If there’s one thing I think most Americans have no problem with, it’s the idea that God loves them. I know it’s the popular stereotype out there of a lost person who’s so burdened by guilt that they can’t fathom that he actually cares about them. Now, I grant you that there are people in the world who actually do feel weighed down by guilt and who have a deep sense of having offended the Almighty. But I think we’ve got the concept of the love of God down pretty well, for the most part.
We’re so used in this country to thinking of him as our buddy. That’s why I think it’s so important to read the entirety of the Bible, not just the parts we like. That’s also why it’s so important to read the prophets. If you can read the prophets and come away thinking of God as Santa Claus, then you haven’t been reading the same books I’ve been reading.
Of course, if you’re familiar with the prophets at all, then today’s passage sounds like a lot of others you might read in that section of the Bible. The Lord is angry with his people, he’s going to punish them, here’s how he’s going to do it, etc. But there’s one particular phrase I want to focus on in today’s passage, because it revolutionized my thinking about God, and I’m hoping it might do the same for you.
Read vs. 16 again, slowly. God will be exalted by his justice. Think this through with me, will you?
You’ve heard of The Purpose Driven Life? Great book and concept, by the way. But what about the Purpose-Driven God? What’s God’s purpose? What’s most important to him? Saving people? Showing them love? Well, that is important to him, but that’s only a means to an end.
The ultimate purpose of everything that God does is to gain glory for his name. Now, before you squawk at that and say “Well, that’s pretty vain and self-centered!” let me remind you of something. He actually deserves every ounce of glory that he gets. If all the angels and all humanity and all of creation bowed down to him and proclaimed how wonderful and great he is, it would only be what he rightly deserves.
So why was I saved? Because he loves me? Well, that’s part of it, but not the main or most important part. The reason I was saved was so that my salvation might glorify him. In Heaven, he'll be able to point to me and say “That’s how merciful and powerful and loving and gracious I am!” He can (and does) take the worst of sinners--what he finds in the bottom of the sludge of humanity--pulls it out of that mess, cleans it off, and turns what he finds there into a new son or daughter.
But that’s not the only way he gets glory. He's also glorified by his justice. His holy and righteous name is exalted by his justice.
Please don’t misunderstand me. If you’ve read this for any length of time, you know I believe that God doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. He wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that he turn from his ways and live.
But that doesn’t change the fact that his punishment of sin shows how holy and righteous he is. I don’t know if he’ll ever do this, but picture this with me: He'll be able to point to someone in Hell and say “THAT’S how much I hate sin!!!” People in Hell will get precisely what they deserve, and that also displays aspects of his character which deserve to be honored and praised.
So how does this affect me? Because he could've chosen to glorify himself only through the punishment of sinners. But he's chosen--just on his own initiative--to also glorify and lift up his Name by pulling lost sinners out of the mess we’ve made for ourselves. He's sovereignly chosen to being glory to his Name by turning damnable rebels into adopted children and heirs.
Aren’t you glad?
Yes, I am. Thank you. All praise and honor and glory and thanks belong to you. To you alone.