419055-mSunday when I arrived at church around 7:45, there were still ice crystals clinging to some of the poinsettias planted out front. That was cold for sunny California.

Montreal, Canada, recently had an ice storm and they have more cold weather coming. The forecast low for next Tuesday is -10°F.

I got word from friends on Facebook that during the recent cold snap the temperature where they live dropped to -19°F. Water freezes at 32°, so we’re talking serious cold.

Except . . . I remember reading a story by Jack London called “To Build A Fire.” If I recall correctly, the story was set in the Yukon during an especially cold spell. The temperature dropped to -75°F. That’s the kind of cold that kills people.

Cold in SoCal doesn’t seem all that cold any more. Except it still feels cold. Everybody Sunday was wearing layers and putting on jackets and knitted caps. Some even donned gloves. The snow level during our last (mini) storm fell as low as 2000 feet.

That meant anyone going to the mountains had to have chains for their car, and Interstate 5, one of the main roads north, was closed for a few hours through an area called the Grapevine because of snow.

We’re all better now. Tuesday we warmed well past our seasonal average, and yesterday the high in LA was reported to be 85°. That short heat spell is gone and we’re closer to normal today—a perfect 70° though it’s getting a little chilly as evening draws near.

Yes, cold is in the eye of the beholder. This evening feels cold compared to yesterday’s high, but Denver is far colder, as is Atlanta, Waco, TX, Chicago, Green Bay, and pretty much anywhere else in the US.

When it comes to cold, there is no definitive standard. Cold comes on a sliding scale, understood by different people to mean different things. Beauty is understood by many to be the same—a quality that varies from person to person.

The problem today is that things which have definitive, measurable standards are viewed as if they too are on a sliding scale.

Sin is a behavior that many understand to be on this sliding scale. Swearing, gossip, lying, jealousy hardly make a blip in the ranking. Taking office supplies from work is on the low end too, cheating on income taxes, a little higher. Further up still might be yelling racial slurs at someone, then domestic violence followed by breaking into someone’s home to steal jewelry or electronics. Going into a fast food restaurant and robbing the service staff at knife point is another notch up. Eventually we get to the really horrible things like selling drugs, rape, sex trafficking, murder, terrorist activity.

Of course, a rape victim might put that crime closer to the top of the scale, and someone who has been physically abused by a spouse might slide that crime higher. Crime, sin in general, is in the eye of the beholder.

Or is it?

Certainly different sins have different consequences meted out by society, but what does God think of sin? Are some sins not so bad and therefore He turns a blind eye or winks at what we do as long as we promise to try harder next time?

From what Paul says in Galatians, it doesn’t seem as if God ignores the “minor” sins. If fact, He puts the ones we consider minor onto the same list as the biggies:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

So jealous people are just as bad off as sorcerers, dissenters as far from God’s kingdom as idolaters. That nice socially acceptable sliding scale of sin seems to crumple under God’s scrutiny.

He has a definitive standard for behavior—righteousness, purity, holiness. In other words, the definition of good is never mostly____, fill in the blank. Mostly kind. Mostly sweet tempered. Mostly peace loving. Mostly God-fearing.

Neither evil nor good are a moving target, and consequently sin isn’t on a sliding scale. We know from our own experience that we don’t hit “good” a hundred percent of the time.

As Scripture states it, someone who breaks the law is a law breaker, a trespasser, a sinner.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11).

What’s the point? God told Adam there would be consequence if he fell short of the glory of God. That transgression would result in his death. When he did sin, his death meant a change in his relationship with God, his wife, his environment, and ultimately a change in himself.

Death.

Spiritual death, relational death, environmental death, physical death.

Not surprisingly, people today don’t like this death sentence. Some ignore it; many turn to a belief system that tries to undue it (reincarnation, for example, or universalism) or at least some part of it (annihilation).

Some rail at God because according to the sliding scale they use to measure sin, death is too harsh a consequence for every sinner.

The problem in each of these instances is that people want to take God’s place. He’s the Judge. Not only is that His role, He fulfills it perfectly:

And He will judge the world in righteousness;
He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. (Ps. 9:8)

Trusting that God is right, He’ll make no mistakes, should take away any doubt or fear about what comes after this life. It should stop the vain attempts of humans to pick up the gavel and play judge.

We often talk about the need to let God be on the throne of our lives, but I think there’s an equal need to let God be in the judges box.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 6:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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Yep! It’s God


A_courtroom_scene_with_a_judge,_a_pregnant_woman,_a_guilty_l_Wellcome_V0039186

At the end of “The Great Divide,” I asked

Is Man righteous or is God? We can’t have it both ways because God has said Man is not righteous. So if God lies, He’s not righteous. It’s one or the other, Man or God. And there is the great divide.

So the answer is, God is righteous.

Of course, the great complaint against God—by atheists and Progressives alike—is that God is not righteous. In fact, I’ve heard from people in both camps say that God is a tyrant. Some claim He orders genocide and that His wrath, if it were true about Him, would be in direct contradiction to His love.

The atheist uses these charges as evidence that the God of those who claim to believe the Bible simply does not exist. The Progressives use these charges as an excuse to dump the Old Testament and the wrathful God it reveals in favor of the New Testament and the loving God they see in Jesus.

In truth, I believe atheists have more intellectual honesty here than do the Progressives, though they are unfortunately just as incorrect in their conclusions.

Because the atheist starts from a Man-is-good position, it is logical to conclude that a god who would order the destruction of a race of people (the Amalekites) or nearly an entire generation (Noah’s contemporaries), must be evil—who else would destroy so many good people?

That position is intellectually honest but wrong because of the starting place.

Progressives make the mistake of hanging their belief about God on an erroneous view of Jesus. Apparently they also start with a Man-is-good view and dismiss the wrathful god of the Old Testament for similar reasons as atheists do. However, they choose to embrace Jesus as the god of love.

This is not intellectually honest. Rather, it demonstrates a shameful lack of knowledge about the one they claim to worship—both what he did and what he said.

Jesus was no pushover, acting as a pacifist who would simply love, love, love and never correct anyone. His decision—twice—to cleanse the temple by chasing out the people who didn’t belong and who were conducting business which they shouldn’t have done, involved turning over tables and chasing people out and taking a whip to move them along.

Time and again Jesus, knowing full well what He was doing, healed people on the Sabbath—almost as if He were baiting the Pharisees who He knew wouldn’t approve.

In His direct confrontations with the sect, He called them names—vipers, whitewashed tombs, hypocrites—and used scathing language in accusing them of breaking God’s law. At one point He even told them Satan was their father.

I doubt very much if a single Pharisee would have thought “loving” when they looked at Jesus.

In addition, no one talked more above hell than did Jesus. He told parables in which the ungodly were thrown out into outer darkness, or into eternal fire or unquenchable fire or a furnace of fire. He also talked about praise for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, about choosing a narrow gate versus a broad gate, about separating goats and sheep. In other words, Jesus was not an advocate for some kind of universal happily ever after which His love would provide.

Both these two camps—atheists and Progressives—are mistaken. God is righteous.

First, God’s nature puts things into perspective. He is, among other traits, holy. Think of a surgeon who is masked, gowned, scrubbed, and gloved. He must not pick up any instrument that has not also been sterilized and made pure. To do so would contaminate him. In a similar way, God’s purity does not allow for relationship with those stained by sin. All of humanity, in other words.

The only hope for relationship, humans with God, is for us to become pure—something we have no way of accomplishing. Enter God into the world in human flesh to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

In addition, God is omniscient. He knows the heart of each person—the hidden thoughts of selfishness or hatred or lust or greed or jealousy or pride or covetousness or whatever other sin resides inside us. We can clean up on the outside and we can pretend, even to ourselves, but God knows the truth about us.

Then, too, God will judge between the afflicted and the oppressor. Granted, He provides a refuge in time of trouble. He hides and helps and delivers. But the oppressor isn’t the one receiving God’s protection and care. The oppressor is receiving God’s judgment.

This passage from Psalm 11 spells out God’s role as judge:

The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face. (vv 5-7)

Clearly His authority to test the righteous and the wicked is connected to His righteousness. No profit comes from pleading before a corrupt judge or one who disregards truth or loves evil instead of good. Judgment only brings justice if the judge is unbiased and adheres to the law.

That’s God. He is righteous. We, on the other hand, are not.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Patience Of God


Manasseh repented002There are two kings, one of Judah and one of Israel, who were despicable. The Bible doesn’t mince words about them—they built idol temples and instituted idol worship and for one of these kings that included child sacrifice.

The thing is, that latter king, Manasseh, reigned the longest of any—fifty-five years. The other, Ahab, wasn’t some brief footnote in history himself, holding the throne for twenty-two years.

They shed innocent blood, worshiped gods who were no gods, “seduced” the people to do evil, and in Manasseh’s case, involved himself in the occult.

But other kings who didn’t do half the horrific acts these two did, had short reigns: Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided northern kingdom, Israel, was succeeded by his son Nadab who reigned two years. Omri, Ahab’s father, reigned twelve. Manasseh’s son Amon was on the throne for just two years.

Then there were the final four—the last kings of Israel who reigned for three months, eleven years, three months, and eleven years, respectively. All short in comparison to Ahab and Manasseh. Why did those evil kings stay in power so long?

Scripture spends a little more time on Ahab and his reign than many of the kings. Remarkably, despite Ahab’s waywardness, God sent prophets to him time and again, unbidden apparently, to help him in what appeared to be impossible circumstances.

The great threat of his day came from the north. The group of city-states known as Aram—the area we identify as Syria—came together under one powerful king and mustered a huge army to go against Ahab.

Israel’s forces were in decline. They’d had wars against Judah and were greatly weakened, so they were no match for the 100,000 Aramean troops that surrounded them. Enter the prophet of God. His message to Ahab was, God will get you out of this:

Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD. (1 Kings 20:13b)

Ahab asked one question: by whom? God answered, By the hand of the young men of the rulers of the provinces. Turns out that was a group of 232 young men—a smaller force than Gideon lead in an earlier generation.

Nevertheless, as the prophet said, God delivered this huge army into Israel’s hands.

The powerful Aramean king who’d apparently expected a pretty easy victory, raised another army as big as the first and he put military men in charge. Further, he changed the location of the battle since his advisers told him the God of Israel was a God of the mountains and not the plains.

Again the prophet came to Ahab:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (1 Kings 20:28)

Israel did, in fact, reap a miraculous victory again, but Ahab let the Aramean king escape God’s retribution. God rebuked him for that. Ahab responded by allowing his wife to steal land he coveted from a neighbor and have the man killed. This time Elijah confronted Ahab and pronounced judgment on his house.

Up to that point Ahab’s legacy was abominable:

Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26)

And yet, when he heard Elijah proclaim God’s judgment for his sins, he repented. He tore his clothes—the Middle East way of mourning—put on sackcloth, and fasted. There was a change in his demeanor, too.

God explained it to Elijah: “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?” (1 Kings 21:29a) The attitude change had to be genuine and deep. After all, God sees the heart. He wouldn’t be fooled by a hypocritical outward display that held no real change.

So as near as I can determine, God allowed Ahab to remain on the throne all those years, sending him prophets to help him and rebuke him, to give him opportunity to humble himself. What a display of God’s patience and mercy!

Same thing with Manasseh. We don’t know as many details about the events that turned him to God after all those years of evil, but here’s what 2 Chronicles says:

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (33:10-13)

God patiently waited for this man so many of us would have written off as hopelessly, despicably evil and beyond God’s reach, to humble himself and know that the LORD is God.

I wonder what Ahab or Manasseh might be in some Senate seat or governor’s mansion or state office today. Perhaps we should be praying that God will demonstrate His loving patience so that they can humble themselves and know that the LORD is God. Perhaps we should thank Him for His patience that extends to us that we too might humble ourselves and know Him.

Published in: on November 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off on The Patience Of God  
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Ebola


6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995The US news media has a short attention span (unless a story hits one of their pet peeves like the Donald Sterling fiasco did). Seemingly all but forgotten, for example, is the struggle Ukraine has with Russia. After the US started bomb runs in Syria, ISIS faded to a secondary story, too.

The new hot story is the Ebola virus because, like the beheadings in Iraq/Syria, Americans are involved! I don’t mean to speak lightly about this subject, and I love my country, but honestly there is such an insufferable self-importance about so much of what holds the attention of those who feed us the news.

The fact that hundreds were dying in West Africa wasn’t enough to move the Ebola story into the limelight, but when one, then two and three American aid workers became infected, suddenly Ebola was in the top tier of news items. When an average Joe American traveler contracted the disease and soon died from it, well, now it’s not just news. It’s a crisis.

Of course there has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to the Ebola virus.

Pestilence, though not a common word today, is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Ebola virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading in West Africa, and perhaps in places beyond, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Ebola virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US now have in preparing to fight an outbreak of Ebola. It’s coming, they suspect.

But we Christians know. If not Ebola, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

Published in: on September 17, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments (4)  
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