At the intersection of God’s sovereignty and His grace lies a challenging area for many Christians. His goodness.
More and more people these days are walking away from God because they cannot reconcile that intersection in their mind and heart. Why is it so challenging? Why is it hard to believe in God’s goodness while understanding He has the right to judge and the mercy to forgive?
We see horrible things all around us. Americans are masters of entertaining themselves into a drunken stupor to forget the horrible things that lie right outside our doors. Fear, shame, guilt and regret crouch at everyone’s door, waiting to pounce at the first sign of free mental energy. So we put off the inevitable encounter.
We can make all the decisions, sign all the cards and volunteer for all the soup kitchens we want, but until one thing is clear in our hearts and minds we cannot ever fully give our hearts to a God we’re not totally sure is worthy of it. God’s goodness is the foundational tenet of the Christian faith that causes people to flee the doors of a church every day in our nation.
No matter how hard we try to put off that moment when we wrestle, for ourselves, with the notion of whether or not God is good, we all eventually must face it. We see every manner of evil happening to “good” people all the time. Friends, family, children and vulnerable women go abused, neglected and forgotten and we wonder, “why?”
We’re told over and over again in church that God is good and that He loves us. Sometimes we’re discouraged from reading the stories in Scripture about how He’s treated some of the more unfortunate inhabitants of planet earth in the past. “Don’t read Revelation,” they say, “It will only confuse you. Leviticus and Deuteronomy aren’t worth your time either.” Why read things in Scripture that only talk about that mean old God of the Old Testament (except that Revelation is in fact in the New Testament).
Try as we may to forget that God has judged, quite harshly, people in the past and promised that He has saved His most strict judgement for people in the future, we all eventually face those facts. And that’s where we face an intersection that many are not prepared for.
Is God a mean, spiteful judge, or is His a kind, merciful, forgiving savior?
I’ve recently published a book about God’s judgement, The Year of the Lord’s Favor?. It’s a subject I struggled with for years, but ultimately came to a powerful conclusion on because of a sturdy foundation.
When we believe that God is good, and are unshakable on that fact, many other things become clear. If God was one of us, we could accuse Him of being a mean, spiteful judge, lying in wait to exact revenge upon those who have done Him wrong. But that is not who God is. God created us. He fashioned us in His image. He allowed us to stray away and fulfill our lustful pleasures in sin. He waited. He watched. Then He did the unthinkable. He sent His only Son, part of the Godhead itself, to suffer and die for the remission of our sins.
Instead of judging us, as we deserve, He made a way for us to be reconciled to God. But He did so without ever removing Himself from the position of judge. The punishment that we deserve for our sins was levied against Jesus Himself. He bore our shame, guilt, fear and regret on the cross. When we accept His sacrifice, God judges Jesus instead of us for our sins.
But at no time does God ever stop being a judge. And at no time does God ever stop being a loving, forgiving, merciful savior.
Our reality, when we choose to accept God’s gift of salvation, is that the intersection of whether God is a judge or a savior is exactly where we find that He is good. God did not subject Jesus to the cross against His will. Jesus chose it for Himself. The Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit conspired together to redeem men to themselves by crushing their willing volunteer, the Son, with the punishment of our sins.
God’s eternal goodness is displayed not only in His forgiveness but also in His judgement. In fact, there can be no forgiveness of our sins without the judgement of them as well. If Jesus was not crushed for our sins, we cannot be forgiven them, according to God’s plan.
But unfortunately, many people flee from God, thinking Him to be a tyrant. The God who holds everyone to an impossibly strict standard cannot be worthy of their affections, or so they perceive. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The God who judges harshly reserved the harshest judgement for His Son, for our sake. When we consider our fallen, miserable state of sin and Jesus’ decision to offer Himself to be crushed for them, we should cry foul then. Not when God judges sinners, as we see in the Old Testament or in Revelation. We should cry the loudest and strongest chorus of “not fair” when we consider how Jesus’ precious blood was spilled. Who are we to deserve such an act? Who was Jesus to deserve such a fate?
When we understand the depth of the goodness that God displayed on our behalf, we should run into the arms of a loving, judging, forgiving Father, not away from Him.