How does God’s love mix with his judgment?

As you read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you will find accounts of God’s judgement. The first one is the flood of the earth destroying everyone and saving only Noah and his family in an ark.

Why would God do this? The Bible is pretty clear that it is because of the wickedness of the people. If you read through to the end of the Bible you will find many more places where God destroyed people who were bent on doing evil. He even brought enemy forces against his own chosen nation, the descendants of Abraham, when they turned from him and served idols.

Is this consistent with our concept of a loving God who is for us? Maybe not. But notice, I said, “consistent with our concept.” We say love shouldn’t do that. It makes us fearful. What if I mess up in some way? What will happen to me? Will God be angry with me and destroy me?

This is a heavy topic, but an important one. Why would I want to serve a God who becomes angry and destroys people? Some people try and solve this problem by ignoring the Old Testament, saying either that it is not true, or that it is irrelevant after Jesus came. I don’t think it’s that simple.

I’ll share with you my take on this, and you can think about it and agree or disagree. Try and picture God creating a perfect universe. Imagine you were God. You sculpted these creatures to rule your universe. You breathed life into them. You gave them everything they needed but they turned against you. Do you feel a little put out? A little angry?

I think the part that is difficult to understand is not that God destroys those who turn against him, but that he continues to endure this insolent behaviour through the millennia. There is something within his creation that is so precious and dear to him, that he keeps on searching for those few who will love him. Apparently it is worth enduring all the evil just for this.

Jesus, like Adam and Eve when they were first created, was perfect and did not sin. God was pleased with him and ultimately death could not keep him in the grave. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would not have died. Think of it. Their children would not have died. Generations to follow would not have died. It would have been heaven on earth, literally, with no sin and death.

This was God’s will for his creation in the beginning and it is still his will. Something has changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it is not the character of God, as some people would like us to believe. What has changed is that God showed us that love is stronger than war. Laying down our lives is more effective than killing. And God set the example.

Advertisements

Reading the books of the Bible

This morning I read the book of 1 Peter. The Bible is not like a story that has to be read from cover to cover. However, it has individual books that you may want to read in their entirety. They are divided into chapters which in turn are divided into verses. Some people read a chapter a day. Many memorize their favorite verses. If you want to read through the entire Bible in a year, you can do so by reading three chapters a day. This is a good habit to form.

As I said previously, the first four books of the New Testament are documentations of the life of Jesus written by four different eye witnesses. It is remarkable that we have such reliable sources available to us. Historically there have been times when certain rulers tried to abolish and destroy the Bible. This always remains a mystery to me because Christians are taught in the Bible to obey those who have authority over them. Of course this is with the exception of worshipping other deities or committing a sin against others.

Christians have sometimes been persecuted for their faith, but, as a whole, Christians who live in love and humility as the Bible indicates are appreciated and respected around the world. Why would you not want to live next to someone who is kind, peace loving, gentle, faithful to his or her spouse, does not steal or lie, does not give a false witness in court, does not extort money from others but rather is generous?

Christians do not always live this way, but this is the standard that is held up for us in the Bible. If we choose to go our own way and please ourselves, we are turning away from following Christ. In 2 Peter this is compared to a dog returning to its vomit, pretty graphic. Once we have truly understood the extent of the forgiveness that Christ mercifully offers to us we do not want to return to a lifestyle that is self-centred and insensitive to others and grieves Christ.

The most important thing

There are many laws in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the Jewish people were practically in bondage to their own laws. Jesus tried to simplify things for them. He told them that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. Even a little child could enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus taught that all the laws of the Old Testament could be summed up in two laws, love God with all your heart, and love people as you love yourself. In reading the Bible it is necessary to keep these two principles of life in mind. The Bible teaches us how important it is to love God and others. We keep seeing throughout the stories that are told, that this does not come naturally to people.

One of the first verses I ever learned as a child was, “We love him because he first loved us.” The most important message of the Bible is that God loves us. He created us. He designed us. He loved his creation then and he still loves his creation now. The Bible is saturated with the love of God. His love permeates every story and every teaching.

Is God for me or against me?

The message of the Bible is that God is for you. He has plans for you, not to destroy you, but to give you a hope and a future. That is his desire and intention.

Then why am I suffering, you ask? Why don’t I have a job? Why did my wife leave me? Why am I sick, dying, maybe?

I wish I could give a satisfactory answer. I know that I don’t like to suffer, to be in pain, to have broken relationships, to lose a loved one. But do I really think that if I am going through these things, it means that God is against me? Or that God is unjust or unloving?

Many people in the Bible suffered tremendous hardship. Sometimes they suffered as a direct result of what they believed to be true about God. They suffered because they told others what they believed and tried to convince them of the truth they had seen. Was God against them?

I could quote scripture verses here, but I choose not to. Instead I am speaking about the general tone of the Bible and sharing insights and guidance, without chapter and verse references.

How do I, personally, know that God is for me? I know because I believe that I am his creation. He loves his creation. I know because he sent his son Jesus to live among us, to show us his love, to identify with us in our suffering. I know because in his love he has given us guidelines for living in a way to protect us from lifestyles that are harmful. I know because Jesus went to the ultimate length and allowed himself to be killed by people who were against him.

Bad things happen to good people, even the perfect son of God. If God allowed Jesus to suffer, we too can expect suffering. Just as God helped Jesus and raised him in victory, he will help us when we look to him. Jesus’ life and death show us that the fact that we suffer does not mean that God is not for us.

If we suffer, it does not mean that God does not love us. It simply means there is the presence of evil, deterioration, and death in the world and we continue to be affected by it. Accidents will happen. We will encounter people with bad intentions. Our bodies will break down or succumb to diseases. We may lose our jobs. We may be treated unjustly. But the truth about God remains the same. He is for us.

Wanting God’s way more than our own

Jesus of the Bible did miracles of healing and even raising people from the dead. He taught about the kingdom of God. In fact, he taught his disciples to pray, “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the Old Testament Moses delivered the Israelite people, the descendants of Abraham who had grown into a nation. He delivered them from Egypt, from Pharaoh, who did not want to let them go. Pharoah cruelly abused the Israelites. They were his slaves.

There is a parallel in the New Testament and even today in that we too need to be delivered from bondage. We have a lifestyle and attitude that is detrimental to our well-being. It keeps us in bondage and will make us spiritually sick and cause us to die in the end. It is the sin in our lives that keeps us from the will of God.

Some people want to stay where they are. Some have no desire for the life God has designed, a life that is according to his will.

When we read the Bible, or hear messages about God and Jesus, we can ignore them or refuse them or disbelieve them. We can live life according to our own will.

But to take God’s word and live by it requires courage and persistence. It requires a willingness to change, to accept God’s will as our own, to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Reading the Bible can be difficult

I speak from personal experience. There are parts of the Bible that I love to read, and others that I do not enjoy. I don’t enjoy the apocalyptic books, the books that speak allegorically about things to come. I don’t enjoy some of the negative, condemning passages. Books like Isaiah and Jeremiah are filled with these. If you are new to the Bible it may shock you how much negative content the Bible contains.

When I was new to the Bible I underlined verses that were especially meaningful to me. I mostly read parts of the New Testament, and the books of Psalms and Proverbs in the Old Testament. It’s OK to stay here for awhile, although eventually you will want to get a grasp of the whole book.

I kind of look at it this way. Someone who is really serious about finding hidden treasure will spend a lot of time digging. The Bible has a lot of hidden treasure.

If the Bible is new to you

If the Bible is new to you, there are a couple of things you’ll want to know. Firstly, it is written over centuries by numerous authors but it has a common theme. The separate books were compiled by the second century A.D. Various criteria were used to determine the authenticity and reliability of each text.

The Old Testament

The first half, called the Old Testament, begins with the story of creation. It then goes on to tell many other stories of God’s dealings with mankind. God makes a covenant with Abraham and promises him that he will have numerous descendants and that through him all nations will be blessed. The Old Testament is not shy about showing the raw side of humanity. It is the story of God’s chosen people continually returning to serving idols. This violates the first commandment of the ten commandments God gave to Moses and the nation of Israel, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

The New Testament

The second half, the New Testament, begins with four accounts of the life of Christ. These four books are called the Gospels. They are followed by the book of Acts which tells the story of how the disciples of Jesus Christ started the early church. The remainder of the books expound the teachings of Christ. The book of Revelation is a book of prophesy of the end times and is allegorical. There are also some allegorical books in the Old Testament.

The New Testament is believed to be a fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament that God would bless many nations through Abraham. The lineage of Jesus, the promised Messiah, or Saviour, can be traced back to Abraham and it is through the coming of Jesus that many nations are blessed. The New Testament teaches that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty of the sins of the world and to offer forgiveness to everyone who receives this gift. This is what is referred to as salvation from sin, or re-birth.

Jesus as Saviour

The Jewish nation, which is descended from Abraham, believed that the prophesied “King,” or Saviour, or Messiah, would deliver them from their enemies. Many refused to acknowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, despite the fact that he fulfilled the prophesies given in the Old Testament concerning him. They expected him to set up a throne on earth, but Jesus spoke of an eternal kingdom. He taught people to love and serve each other, not to triumph over one another.

Jesus also claimed to be the Son of God, and to be equal with God. This was considered blasphemy, by the Jews, a violation of the commandment not to have other gods. By their law he had to be killed and they arrested him and had him crucified.

Three days later Jesus rose from the dead and after many appearances he ascended to heaven. A rumor was spread claiming that the disciples stole his body. However, the Jews had asked specifically that a special guard of Roman soldiers guard the tomb. Their request was granted. The reason they asked for this was because they had heard of Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead. So their preventative measures turned out to be futile and made their later stories look rather ludicrous.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven he promised he would return one day and receive those who have chosen him to be their Saviour to be with him forever in an eternal home in heaven.