The Goodness and Severity of God
Text: Genesis 6 (The Story of Noah); Romans 11:22
HITLER DEAD! In big bold letters marked many newspapers across America and Europe. The death of Hitler was a cause for celebration to those whom he had tyrannized. But the German newspaper Hamburger Zeitung red differently: Der Führer gefallen (The Fuhrer has fallen). Hitler’s death spelled the end of the Nazi regime. A mercy to one can be a severe affliction to another.
You’ve likely heard the story of Noah’s ark. After the fall of the first couple it only takes a few short chapters before fratricide has degenerated to the point of such mass wickedness that God deems it necessary to wipe out the entire creation via flood. Only one man and his family escape. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” (Genesis 6:8) Is the story of Noah a story of grace or judgment? I suppose that depends on who you ask. For Noah it’s a story about his great kindness in preserving humanity through the line of Noah. For those who drowned in the flood, it’s a story about the execution of God’s severe wrath.
In Romans 11:22 we read,
- “note then the kindness and 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.”
Paul is speaking here of God’s response to the widespread Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah. God has, graciously, left a remnant but by and large “what the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain”. They have spurned God. As a result, he has “cut them off” by withdrawing his goodness from them. But the same action has become good news for the Gentiles: “if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles…”
What then is the principle? I think JI Packer is correct:
- The principle which Paul is applying here is that behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity in judgment if that goodness is scorned. If we do not let it draw us to God in gratitude and responsive love, we have only ourselves to blame when God turns against us. (Packer, 164)
Paul said this much in the early chapters of Romans, particularly chapter 2. There he is likely speaking to a Jewish audience noting that God’s kindness—his patient forbearance—is meant to lead them to repentance. This leads back to our question about the story of Noah and the ark. Was it a story of grace or judgment? There was grace and kindness even to those who drowned in the flood. There was a kindness to God calling upon Noah to proclaim a message for the people of the day. He called them to repentance. In this instance they responded to God’s kindness with mockery instead of repentance.
It’s rather hard hitting, but these words from Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God come from the same thought stream as that of the apostle Paul in Romans 11:
- The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
We deserve God’s severe wrath. In Christ we receive his kindness. This message certainly inspires us to take the gospel to those who are not trusting in Christ (much as Noah did in his day). But this message is also a reminder to us that we do not deserve God’s kindness. Noah’s finding favor with God was a mark of God’s grace—not a testament to Noah’s innate righteousness. The same is true of us. God has been good to you. May that kindness lead us into a daily repentance and gratitude for Christ.
Today, I’ll only give you a short summary of God-Man-Christ-Response, you can then meditate on these truths more deeply. It’s a difficult read but if you want to read the entire Jonathan Edwards sermon from 1741 you can find it here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/edwards_jonathan/Sermons/Sinners.cfm
God: The flood shows that God is both kind (grace to Moses) and severe (wrath upon wicked creation). Salvation comes through his judgment
Man: Our severity does not produce the righteousness of God
Christ: Jesus endured the wrath of God and gives to us the righteousness of God
Response: Will God’s kindness lead us to repentance?
Now you preach the gospel to yourself...