Since entering seminary, the scope and breadth of how I view and understand God has changed a bit. Well, a lot.
I sat in my room teary-eyed and wholly upset at God after learning that He regretted making us in Genesis 6:6: "... and the LORD was sorry that He made humankind on the earth and it grieved Him to His heart." (NSRV)
I knew He destroyed the earth because we (humankind) couldn't get our lives right, but daaaaang. Regret? Sorrowful? We grieved You?
Once I got over feeling some kind of way (honestly, that really hurt my feelings!), I began to see that nearly every encounter God had with man in the Old Testament was fueled by His insatiable desire to have a relationship with us. This anthropomorphic God (one with human-like characteristics, feelings, thoughts, interactions) was desperate to have us as His own, be thankful to Him for creating us, and, in whatever way possible, live our lives as He said we should.
He, like all "parents" do, had a plan for His kids. Our disobedience, however, brought about some of the most discussed, disparaging, and body-of-Christ splitting occurrences in the bible. We see a God who passes judgment on Hebrews and enemies alike for disobedience; God attempts to kill Moses for his disobedience (Exodus 4:18-31) despite God giving him the charge of delivering the Hebrews out of Egypt (clearly, obeying His ordinances was more important than some God-given assignment, eh?) We see God obliterate the Egyptians and their first-born sons for refusing to let His chosen people worship Yahweh as they wanted to -- even going so far to intentionally hardening Pharoah's heart to up the ante and make the punishments for disobedience grow and grow by the day. "I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain the glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. And they did so." (Exodus 14:4)
In the new dispensation of our faith, grace and mercy rules the coop. Jesus' death and resurrection is the foundation of everything we believe, and in many ways, we have forgotten the vengeance and judgment of God.
Jesus makes us feel good. His sermons and parables of fish and salt and lights on a hill are so applicable and practical -- it's like a Publix commercial during the holidays: just makes you want to hug somebody, cook some food, and share it (and the gospel) with good people.
But we've forgotten the vengeance and judgment of God.
We've forgotten that He's serious about us -- and serious with those who come against us. He desperately wants us, and after millenniums of trying to get us to do right on our own, He sent Jesus to stand in the gap. When God looks at us, He sees us through the blood stained garments of Jesus. He doesn't do what He should to us because Jesus keeps playing "keep away" with God!
Lest we have forgotten, God is no punk. He's not here to play games on Sunday (or Saturday, if that's your practice). He is cut throat, vengeful, angry, wrathful, and passes judgment at His discretion. Why? Because He's holy and wants us to be holy as well. He wants to have a well-balanced relationship with us that brings pleasure to both parties. He's not down for a one-sided venture to eternity; He wants us to walk with Him.
Now wait, does this mean we walk around in all white, sacrificing goats or living like the Old Testament law says? Absolutely not. However, there is something to be said about honoring Him in the most sacred place of all: our hearts.
A friend mentioned that he was growing tired of so many preachers presenting no balance to the grace message, sending folks on their way with rose-tinted glasses that God is pleased with our mediocrity and that how we feel rules over God's expectations. Forget yo' feelings: God wants your heart!
In light of the monstrous storm battering the northeast, many have said that the storm is a "sign of judgment" from God. We need to "get right!", they say.
I love what Stephen Prothero from CNN's Religion Blog had to say about this "judgment":
"As for me, I am less sure about what God wills for our storms (political or otherwise). In my view, any God worth worshiping isn't going to be so predictable, or so capricious... When it comes to storms like Sandy, I just don't believe in a God who drowns black babies in Haiti yet refuses to drown out the voices of cranky white men who claim so irreverently to speak in His name."
God isn't some faux wizard behind the smoke and mirrors of the "Great and Powerful Oz" using switch levers and buttons controlling this earth... at least I don't think so. We can't say one way or the other if the things that occur in the earth that bring destruction and death are "God's doing."
What we can say is that He's still desperately seeking for our hearts to turn back to Him and will go at any lengths to get them back.
Yes, God passes judgment on us. Yes, He allows the enemy to come in and wreak havoc until we get our minds back on track. Sometimes we recover, sometimes we don't. I am reminded as I go through this seminary experience, though: It's dangerous to teach grace without teaching judgment. Have you ever met a kid that was never punished for anything? They're brats. And the absolute worst.
I'm at the place where I'm seeing and learning that God is really desperate for us. He's revealed Himself to us in ways that we can't fathom, given to us in ways we don't deserve. Building relationship with Him is something He wants. His desperation for us exudes from every crevice of this earth.
Grace and judgment: what a dynamic duo.
On the "don't-cast-your-judgment-on-me, I'm-working-on-my-relationship-with-you" Chase,