Several years ago, while I was teaching, I was talking about God’s willingness to judge, punish, and even destroy when necessary. I wasn’t too far into the teaching about these attributes of our Lord, a man who (along with his wife) regularly attended the class, raised his hand and made a terse comment; he said something like: “. . . I don’t come to Church to hear about God’s judgment; I come to hear about His love. My God is love, and that’s all I am interested in.” That was his last Sunday with us, he never came back.
His reaction shook me up a little, and I thought about it for several weeks. It caused me to accept the reality that indeed our God is a god of many contrasts. In the crucifixion of our Messiah we witness Yehoveh’s judgment wrapped in His forgiveness When you read the Scriptures, Old Testament or New Testament, you see evidence of His incredible love and mercy that would permit His own son to die a torturous death for our sake; yet, on other pages we read about His destruction of the entire world, of His slaying of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians because of the stubbornness of a Pharaoh, and of His ordering the deaths of thousands of Israelites for building a Golden Calf.
This man who was so upset at me for teaching on God’s attribute of judgment represents a large portion of the Church who prefers to set aside the Biblical view of divine retribution in favor of a more warm and fuzzy fantasy. As I have heard said in one form or another from pulpits more times than I can remember: “God will always forgive us. That’s His job.”
It’s important to understand that this perception that the supposed strict and judgmental God of the Old Testament has given way to a tolerant and all-merciful God of the New Testament is a modern and progressive theology. Examine the teachings of the learned biblical scholars of barely more than a century ago, and you will see great concern over proper worship; and for constant self examination to assure that we are striving for purity and obedience to our Lord—and this to avoid the disciplinary action, or worse, loss of Yahweh’s blessing on us. Today, we describe sermons on the subject of God’s judgment as being about “Hellfire and Damnation”—and most pastors won’t touch that with a 10-foot pole anymore. Why? Because 21st century Christians don’t want to hear it.
True enough, as Believers we’re not to focus day and night on sin. Nor, are we to live a life of anxiety and worry for some imagined offense against Yahweh that we are not really able to completely identify—or, perhaps about grievous sin we have committed that we view as possibly too horrible for even Jesus’ blood to atone for. The desire to avoid God’s wrath, His condemnation to an eternity in Hell, and to be obedient to a fault led to morbid introspection which became all the rage in the Middle Ages; self-mutilation accompanied with long prayers, that might last for hours, which confessed every perceived sin that might exist within that person, gained popularity with the especially pious-minded.
As unbalanced as all that was, it is no more out of kilter than where the bulk of modern Christians have arrived; that we have nothing to fear from our God. That because we have confessed loyalty to His Son, Yeshua, all of our disobedience and careless worship and frivolous lifestyles will be met with a grandfatherly wink and nod from the Almighty. The idea being that now that we have purchased our fire insurance in the form of Salvation, we can play with matches without a care in the world.
Well, over the next few days I hope to put a dent in that kind of dangerous thinking and false theology, by showing you examples from both the Old Testament and New Testament of how Yahweh reacted to disobedience by His Believers. Examples we have all heard about before, but because we didn’t have the proper background and context, the principles and lessons intended were obscured.