Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 21 and Revelation 20.
God as judge. That’s not a popular idea with many. Some speculate, “A God of judgment can’t be a God of love.” Others offer, “A loving God would never even allow something as horrible as hell.” But then we come to passages like Revelation 20 and terms like “the lake of fire and sulfur” (20:10), “a great white throne” (20:11), “the dead were judged…according to what they had done” (20:12), “the second death” (20:14) … and it ought to make us soberly ask: “Are my conceptions of God accurate?”
In Psalm 89:14, Ethan the Ezrahite wrote of God:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Too many of us expect right conduct … in others. We yearn for justice … to others. We long for steadfast love … from others. We desire faithfulness … in others. We want the fruit of these characteristics for our benefit. We’re intrigued by the thought of a God who hears, approves of, and delivers us on our terms.
But the “living and true God” (1 Thes 1:9) cannot possibly be confined in the finite box of my wishy-washy terms.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)
He has graciously revealed himself as the Definer of right and wrong, law and love, faithfulness and accountability. He has clearly diagnosed mankind’s greatest problem as the sin which separates us from him–the Source of all joy, love, wisdom, and good. He has persistently warned us about eternal separation from him–the lake of fire, the second death, the realized trajectory of souls living in such self-absorption that there is no room for him.
“But I believe in a God of love.”
God is love. But God is also righteous, and to expect him to love me without regard for the “foundation” of his righteousness is to demand that he adapt to my sensibilities and wishes. Who do I think I am?
God is faithful. But God is also just, and to expect him to be faithful to me when I’ve failed to respect the “foundation” of his justice is to fashion a god in my own image. Who do I think I am to spraypaint the graffiti of my limited conceptions on the great white throne of his righteousness and justice?
Thanks be to this living and true God, who is not a product of our imaginations; who sent his only Son as the gloriously perfect blend of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and faithfulness.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)
God’s Son died for the unrighteous. The unjust. The unloving. The unfaithful. He died “that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18)–unashamed, forgiven, made holy. God’s love for us has been shown in the most profound of terms. He has made abundantly available all that is necessary to keep us from eternity apart from him. If we are faithless, he remains faithful. But, he will not, “he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Steadfast love and faithfulness walked among us with a human face–the face of Jesus. Because our patient Creator loves us, he has told us: the dead, great and small, will stand before him and will be judged in accordance with what we have done.
Now, it is simply a matter of how we will respond to what he has graciously revealed.