Psalm 139 is a favorite of mine. It can be very comforting knowing that God is intimately familiar with me. He knows my struggles, my good intentions, what I long for and what I need.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
(Psalm 139:1-4) On the other hand, God knows my demons, my sinful thoughts, my envious, hateful, spiteful and selfish thoughts. He not only sees the good things I do and think (that I want others to know); He sees the bad things I do and think (that I want no one to see). The idea that God knows me so well – even better than I know myself – is both a wonderful and a fearful thing!
The sun shines on both the evil and the good; the he rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) People often ask, “Why bad things happen to good people?” Maybe a better question is why do we live in a world that is so beautifully sustaining for life.
Why do we live in a world that is filled with beauty and blessing and good things? Yes bad things happen, but there is much good.
I think about this in the context of the revelation of Scripture. The thrust of scripture is the story of God creating us to have fellowship with us and a reciprocating loving relationship.
God made us in his own image, having a will – the ability to choose. This will God gave to us was displayed in the story of the garden of Eden and is a central theme to the story. Having the ability to choose is essential to a reciprocal, loving relationship.
How do we know that God loves us? Look at the fine tuning of the universe. The universe sits atop a razor edge of cosmic factors that are all finely tuned down to the smallest of parameters, right from the first nanosecond of the Big Bang, so that a planet like the Earth exists to support life like us.
We find nowhere else in the universe a place in which life like ours is able to flourish. (This is doesn’t man that we will never find such life, but it is safe to say that life such as what we experience on Earth is exceedingly rare in the universe, and the whole cosmos seems to be designed just so this one small planet hurtling around a small sun in a smallish solar system can sustain us.)
God created a habitation for us, a place in which we can play out our Eternal choices. A place where we can choose to love Him and, so, to enter into the purpose that was planned for us from the beginning.
Has there ever been a greater evil in the world then this?
God humbled himself to become a man, divesting himself of all of his greatness and glory, and became obedient to his own tune. The light came into the world, but the world loved darkness instead. God became a man, and men who God created rejected him. God presented himself to us, and we crucified him, publicly humiliating him, cruelly beating and torturing him, mocking him as he died on the cross.
Is there no greater love than this?
God, the creator of the universe became one of us. He laid aside all of his greatness that sets Him above everything that He created and become part of His creation. That he would do that for us, experiencing the same sorrows, the same humiliation, the same awful pain, the, the same rejection, the same fatigue and need for sleep and hunger and thirst as we experience. That God would stoop to become one of us and to die on a cross as a sacrifice for us to redeem us from our own sinful ways that include rejecting the very God who created us.
That God would do these things reveals to us that he works in and through a sinful, fallen, and evil world, and He uses the very darkness of the world to display His light and His love for us. God stands above and beyond time, surveying all that is, all that ever was, and all that ever will be. He knew the time of His coming before the initial burst of the creation of the cosmos that spawned the earth and eventual life it would contain, including us. He knew the time of His dying at the hands of His very creation. He knew the time of His rising from the dead, and He knows the end He has planned out for all those who receive Him.
Just as God’s light shone in the darkness of the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we can take comfort in the hope of salvation God wrought for us and the promises that await us.
We live in a world that defies God. That is the point of the Adam and Eve story. The temptation to go our own way is great. In fact, like sheep wandering without guidance, ignorant of the dangers that lurk around us, we have all gone astray. That is our lot.
From Adam and Eve, throughout all of the Old Testament, this is the story of the world. This is the world into which God came, having reduced himself from the greatness of being our creator, to become one of us, in the form of the man Jesus.
That God loves us could not be more intimately or completely demonstrated for us than in the life of Jesus. Though he was God, he did not hold on to His privilege and power over us. He emptied himself for us. He came humbly and obedient to his own purpose, which was to lay down his own life for us in a demonstration of love and compassion the world had never seen before and has never seen since.
God came into the world, and the world did not recognize him or receive Him. Yet God was faithful to his purpose. He was faithful in his love for us. He was faithful to fulfill what he came to accomplish, which was to redeem us.
He came while we were yet sinners. He didn’t wait until we became holy, righteous and good. He would have still been waiting. He came to heal us from all that makes us broken, which is our innate inclination to separate ourselves from God and to go our own ways.
This is the world and the reality in which we live. The world sets itself in opposition to its creator. Many people pay lip service to God, but their hearts are far from Him. They deny Him in the way they live their daily lives. Though they honor Him with their lips, their actions belie them.
The good news, which is what Gospel means, is that God loves us anyway. He came for us while we were in this very condition, knowing the worst of us. God became man and lived among us knowing how corrupt we were, that we would reject him and knowing that we would attempt to put him to death. He came anyway. This is the extent of God’s love for us.
Our choice of how we will live in this world has consequences because of God’s love and the fact that He made us in His own image, to love him back. We are not compelled to love Him, but we are given the freedom to love Him. We are not robots or automatons who have no choice. But our choice is eternally significant.
God loves us. Love is the beginning and the ending of the story. And love is everything in between. God created us in the beginning for love.
He gave us choice, because love does not coerce. All the misery in the world, all the pain and suffering, is because God gave us freedom of will and allowed us to go our own way. He released us to our own choices in hope that we would choose Him because we want to, because we love Him.
This is part 3 in the series of Putting God’s Wrath in Perspective. We started by considering the fact that God is God. We are not God and really have no say in who God is or what He does. He could be nothing but wrathful, but we discover that God is, ultimately, love.
From there we discover that God’s wrath in history is employed to achieve the ends God purposes to accomplish, beginning with meting out justice, but more importantly to accomplish His ultimate purposes. His ultimate purpose is to bless the entire world and to reconcile the world to God and to mete out justice as justice is due.
This can only make sense, really, in the context of eternity. If this world is all there is, a just God would have to accomplish justice within the parameters of time. He would have to accomplish justice for each person during the life span of each person. That would be impossible to accomplish in a world in which individuals have real choice.
We tend to think of justice in terms of our own experiences. We think of justice at first instance in terms of our own lives; then we look out to the world that we know in the time in which we live. Justice is lacking in our experience – both in our own lives and in the world in which we live. In fact, if we are honest, injustice seems to be the norm.
Yet, we have this insatiable ideal and longing for a just world.
Where exactly does that come from? If justice seems so elusive in this world, why are we not simply accepting of the “way it is”? This is all we know. Why do we long for – actually insist on – something different from the injustice that is our experience?
Take a moment with me and consider: what if God was cruel? What if God was completely unpredictable and wholly uncaring towards us? What if God was arbitrary, uninterested and unkind?
Some might say that God seems to be that way… if there is a God… pointing to passages in the Old Testament that portray God as angry, wrathful, retributive and seemingly callous about human life and suffering. Some say that they cannot believe in a God like that.
But, hold on a second. Why should God be the way we think He should be? Why should God be the way we want Him to be?
If God is God, and there is no higher authority, who are we to demand God be anything other than whoever He is and wants to be?