We can’t control God. And that’s scary to us. He is unconquerable, omniscient, all-powerful. He is not someone you can escape from. We sometimes forget that the God who died to save us is the same God who opened up the ground in judgment of 250 Israelites, causing them and their households to fall to their deaths. And that was an act of mercy – moments before, Moses and Aaron had pleaded with the Lord not to destroy the entire assembly.
We try to separate the Old and New Testaments, reasoning that our "New Testament God" is docile and comforting. But when you’re reading the gospels, do you really get that sense? I find myself sometimes scared of Jesus. He’s a dangerous guy – He has passion. And if you still think you worship the "New Testament" God, take another look at Revelation. God is loving for sure, but sometimes it’s a tough love.
The other day my Swiss roommate described God as "loving, and sometimes crazy." I agree. What else but crazy love would prompt the God of the universe to be born into a fallen world and then die for it?
In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey talks about his rediscovery of Christ. "Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mister Rogers figure I had met in Sunday school, and was remarkably unlike the person I had studied in Bible college," Yancey wrote. "For one thing, he was far less tame. Other people affected Jesus deeply: obstinacy frustrated him, self-righteousness infuriated him, simple faith thrilled him. Indeed, he seemed more emotional and spontaneous than the average person, not less. More passionate, not less."
It’s something I sometimes struggle with when I’m reading about God’s holy wrath. But then I remember: God’s emotion is what makes me relate to Him. He is like us. Or rather, we are like Him. He is full of unbridled passion. He is full of crazy love. And though He provides grace, He requires righteousness.
Much of my journey with Him has been about reconciling this seeming paradox. It’s hard for me to trust Him sometimes, especially when I read about His wrath. Can I believe that this same God who sent the men of Israel to battle – with instructions not to spare the women and children of other nations – is good? Can I believe that a God who prepares people as "objects of His wrath" is good? Can I trust this God? The One who minutes after commissioning Moses almost kills him for not circumcising his son. The One who kills Uzzah when he reaches out to steady the ark after the oxen carrying it stumbled, causing even David to be "afraid of God that day" (1 Chronicles 13:9). The One who says when He sends Isaiah, "Make the heart of these people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10).
I don’t really have a choice. But I know that God has never broken a promise. He has promised living water to those who come, and once we come He promises to never leave us or forsake us. And knowing this, I have to believe that He knows what He’s doing, that He has His reasons, that what seems contradictory to me is actually not contradictory.
One of the passages that helps me see most clearly these seemingly opposite characteristics of God is when Jesus speaks to the church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). He gets right to the point. He tells them they are lacking: "Because you are lukewarm – neither hot not cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth … you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." How’s that for a confidence boost? Then He says: "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover you shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." Jesus longs to change them, and speaks the gentle words: "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." Jesus is both firm and gentle, both challenging and comforting. And He extends the invitation to open the door so He can eat with us … and ultimately the invitation to sit on His lap, on the very throne of God.
In the allegorical book Mountains of Spices, (the sequel to Hinds’ Feet on High Places) by Hannah Hurnard, the Shepherd meets with his servant Grace and Glory every morning on the High Places (the mountains). One day, the lesson is "The Terror of Love."
"Love, which is the most beautiful and the most gentle passion in the universe, can and must be at the same time the most terrible," the Shepherd says. "Terrible in what it is willing to endure itself in order to secure the blessing and happiness and perfection of the beloved, and, also, apparently terrible in what it will allow the beloved to endure if suffering is the only means by which the perfection or restoration to health of the beloved can be secured."
It is a hard lesson to learn, but a worthwhile one. We don’t want to be worshiping the wrong God, a God we have made up to be a kind grandfather in the sky. The God we should be worshiping is wild. You can feel it when you read through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea. He’s a wounded lover. He’s often indignant, horrified, upset with His people. But He can’t stop loving them, and time and time again He says things like: "Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him" (Jeremiah 30:20) and "Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows" (Hosea 11:8).
This wild and mysterious God can cause us to tremble. But we need not fear. A bruised reed He will not break. Take heart in His words: "In a moment of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you" (Isaiah 54:8).
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