To leave matters here might be considered "unfair," because it would leave us with a somewhat one-sided emphasis on one of the characteristics of God... to the neglect of one of its complements.
In the previous two "chapters" we have been emphasizing God's sovereignty. If we leave it at this, we might be guilty of portraying a cruel and heartless God, totally indifferent about the plight of the people he created.
It is true that there are many things about our God that we can barely comprehend. (What is finite can never fully comprehend what is infinite.) But cruelty and heartlessness are not among these characteristics. By no means!
Scripture is full of verses describing the compassion, love and mercy of God. Yet because of the way sin (or the sinful nature) has affected our thinking, it may be difficult for us to comprehend how these characteristics "mesh together" with the concept of God's sovereign "decree" (which includes judgment against sin). Nevertheless, both are true, and we must consciously acknowledge (and emphasize) both, in order to get an accurate (though finite) comprehension of God.
Perhaps the best place to start would be the following verse:
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
The context is the coming judgment and the fact that it has not yet come. It was written in response to scoffers who had begun to mock because of God's "slowness" in doing what he said he would do. But the reason for God's "delay" is not because it won't happen. Rather, it is because of his desire to give those people another opportunity before it is too late. It is not his desire for anyone to perish. He would like all to repent.
But we know that not all will do so. And since sin cannot stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God, he must eventually do something. He must eventually cast it out of his presence (and away from all the blessings that come from him - everything that is good). Because of his compassion, he is going to wait "as long as possible." (This is from the standpoint of time - see the previous verse which emphasizes that God is not limited by time, as we are). Then, true to his word, he will come, but only when there is no alternative. Prior to that event, sin will increase to the point that it would totally destroy mankind, if not stopped. And it is for the sake of those whom he has saved, that he will come.
In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, the entire human race will be destroyed. But it will be shortened for the sake of God's chosen ones. (Matthew 24:22)
We can say that these events will occur because God has decreed them to happen in this manner. But from the perspective of human responsibility, it will happen because we, as a race of fallen humanity, have chosen to so fully rebel against God that we are no longer capable of experiencing the blessings that come from him - things such as peace, joy, and life. Remember that all the true blessings of life have their origin in him. In fact, their very existence is a testimony to all people about God and what he is like!
He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. (Acts 14:17)
The following verses describe his love toward those who hate him... as well as the requirement that his followers must become "like him," and do the same.
"But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:44-47)
[Note: Many who call themselves "Christians" do not do this. But we should not be surprised, for Jesus warned that prior to the final day of judgment, many "pretenders" would exist. As warned in 2 Peter 2:2, false teachers would give the way of truth a bad reputation. And Paul warns us that people would refuse to love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and that they would be characterized as "having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5). In the end, however, it will be seen that they are "bringing swift destruction on themselves" (2 Peter 2:1). They will not escape - and it will be because of their own actions. (No one will be blaming "sovereignty" for it!)]
Jesus often showed compassion for those who rejected him. The example that follows occurred just prior to his warning about the severe judgment that would have to come because of their rejection. His compassion was genuine (and was demonstrated throughout his life - read the gospels), yet so was their rejection. (You can't blame "sovereignty.") It was with great, genuine sorrow that he warned them of what they would have to experience (recorded in chapter 24 and 25).
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God's messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me. And now look, your house is left to you, empty and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, 'Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!' (Matthew 23:37-39)
Even when they crucified him, how did he respond?
Jesus said, "Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34a)
If he hadn't said that, perhaps the world would have ended at that time, in an enormous fireball of well-deserved judgment!
The love, compassion, mercy and patience of God toward those who have rebelled against him is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. To emphasize "sovereignty" and to ignore this, or to use "sovereignty" to diminish the significance of this, would be to perversely distort the character of the God of the Bible.
All mankind willingly chose to sin in the Garden of Eden. We were there in Adam (though we did not have a consciousness that was separate from his). And ever since that time, people have willingly confirmed that choice - each time they choose to sin.
God would be fully righteous and just if he would simply wipe us all off the face of the earth. He could rightfully say, "I've had enough of this," and pour out his wrath against us. But our God is not like this; he is full of mercy and compassion.
Because of the LORD'S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Where is another God like you, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:18-19)
These verses in Micah were originally written to the nation of Israel (God's people) when they had become so wicked that he could no longer refuse to send judgment against them. But because of what Jesus did on the cross, people in all nations have the opportunity to have a part in this compassion and forgiveness.
On the day of judgment, there will be a sad, but interesting change in perspective. Today, many accuse God of being unjust or of not giving them "what they deserve." Many blame God for what they do. ("I can't help it; God made me this way.") But at the judgment, all will change. When we stand in the presence of God, and see how great the contrast is, between his holiness and our sinfulness, all such accusations will melt away. Those who perish will willingly acknowledge that they are receiving only what they truly deserve. It will only be the true followers of Jesus who confess that they do not get what they deserve. For they, too, deserve the wrath of God. But it was experienced by someone else - on the cross.
May those who are wise understand what is written here, and may they take it to heart. The LORD's ways are right, and righteous people live by following them, but sinners stumble and fall because they ignore them. (Hosea 14:9)
Dennis Hinks © 1993, 2004
Scripture quoted from ... ESV (Hosea 14:9); NAS (Matthew 5:44-47); NIV (Lamentations 3:22-23; Acts 14:17); NLT (Micah 7:18-19; Matthew 23:37-39; 24:22); NRSV (2 Peter 3:9); WEB (Luke 23:34a). Detailed copyright information can be found on the title page.
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