It’s amazing, really, the wrongheaded views people have of God. Some folks, especially a lot of Christians, visualize him as a Grandfather who winks at the minor foibles of his grandchildren. Others, especially most self-proclaimed atheists, consider the God of the Bible as a harsh tyrant who delights in punishing lowly victims for the most minor of sins. In fact, one of my favorite writers in Hollywood, Joss Whedon, calls God the “sky bully,” which pretty well sums up his view of the Almighty.
Of course, neither extreme reflects the God of the Bible. He’s the God who destroyed Egypt, Sodom, and a whole generation of humanity. He killed a man for touching the Ark of the Covenant, and the very sons of the high priest Aaron were struck dead in his presence for not doing things his way. But he’s also the same God who is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. He desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that he turn from his ways and live.
So why does he punish? Well, first and foremost, he’s holy and righteous. Sin can’t abide in his presence. He must punish sin. Sin and he are mortal enemies of each other. When he sends someone to Hell—and yes, he does do that—that’s the reason.
But what about believers? The Lord Jesus took all of our sins upon himself on the cross: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”We’re never going to get what we really deserve. He no longer deals with us according to what we deserve but what we need. And sometimes that includes hardships which he brings into our lives, which in extreme cases can be sickness or even an early death.
So what does that have to do with today’s reading? Why did I give it the title I did? Because sometimes God’s punishments don’t accomplish what they’re supposed to do, at least in some sense. Read the passage again, especially the last verse. He punished them. He “struck” them and “crushed” them, and what was the result? Nothing positive. They just sloughed it off and continued in their rebellion.
This is an important lesson for us to learn: Anything this side of the Lake of Fire is the Lord’s appeal to sinners. Keep in mind what type of God that he is. He takes no pleasure in making peoples’ lives miserable. When he introduces hardship into someone’s life, it’s there to wake them up from a spiritual slumber.
You can tell that in today’s verses. The point of his “striking” them and “crushing” them was for the exact opposite of what happened: This was intended to soften their hearts and lead them to repentance.
By the way, this is something pointed out to me by John Piper--Hell does not lead to repentance. People in Hell will just hate the Lord more the longer they’re there.
So what does this mean to us? Well, if you’re reading this and haven’t received Jesus as your Boss and Savior, you can change that fact today. You need to change that fact about yourself—today. Start by reading this.
If you do know him as your Savior, then ask yourself: Is his discipline working? You know, if you listen to him through the “normal” channels such as his word, prayer, and the Church, then he won’t have to resort to harsher measures to get your attention. And trust me, he’d rather it not come to that.
Father God, please give me a soft heart and listening ears. Let’s do this the easy way, shall we?
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