The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”

How Can God Judge Good People: Postscript

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

I have attempted to explore the issue of God’s judgment in three previous articles, not from the viewpoint of a theologian, but from my own limited perspective. Much of what I write is simply exploring the boundaries of issues. I may or may not have it right, but I am striving for understanding and greater clarity.

The title of the series is loaded. “Good” can be a relative term. When it comes to ultimate things, there is only one standard of goodness, and that standard is God. We do not measure up; therefore the question, itself, is flawed. We need to understand the problem so that we can begin to understand the solution.

The typical objections and issues people have with the notion of judgment and hell comes from not understanding the nature of God and nature of people.

God is good and God is love and God can be trusted. Challenges to God’s judgment misapprehend who He is. Everything flows from that.

Continue reading “How Can God Judge Good People: Postscript”

8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment

There is a great divide between the World and the Church, and it is getting bigger. The fracture is even dividing the Church. What Jesus said about judging and judgment is critical to understand in this time.

Judge Listening to Attorney --- Image by © Tim Pannell/Corbis

In a world that rejects the idea of sin, embraces moral relativism and demands that Christians tolerance everything (other than what we believe to be true), we naturally feel like we are being besieged; we are on the defensive. We know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s righteousness, but our culture doesn’t buy into that idea, let alone any biblical truth that suggests a person shouldn’t simply “do what feels good”.

We tend to go to two extremes. Some of us get on our soapboxes; we get in the world’s face about sin and judgment. Some of us bow in deference to the current cultural norms of acceptance and tolerance. Neither one is a biblical response to sin in the world.  Continue reading “8 Important Points About Judging and Judgment”

The Great Divide

Grand Canyon


“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[i].” (2 Peter 3:9)

People have spoken about the second coming of Christ since soon after Jesus died. We still talk about it today. I am not going to try to suggest when the second coming will be. No man knows the day or the hour. (Matt. 24:36) But, a God who could raise Jesus from the dead can cause Him to come again. It will happen. We will also all die as surely as we live. Continue reading “The Great Divide”

The God that We Judge

CourthousePeople say that they reject Christianity because of the Old Testament. They say that they cannot believe in a God who strikes people dead and instructs His people to wipe out (kill) other people.

There are other reasons, of course, that people give for not believing. My focus in this writing is only this pop culture view of Christianity and the God of the Bible.

I think what people are saying when they say they cannot believe in the God who is described in the Old Testament is that they can’t believe in a God who seems to be (to us) so arbitrary, angry and jealous as God is portrayed in the Old Testament.

There are many things that can be said in response to this popular sentiment. For one thing, if there is a God, it doesn’t matter what I believe or what you believe: God is God regardless of our beliefs. There is Truth in the world, and it transcends me and you. The important question is, then, not what we think about God as revealed in the Old Testament, but whether it is true.

Considering whether God as revealed in the Old Testament is true should begin with some understanding of the Old Testament. In reading what people write and listening to what people say, most people (in my opinion) reject “the God of the Old Testament” or God as revealed in the Bible with very little understanding of what they are rejecting. They are rejecting a distortion or caricature. If you are going to reject something, at least understand what you are rejecting!

Continue reading “The God that We Judge”

Putting the Anger of God in Perspective: Part 2

Sun in the CloudsSpeaking of God’s anger, we experience things that we perceive to be God’s wrath, but they are not. When tragedy strikes – a natural disaster, a terrible accident, cancer – we feel that God is being angry or cruel.

We wonder how He could do those things to people, especially if it affects me!

In reality, God has created a neutral universe in which things happen, good and bad, from our perspective. It is the perfect soil for the exercise of free will. As a general rule, the universe is a neutral ground where favorable and unfavorable things happen all the time (the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous), and the important thing is our reaction to those things.

We see the world from a finite, limited perspective. In fact, we tend to think or act as if this world is all there is. Just as the universe had a beginning, it will have an ending. The end of each of us will surely come before the world ends, but end it will. When life as we know it is stripped away, and the universe as we know it comes to an end, there will remain only eternity with God or eternity without God.

We tend to feel that the bad things that happen to us in our lives are expressions of God’s anger toward us. In fact, God’s wrath is not yet revealed. The wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:6 The day of judgment is still to come (2 Peter 2:9), and, we are told that day will “come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2

If we are in opposition to God, with stubborn and unrepentant hearts, God’s wrath is stored up for us “for the day of God’s wrath,” (Romans 2:5) but, that day has not yet come.

In the meantime, we experience God’s forbearance, patience and kindness, allowing us time to turn around and align with Him. Romans 2:4 As the writer of Hebrews exhorted, if you hear His voice today, do not harden your hearts! There is still time to change.

The world we live in is the soil in which we grow toward the life that is yet to come. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36 Indeed, none of us get out of this world alive. We have the opportunity, while we still live, to plant ourselves in God’s soil, to die to ourselves and to live for God.

The ways we respond to the happenings in our lives guides our growth in the soil of this world. We are either growing toward Him or away from Him. The end of our days is not this world, but the next. Jesus told us that we should not be storing up treasures on earth where things rot and rust; we should store our treasures up in heaven.

Peter reminds us we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth. 2 Peter 3:13 He exhorts us, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” 2 Peter 3:14-15

 The Lord’s patience means salvation. 2 Peter 3:16 Bad experiences remind us we are not immortal, that there is an end to this life, that we should be considering where our treasures are.

Putting the Anger of God in Perspective: Part 1

Lightning on Land Over Ocean - CopyThe anger of God in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, is inescapable. In fact, God’s anger and wrath is mentioned more times in the Bible than His love and mercy. We can not side step it.

I find myself, as I read through the Old Testament, tempted to want to explain God’s anger and wrath away. The accounts of God’s anger make me uncomfortable and long to get back to the New Testament.

Even in the New Testament, however, we find passages like this:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” Romans 12:17-19

I have spoken with people who do not believe in God or who do not accept the Bible as true because of the statements and stories about God’s anger and jealousy. It strikes me that God, the Creator of the Universe, is no less God if we do not believe in Him or do not acknowledge Him as He is. It also seems the height of folly to submit God to our judgment, which is essentially what people do who reject Him for being angry or jealous or fail to believe the Bible because it reveals a God who displays anger and jealousy. Who are we to submit God to our judgment?

At the same time, I have long played with the thought, which I acknowledge is just my thinking and may be way off, that what we see as anger is really something very different. We experience it or receive it as anger in a moral and emotional sense, but comes from a different source.

God is God and cannot be anything other than who He is. We are the ones out of sync. When we are out of sync, we are like the opposite pole of a magnet facing God. We sense that tension, and we do not like it. If we are to approach God in that state (opposed to Him), we would likely perceive the tension as anger from Him – a sense of repulsion (and being repelled). We can not stand in His presence when we are opposed to Him. We can hardly stand in His presence when we are in right relation to Him! Moses had to hide His face. Isaiah cried out that was” undone” and “ruined” in God’s presence.

What we perceive as God’s judgment, a moral stance, is really just God’s character. He is who He is. God is the standard by which everything is measured. We can no more divine God to be something other than who He is than turn off gravity, and our judgment of Him is like the ant claiming the ground underneath the elephant’s foot.

The Bible reveals that God wants no one to perish, but He cannot be other than Himself.

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways…. Ezekiel 33:11

It is we who need to change and come into alignment with Him. He provided the way in Jesus and his atoning death on the cross. Through Jesus we are aligned with God and can stand before Him and experience His love. We when we confess our sins, die to ourselves, accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and receive and submit to God, we are turned around and aligned with Him.

I dare say that we should not gloss over the anger and wrath of God. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….” Proverbs 9:10 If we let the knowledge that God is an angry, jealous God creep into our consciousness, we have motivation to want to make things right with Him. We can not change Him. “He is not a tame Lion,” as C.S. Lewis says. He can not be other than who He is. We must approach God on His terms. What we find, when we do is that God is Love.