How do Biblical adjectives which describe God as “a consuming fire” and as being “dreadful” square with John’s declarations that:
“God is Love” (1 John 4:8)
“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 NIV)?
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Biblical God, while being loving, and caring for his people, and providing for all our needs, can also be a God of terror. Of course I’m not talking about the kind of terror we see in the news in which some vicious coward wreaks misery on innocent, unarmed people in order to simply frighten the population into seeing things his way.
The only way around the fact that God can be a God of terror is to deny half of the Bible, which doesn’t work, as I explained in the first part of this article. Against all the wishes of mankind, God is not all sweetness and smiles at all times, willing us to do whatever we want and providing everything we need to do it. He is both Love and Terror. How can this be: isn’t it illogical?
This can be because God is both perfectly holy, and perfectly merciful: a paradox, perhaps, but not illogical. Look at it this way. God, in order to be what he is-eternal, faithful, unchanging, omni-present-must remain true to himself. In fact he has no choice-he can’t and won’t weaken his own standards. If he allows imperfection or rebellion without responding to it, he is no longer a perfect God.
This could be seen as something of a problem for a God who also loves his creation. He didn’t create the world and mankind in order to provide himself people to pick on. In fact, when he created the world in its original perfect condition, along with mankind, as only a perfect God can do, we’re told that:
“…God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 2:31).
So what could a perfect God do when his creation began to be imperfect and to rebel against him and to betray each other? The answer is that he provided for himself ways of forgiving that imperfection and rebellion. And such provision is seen repeatedly throughout the Bible in many characters.
An early and clear example found in the Old Testament is Moses. Moses was chosen by God to deliver his people from slavery. But it wasn’t just physical deliverance from Egypt that God had in mind for Moses, it was deliverance for the people from his own perfect standards and his wrath against those who would break them. God chose a man who he knew would stand between his holiness and man’s fallen nature.
God’s desire and compulsion was to punish and destroy those who were rebellious, and sometimes he did. But there were also times when Moses stepped in, particularly when God planned to destroy the entire nation:
I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you”
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people…? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people… And the Lord relented from the disaster… (Exodus 32:9-14).
God provided Moses to protect the Israelites from himself. Many examples of people who stood between God’s wrath and man can be found in the Bible, but the greatest, and the most important one, is Jesus Christ. The gospel, or the “good news” about Jesus Christ is that he, being the only son of God, was sent by the Father to pay the price of our own rebellion and imperfection, which is God’s wrath:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed…and the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all… (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Remember the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, when he knew what was about to happen to him, and yet he surrendered to the will of the Father:
My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless , not as I will, but as you will… (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus Christ suffered God’s wrath in our place when he was crucified and left to die. This was the Father’s, and the Son’s, ultimate expression of love and mercy to his creation:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him…he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins… (1 John 4:9-10).