Appreciating the Love, Patience, & Mercy of God

Our God is a righteous God. His righteousness demands that sin be punished; it’s only “right,” “just,” and “fair” that each person is treated according to his deeds. Yet He is also a God of mercy, another aspect of His righteous character. The Cross is how God is able to be both just and merciful at the same time.

Some people emphasize God’s wrath over sin; others go in the opposite direction and see only mercy, thereby downplaying judgment.

I want to be balanced in my view of God’s character. From both my Biblical exegesis and my personal experience in relationship with God, here’s where I’ve arrived on the issue of balance.

God seeks to be merciful whenever He can; He judges when He has no other option in order to uphold His righteousness.

Why do I think this is the proper perspective? My study of Scripture has led me here. Let me explain.

While some think the Old Testament is just one long harangue against sin and God is eager to bring judgment, I disagree. He would have wiped out the entire human race, yet He was willing to start again with Noah. He would have cast away the children of Israel and restarted His plan with Moses, except Moses prayed He would not do so. God was willing, in answer to that prayer, to continue working with a disobedient people.

In Ezekiel 18:30-32, we get a glimpse into God’s heart when He says to His people,

“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Does that sound like a God who is eager to bring judgment?

When we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus as the embodiment of the Godhead—the One through whom we understand better the heart of the Father—we see again a desire to show mercy. Only man’s rebellion stands in the way. As Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem, we’re told in Luke 13:34-35,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

Nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16, which makes the point that “whoever believes” will have eternal life, but it’s the next verse that once more highlights the heart of God:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Judgment wasn’t the inspiration for the coming of Jesus; salvation was.

And in 2 Peter 3:8-9, we see why the Second Coming hasn’t yet occurred, and the reason is God’s desire that as many as possible will be saved.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

He doesn’t want anyone to perish; He earnestly desires all to come to salvation and is providing as much time as He deems appropriate to bring more souls into His Kingdom.

So, yes, God judges. One day that judgment will be fierce, without mercy, total toward those who have stubbornly rejected His love and commands. But until then, He is the Shepherd who seeks the one lost sheep while maintaining the ninety-nine.

Personally, I am deeply grateful—let’s make that eternally grateful—that He showed mercy to me when He could just as easily have condemned me in my sins. He gave me time to come to my senses and repent.

He is a loving God.

Back at the Wade Center: Focusing on God’s Love

It’s nice to be back at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College for a C. S. Lewis conference this week. Because of that, I didn’t intend to write any blogs for the week, but the instruction has been so invigorating that I would like to share a little bit of what we’re receiving here.

It’s been four years since I came here to investigate Lewis’s connection to Americans, an investigation that led to my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. Since then, the Center has added an auditorium where it can more easily make presentations. Those presentations thus far this week have been both thoughtful and moving.

Dr. Jerry Root, a superb Lewis scholar and engaging teacher, has been the primary speaker. I heard him at a C. S. Lewis Foundation conference a few years ago and was duly impressed then. I’m doubly impressed now.

The focus has been on being an authentic Christian who can speak to the world about Truth. All too often, we come across as inauthentic; that type of person pushes people away from the very truths we are trying to communicate.

The challenge is to continue to examine ourselves before God. Dr. Root commented, “If you don’t examine your life, others will do it for you.”

How very accurate.

We need to cultivate virtue in our lives, a virtue that consists of four characteristics:

  • Courage: endurance; fortitude; staying power
  • Temperance: the ability to resist immediate pleasure for long-term gain
  • Justice: fairness; law-abiding; having a bedrock of honesty in one’s life
  • Wisdom: being careful about the decisions we make

Interestingly, Dr. Root said he disagrees with Lewis’s position in Mere Christianity where he calls pride the worst of all sins. Instead, he offers the following thought: pride emanates from fear (of not being accepted, etc.); fear comes from not loving God perfectly. Therefore, not loving God is the primary sin. As I John 4:18 tells us,

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

I grasp what he’s saying about that. I’ll have to consider it more fully.

How do we discover God’s love? By obeying Him. As we do so, His love is revealed. So one doesn’t wait to “feel” God’s love; rather, one does what He says and insight into His love will follow.

Another concept he presented that should help us understand just how much God loves is this: if God made it, He sustains it, so that means He loves it. God made us, He sustains us, therefore we can be assured He loves us.

Coming back to that first point about authenticity, here is the challenge: If we don’t come to the place where God is enough for us (we don’t want or need anything else but Him), we will never communicate with authenticity because we won’t be truly authentic.

I want authenticity to permeate my life. I deeply appreciate what I’m receiving here this week.

While I’m here, I’m doing more research into the connection between Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. It’s nice to be back at my “old station” in the Wade Reading Room.

I just keep thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.”

Lewis: Loving God, Loving Others–A Matter of Priority

The Great Divorce CoverWhat is the proper relationship between one’s love for God and love for others?

C. S. Lewis warns us that it’s very easy to want to see someone else as the focus of our love, but that we will always be disappointed. As he puts it in The Great Divorce,

Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. . . . You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. . . .

No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.

Certainly God wants us to have deep, lasting, and loving relationships with others, but it’s a matter of priority. How can we really know how to love someone else unless we first grasp God’s love for us and have the proper love response to Him?

Lewis Letters Volume 3Writing to Mrs. Johnson (that’s all we know about this American correspondent) in 1952, Lewis expounds further on this same theme:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.

In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all.

When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

Have you ever heard someone say they want to go to heaven so they can be reunited with a person or persons they loved here on earth? If that’s their main preoccupation with going to heaven, might I suggest they may be disappointed with their eternal destination?

Unless we love God above all else and are more excited about seeing Him face to face than anyone else we have lost, our hearts are not truly His. In Him we live and move and have our being, not only now, but in eternity.

Lewis: The Real “Love Wins”

The word “love” is being tossed around these days in a loose manner. We’re now informed we have to apply it to same-sex marriage, even while the Scripture is perfectly clear that depravity is not to be equated with love.

Love is not a fleeting emotion, nor even a lifelong affection. Yes, you might differentiate between types of love, as C. S. Lewis does in his book The Four Loves, but when we are talking about God’s love—the kind of love we are supposed to mirror—there is only one way to explain it.

Mere ChristianityAs Lewis notes in Mere Christianity,

Love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

God’s love also is a willful thing toward us. It is not sappy; it does not simply accept us as we are and not expect change. True love seeks the best for the one loved. Lewis continues,

Love StoryThough our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

The cost to Him was the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. The cost to us is a heart of repentance and eternal gratitude for His willingness to do whatever it took to heal the breach and unite us to Him.

The “love wins” hashtag making the rounds is more properly “lust wins.” True love already has won, and He is offering us—the most unworthy of recipients—an eternity of love that we don’t deserve.

Lewis: The Vulnerability of Love

C. S. Lewis 8In C. S. Lewis’s excellent book The Four Loves, he issues this warning to those who try to shield themselves from love because they are afraid of being hurt. It won’t go well for them, for there are unintended consequences:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only safe place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

Jesus is the perfect example. His love was spurned, and still is, by the mass of humanity, but it was the driving force behind His sacrifice for us. The Scripture talks about the broken heart of God over sin. Yet He looked past that and loved us regardless. We are to do no less.

Lewis: Casting Out Fear

C. S. Lewis 1C. S. Lewis is just so quotable. Take this one, for instance, from one of his essays, “The World’s Last Night.”

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

The perfect love he is writing about is the love of God shown through Christ. Anything else is an artificial, temporary solution that is no solution at all. Don’t settle for anything less than the real thing.

Judge Not?

Obama at National Prayer BreakfastPresident Obama uses the occasion of Easter, at a White House prayer breakfast, to insinuate that he’s very concerned about Christians who use “less than loving expressions.” Mr. President, I’m concerned about that, too. I always have been. But it all depends on what one’s definition of “loving” may be.

For Barack Obama, not endorsing same-sex marriage is unloving. For Barack Obama, not allowing abortion on demand is unloving. For Barack Obama, giving medical attention to a child born alive during an abortion is unloving. For Barack Obama, not letting Iran into the circle of the “civilized” nations by denying them access to nuclear capability is unloving. For Barack Obama, seeking to guarantee the survival of Israel apparently is unloving. I could go on.

He’s done this kind of thing before, most recently at another prayer breakfast where he downplayed Muslim atrocities and tried to paint a picture of moral equivalence by pointing to the Crusades.

When Muslims killed journalists in Paris and then turned to killing people in a Jewish grocery store, he refused to say Muslims were responsible and that Jews were targeted. Last week, in Kenya, when nearly 150 Christian college students were massacred by an Islamist terror group, the official White House response was to ignore both the religion of the attackers and those who were massacred.

Mr. President, my problem is that I know your background. You claim to be a Christian, but whatever Christianity you make a claim to is nothing more than a radicalized Marxist theology that makes Jesus into nothing more than a model to follow for “social justice.” I read the interview you did for a Chicago newspaper prior to your presidency in which you made it clear that 1) all religions lead to God; 2) you’re not sure there is an afterlife; 3) being a good father is what you depend on for a right relationship with God; 4) it is wrong to try to convince others to become Christians.

Judging OthersSo I am judging, based on your own statements, your radical history, and your actions, inactions, and outright string of lies you have uttered as president, that you, sir, are no Christian.

Yes, I can hear the outraged voices: who are you to judge? Doesn’t the Bible say “judge not, lest you be judged?” Anyone who says that discloses a superficial knowledge of that passage of Scripture.

Read it carefully and you will see that, from the context, Jesus is telling us not to be hypocrites. He says that before you judge, be sure you are not doing the same things for which you judge others. Take the log out of your own eye first, then take the splinter out of another’s eye.

Throughout the Bible, judgment occurs, and we are told often to be a discerning people. We are to look at the fruit of others’ lives and determine whether or not they are genuine. Otherwise, we will often be fooled and follow those who will lead us astray. Yes, we examine our own hearts first, but then we are to examine the actions and the words of others as well.

Some people have the idea that being a Christian means you just let things happen without standing up for truth publicly. They say that is true humility. I disagree. Humility is knowing the One who is really in charge and submitting our lives to Him. It means to boldly proclaim His truths so that others will be led away from destruction. To be silent is to connive with falsehood. We are to be watchmen on the walls, sounding the alarm when an enemy approaches.

I will continue to sound the alarm whenever the enemies of God’s truth try to advance. I will not be silenced. And Mr. President, to speak out concerning the falsehoods being promoted by your worldview and your policies is not being unloving; rather, it is being discerning, with the goal of helping people see His truth.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, I would urge you—in the love of God and out of concern for your soul and in context—judge not, lest you be judged.

Righteous Judgment