Crossways Concepts

Because it is all about the cross...

Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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The Side of God You Don't Want To See

This last summer I had an opportunity to spend some time in a tiny town in the Rocky Mountains.  While the town is a lovely place, they were having a problem.  There were bears that were wandering into town looking for food.  Seeing one of these huge animals right in town was pretty exciting.  The local law enforcement was not impressed, they were working overtime to try to keep the bears and the people separated.

While bears seem to be cuddly, they are still a dangerous wild animal.  While I was there, I heard the story of a woman in the area that lived alone, that started feeding the bears.  Nobody was exactly sure what went wrong, but one day they found her dead by the very bears that she was being friendly to.  The woman probably thought she was taming the bears, but she was just playing with fire.

While we might be looking at the lumbering bear's appearance or just thinking of it in respect to the teddy bear that helped make us secure as a child, we want to believe that the bear can be our friend.  Some bears, for the chance to get food, will get close to humans, but that doesn't change their nature.  It only takes something, like the bear being startled or the person running out of food while the bear is still hungry, for the bear's true nature to come out.  A bit of food will not change the fact that the bear is still a wild animal that should be feared and respected.

In our spiritual world, we have a God that has an appealing aspect of being kind, forgiving and loving.  There is, however, another side of God's true nature that cannot be forgotten: He is also a God of wrath.  Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”  This doesn't sound like a loving God at all.

God does have a huge amount of love for us, but we must remember who He really is.  Just like the bear I described, who is a wild animal and acts like a wild animal, our God is one who has demonstrated His capability to punish or destroy those who are contrary to Him.  While we may find it most comfortable to forget this aspect of who He is, that doesn't change His nature.

Our God is the same God that wiped out the city of Sodom because of rampant, unrepentant sin (Gen 19).  This is the same God that killed huge numbers of His own people because of their unending complaints and lack of trust in Him (Num 21:4-7).  This is the same God that killed a man and his wife because they lied about the gift they were giving the church (Acts 5:1-10).

So how do we resolve this God of wrath with a God that loves us so much that He sent His only son to die so we could spend eternity with Him?  

We cannot forget that He is a God of perfection.  He is perfect in His holiness and purity.  To Him there is no such thing as a small sin.  To Him we are either righteous or not, there is no middle ground.  This perfection is where He wants us to be, too (Matthew 5:48).

I am immensely grateful that our God is patient.  I know that He has had to exercise a lot of patience with me, but as I look at His holy word, I recognize that His patience is not unlimited.  He wants us to live in a right relationship with Him.  He will work to help us achieve that relationship.  He uses various ways to get our attention, to attempt to draw us back into a right relationship with Him.

At one point when I had wandered especially far for where I should have been, His subtle nudgings were lost on me.  For me, as far gone as I was, it required a forceful application of the proverbial 2-by-4 right between the eyes, before I paid any attention.  But thankfully, God is an effective wielder of the 2-by-4 .

When God gets our attention and causes us to sit up and notice what we are doing, this is really an act of love.  If one of my children acts like a brat, I love them enough to get their attention and discourage this behavior.  This is what discipline is about, love.  Hebrews 12:6 says, “for the Lord disciplines whom He loves”.  While you are in the middle of being disciplined, it may not feel like love, it certainly won't be fun.  Starting in verse 10, the author says, “He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness.  No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

But what if we don't change our ways?

God's patience can run out.  Between the time that God brought His people out of Egypt and the time he brought them to the promised land, there were several occasions when God wanted to destroy His people.  Keep in mind that there are people that will wind up spending eternity in hell, because they never listened.  It is certainly within God's power to prevent people from dying for thousands of years until they finally became obedient to Him, but what purpose would that serve?

Christian or non-Christian, we are all imperfect people that disappoint God.  The wonder of God's grace is even while we were 180° away from God, that He loved us enough to see through that, to see that we had potential as His child.  God let His Son take the punishment that we deserved, so that we could have forgiveness.  We continue to need that forgiveness and He continues to provide it.  There is no circumstances under which God will withdrawl His love from His children.  But, God's love doesn't want us to remain in a stinky life, when He is making His abundant, fruitful life available to us.

The scripture says He has “given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him.” (2 Peter 1:3)  Yet although He makes this available, many people (including me) have turned down this offer.  There have been times in my life when I have planned out committing sinful acts right in defiance of God.  This was really dumb!  God is a God of righteousness and He wants the same out of us.

Think about how frustrating people can be.  Think about the astonishingly dumb choices that people make.  Now imagine how much more frustrating that would seem if you were their perfect and holy creator.  Imagine how it would feel if you had blessed and given to Your precious people only to watch them repeatedly do things that just slap you in the face!  It is no wonder that God doesn't strike more people dead!  It is a wonder He never struck me dead.

Even though God is a God of love and grace, we need to remember the entirety of His nature.  His is not just some benign teddy bear that is always there to make us feel better when we totally mess up.  He is our holy, pure and perfectly powerful creator who has high expectations for us.  We need to remember that He is a God to be feared.  You don't want to be on His bad side.  The psalmist says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).

Grace has given us freedom, but this is not the freedom to live a self-seeking life.  To do so is to slap God's face.  He is a big God and He might take a little of that, rather like how we tend to be forgiving of small children.  But, somewhere along the way, He expects us to grow up.  He expects us to seek and serve Him.  Because of His love for us, He will work with us, He will seek to get our attention.  However, there has got to be a point where, like with the Israelites, that His patience runs thin and His anger builds.  I just pray that I am never on the receiving end of that anger.  I pray the same thing for you.

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Lexington, Ky

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