Sometimes God really is “terrible”. In fact, in some ways He’s the ultimate terrorist…
Don’t worry, fellow believer, I’m not about to intentionally engage in any kind of blasphemy. I’m sure it’s true that, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5 NIV).
However, in contrast the Bible warns us that:
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10 : 31 KJV).
How can God be said in his own book to be all “light” and yet at the same time cause fear? We have in the Scriptures what is either a serious contradiction, or a strange paradox which we need to come to terms with. In the latter case, which I’ll demonstrate is the correct alternative, the fact that God is “light” doesn’t exclude the reality of his fearful attributes: the terrible, fearful side of God’s nature does not equate to “darkness”.
I noted in a recent post* that Richard Dawkins stated in his book, “THE GOD DELUSION” a number of extremely derogatory and insulting terms to describe the God of the Bible. I commented that none of his assertions were valid. However, in some fairness to the God-hating professor, I must say that anyone who’s done any serious thinking about life, the universe and everything, and anyone who’s lived for any length of time, and anyone who’s honest, will have questioned the goodness of God at some point in their life. If there is a God (and I’m convinced there is) and if he’s good and loving as the Bible claims he is, then why do so many terrible things happen in our lives and in our world?
More than that, anyone who’s read a sizable portion of the Old Testament couldn’t fail to notice some very heavy-handed dealings by God with his people and those around them. As an example, consider the punishment of Korah, his family and all who rebelled against Moses with him:
“…the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all who belonged to Korah…and the earth closed over them…And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up”. And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the insense…” (Numbers 17:31-35 ESV).
Now, that’s terrorism in its purest form. If we only had a very shallow knowledge of the God of the Bible, we might read that passage and conclude that God is a mean, terrifying ogre. But I’d like to here reiterate a regular theme of mine, which is that if God is God-our creator and our sustainer-he has every right to do what he wants with his creation just as surely as a potter has every right to remake a buckled vessel on his wheel. Were he really a mean ogre, he would have every right to be so. We in contrast and in comparison have no rights and no way of enforcing any claims to rights.
God in the Old Testament was aware of his potential to inflict terror even on his own people, and made a habit of passing out warnings in advance, against any behavior which would lead to his anger flaring up. Think of the warning He gave to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, telling them not to set foot on the mountain:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish…” (Exodus 19:21)
It’s as though God was telling the people, “Please don’t come too close to me, because I won’t be able to help myself, and I don’t want to make you suffer or to destroy you…”
Our problem in this age is that we’ve forgotten about the holiness of God. He is perfect, he is infinite, he is mighty, and he must be multi-dimensional-if dimensions can be applied at all to an eternal, omnipresent being. We in contrast are imperfect, flawed, weak and very limited in our capacities, particularly our spiritual capacity. We can no more stand next to God and chat with him-in our natural state-than we can stand next to the sun: it’s impossible. And we can no more ignore and neglect the characteristics of God than we can ignore the properties of the sun: travelling at night to land a space ship on the sun to avoid the heat would be a futile, foolish operation.
We believers tend to metaphorically brush under the carpets of our minds the numerous “B.C.” events such as the crushing of Korah’s rebellion, choosing instead to focus on the God of the New Testament and his loving, merciful attributes. My own dad, an otherwise godly man in every way, could not accept much of what was written in the Old Testament, and made the decision that God had been misrepresented by its authors, because God clearly wouldn’t condone the killing of anyone let alone thousands of men, women and children. It was the New Testament, in his eyes and the eyes of many others, which is the inspired Word of God: not the Old.
The problem with that approach is that by dismissing the OT you are also bringing into question the entire New Testament. You can’t read any one of the gospels without finding numerous examples of Jesus Christ quoting the Old Testament as though he believed it were true, and the letters are similarly packed with references to it. In fact, putting the Pharisees on the spot as he loved to do, Jesus said:
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me (John 5:46 NASB).
You can’t have one without the other, said Jesus: the Old Testament and his words go together.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus who were talking to Jesus without knowing it were given a Bible study (Luke 24:13-35). He demonstrated from what we call the Old Testament-there was no written New Testament at that time- that the prophesied Christ had to suffer and be raised. Why would he have reasoned from the Old Testament if it’s not to be accepted or believed?
So what about my outrageous assertion-coming as it does from a believer-that God is terrible? Am I now attempting to insult the Lord Almighty in a similar vein to the renowned and exalted prof.? Am I sowing seeds of dissent and rebellion? No. I’m using the word “terrible” in the context of being “dreadful”, “unspeakable” and “awesome”. I’m simply facing up to the reality of God’s nature.
“But…” you may protest…”God is different in the New Testament!”
Is he really? I agree that Jesus Christ was and is “meek and mild”, and merciful, though a time is coming when the other side of his nature will be seen. Leaving that aside for the moment, I want to stress that God is “the same yesterday, today and forever…” Consider the words of New Testament writers, who spoke not only of God’s mercy but of his fearful side:
…let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28 KJV).
It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God… (Hebrews 10:31 NIV)
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off (Romans 11:22 ESV)
If this were not enough evidence of the disciples’ awareness of the terrible nature of God we can read in the Revelation and the words of Jesus himself about how the entire world is going to be judged-by his holy standards and not ours-the same kind of holy standards that we see in the Old Testament. Paul wrote:
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 NIV).
The terror of God will fall on imperfect mankind. But there is hope. Part two of my article will offer you the good news: the way of escape from the terror of God.
Thanks for reading this far!
This post in both its parts serves as an introduction to my forthcoming series on the subject of suffering as it relates to the God of the Bible, titled “Why Do We Suffer?”