Finding God in the tough passages
“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” Jude 5.
How do you think of God?
Is he a loving father, the giver of good gifts, the forgiver of sins? Is he a God of Grace? Or, is he an angry, vengeful deity ready to judge his creation for their continued sinfulness and disregard for his person and precepts, full of wrath, fire, and brimstone?
My fear is that you would answer “yes” to one of these descriptions (it doesn’t matter which) and “no” to the other. If I had to guess I suspect most people would lean toward the “good” side of God and steer clear of what is perceived as his “bad” side.
Many refer to the harsher aspects of God by prefacing them with a disclaimer like, “that’s how God was in the Old Testament, but now…” Have you ever heard (or used) a statement like this? When we take stances like this, we embrace certain aspects of God that we feel comfortable with and distance ourselves from the ones we either can’t explain or are embarrassed by. We use non-theological excuses to veil our reluctance to accept God as He is.
Does God Have a Bad Side?
As a lover of books and literature, I couldn’t help but think of the literary classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. In it, the sociable and likable Dr. Jekyll creates Mr. Hyde who is a raving lunatic. As you probably know the catch is that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person. As Hyde grows stronger and increasingly dangerous and out of control, Jekyll is forced to take drastic measures to keep him in check ultimately to his own peril.
Other than my love for good books, I bring this up because many people believe God is like “Jekyll and Hyde.” Many Christians believe God is basically a good guy who has a bad side that can occasionally come out (Gen 6-7; Ex 16; 2 Sam 6: 1-8; Acts 5: 1-11, 12: 20-23.) Since God’s “bad side” usually involves the death of his creation it can seem a hard thing to reconcile with a message like, “God loves everybody” which is so prevalent in Evangelicism today.
Theology In Crunch Time
Have you ever told a person God is love and have them reply, “Well what about all the people in the Bible that God kills?” It is at this precise point when what we actually believe about the character of God comes out. Either we have a theology that back peddles or we embrace theological views that have room for all the characteristics of God.
Jude is writing to his fellow believers out of a necessity to exhort them to “contend for the faith” (v.3). He is trying to strengthen them against men who, “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v.4). However Jude doesn’t simply exhort his readers, he also gives them a somber warning. He writes, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”
He reminds them of the Exodus when the Lord delivered the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt. Jude brings to bear on his hearer’s memory something meant to shock and alarm. We can infer the author’s intent to shock by where he places the emphasis of his commentary on the Exodus. Jude’s emphasis is not upon God as the great deliverer of his people–which he of course is–but rather he highlights the fact that after God delivered the Israelites he later destroyed all of them that were unbelieving.
“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” (Rom 11:22).
If there were ever a text that confronts us with some of the hard un-welcomed truth about God, Jude presents it here. In this one verse, we see that God is both the deliverer and destroyer, he is savior and judge, the life-giver and the executioner.
Why, God, Why?
It may seem natural to want to ask God why he does things we don’t like or understand. What starts out as an honest question can quickly turn into accusations of some wrong-doing on God’s part. These accusations come because we feel like God should have done things our way. We assert that we know better than God how this world is to be run. Before things go this far we must put our hands over our mouths and hold our tongues. Instead, remembering that God is sovereign we can say:
- “Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules” (Ps 119:137).
- “Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold. Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way” (Ps 119: 127-128).
- “Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice” (Dan 9:14).
Paul expresses his thinking on the subject like this in Romans 9: 21-23:
“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”
God Has No Bad Side
As Christians, we must believe this. We love God, the God of the Bible who displays all of his wonderful attributes through the human saga to create a people who will praise him for those attributes…all of them. God is comfortable being God, he has no part of his character for which he is not to be praised and extolled.
If we find ourselves coming to a text like Jude 5 and retreating or making excuses it should awaken us to the fact that we have not fully embraced God as he is. Naturally, it follows that if we have not fully embraced God as he is then we are limiting our ability to know him, experience him in this world, and glorify him in all of life.
So I want to challenge you to take another look at some of the passages (or even entire books) that you may have avoided because they present God in a way that makes you squeamish. Ask God for fresh eyes to see his beauty and glory in all of his ways.
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