I think we all know that God is a God of judgment and punishment. It seems that the prevailing attitude of most people who don’t know God is that He is an angry old man just waiting to jump all over anyone who does wrong. Certainly some part of this picture is true. And who would want a world where evil goes unabated and unpunished? Yet what a lot of people don’t know is that God is also a God of love and mercy, and according to His own statement, delivered by Moses along with what we commonly call the Ten Commandments, is that His love trumps His judgment and punishment 250 to 1. It’s right there in the fine print after commandment #2 to not make idols of any kind.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6)
That’s an overwhelming difference. Not to take anything away from the judgment of God, but to show how much more eager He is to love, forgive and show mercy.
How has this happened? How have we missed this? How is it that the love and mercy of God isn’t at least as well-known as His judgment?
I can think of a few reasons:
- Ever since the church was established, we have preferred legalism in the church and the home as a means of getting compliance and controlling behavior.
- It’s human nature to prefer legalism, and, like God, we do have to represent both law and grace; it’s just that we prefer law because we can control it better. We know exactly what to expect and we can control who gets grace and who doesn’t.
- We’re always afraid that people will take advantage of grace and forgiveness, if that’s all we talk about, so we don’t talk about it at all. We are Christians operating on a system of rewards and punishments much more in keeping with the part of God revealed in the Old Testament over the part of God revealed in the New Testament.
People know right and wrong intuitively. Paul says in Romans that this knowledge is built into our consciences. You don’t have to spend a lot of time convincing people that we are all guilty of something. But to get people to believe that we can be forgiven in Christ and live a life of faith that is pleasing to God because of the Spirit of God that is born in us by faith? That’s another thing. It goes against our natural inclination and makes it more difficult to control people or get them to comply with what we want.
But “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Freedom is scarier than law. Riskier. Yes, it can be taken advantage of, but the law has been taken advantage of ever since it was given.
The important thing here is that we get the fact that God is desirous of lavishing love on us all, much more so than He is to punish us, and that’s a message of Grace turned Outward we all need to be spreading around to our friends and neighbors.
The real God is different from the one most people are thinking about, and that’s a big part of the good news we are representing in the marketplace. Today is the Day of Salvation. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, have proclaimed it so. Today is the day! Spread the word! God can’t wait to show mercy to those who come to Him seeking it.