God’s Severity Is for Our Good
“Therefore, this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’” –Jeremiah 35:17
It’s true that the God revealed in the Bible is the quintessence of love, loyalty, generosity, forgiveness, and longsuffering. Yet he can show a severe side that is designed to lead us into obedience.
Severity is the side of God’s character we don’t understand or like, and even fear. Some solve this “mean God” problem by saying it’s from long ago when we didn’t understand God very well. Others claim it was for then and no longer applies to us today. But it’s not that easy to gloss over.
God shows his severity not only in the ancient biblical texts but also in human experience up to the present day. The God of the Old Testament and Jesus in the Gospels both hate evil.
Jesus, more than anyone else in the New Testament, spoke about hell, judgment, and punishment more than he did of heaven and eternal reward. Many have walked out on a sermon at the first mention of judgment and hell.
Judgment is one of the most reasonable and fair doctrines in the Bible and part of God’s plan to keep order on earth. He judges to set right and straight the things of this life so that cruelty and chaos don’t overcome his intended order. There have been many times in history when the threat of total global chaos was very near, but some force headed it off, sometimes at the very last minute.
The threat is still present today. But also is the restraint of it. As bad as the world appears, it has never been as bad as it wanted to be or could have been. There have been examples of it here and there, but no one in history has ever seen an evil-saturated world. As long as God is there, they never will. It’s his severity that keeps things afloat.
We can thank God for hating evil so much that he doesn’t let it destroy us all. He could have prevented it from entering his creation, but for reasons unknown to us, he chose to permit it and then used and exploited it for his good purposes. God set this biblical pattern in the Joseph story in Genesis chapters 37 to 50. It reappears after that and becomes the blueprint for the rest of history: what people intend for evil, he intends for good.
But there’s even more goodness to it. Severity doesn’t mean only punishment for evil. It also implies that God can be severe in the discipline and training of his people. No retribution is pleasant, but it does serve to prepare and strengthen us for the rigors and blessings ahead (Hebrews 12:7-13). God’s severity is an index of his seriousness in completing his good plan for all creation.
And as for judgment after this life, how could it be any other way if there is a just, fair-minded God? We simply don’t know all there is to know about it except that it’s worth everything to avoid. It’s the final and greatest calamity that can befall those whose actions show that their love for their sins is more significant than their love for God. It’s the chronic, unrepentant love of darkness, not our stumbling and making mistakes, which attracts God’s Judgment (John 3:19, 20).
If God decrees that there will come a time when nothing will exist except his kingdom and its righteousness, then what else is there for people who prefer not to live in the perfection of the Father’s presence and purpose? For anyone who prefers the joy of his presence will receive it, and the doorway into his house is opened wide through his only Son, Jesus Christ.
He’s the one (the only one) who finds us where we are, rescues us from sin and its consequence, transforms us from the inside by his indwelling Spirit, outfits us for his kingdom, and personally ushers us into the Father’s throne room at the end of our lives. It’s a standing offer: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).