Feeble Knees

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Goodness of God

If God took everything away from me, and offered only Himself in return, what would I do? Would He be enough?

This question is nagging at me today. If I were that one who clung to a tree, watching the destruction of every person and thing that I held dear, and was left with nothing but God Himself, what on earth would I say to Him?

It is so, so easy to sit here in my warm house, surrounded by all my Bibles, with a hot cup of tea and food in my belly to presume what I might say. But if I stop for a moment and really consider it, I have to admit I don't know what I'm made of; my faith has never been pushed to that kind of limit.

A commenter suggested that perhaps God allowed the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis to happen so that the rest of the world would know that He is God. Truthfully, my instant reaction was to be aggravated. It bugged me all morning.

Thinking it over, it occurred to me that God has no end of means at His disposal for proving to the world that He is God. Using catastrophe and utter destruction to promote oneself doesn't seem like very good PR to me. Hear me out on this, I mean no disrespect. We need to go deeper into the heart of God at times like this.

In the Old Testament, we read that God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, as wicked a city as there ever was, and proclaim that the city would be overthrown. (Jonah 3:1-4). This in itself was not unusual. God had been using prophets for some time now to proclaim impending judgment, and we see in subsequent books of the Old Testament that He continued to do so. So this is not an unheard of MO for the Spirit of the Lord.

But this story ends differently:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Jonah 3:5-10, NKJV

God did not bring the destruction to pass. He spared the Ninevites, because given the opportunity to clean up their act, they did. God gave them a warning, brought them to a place of decision, and when they responded, He relented.

Would not the thousands of dead have done the same, had they known what was about to befall them? Where was their chance? Was anyone storming the beaches and resorts proclaiming the word of the Lord to these people? Why would they not be afforded the same chance the Ninevites had?

It seems too easy, too pat to say that God did this just to prove that He is God. Might I also say that were that true, I could not blame atheists and those who do not believe in the God of the Bible for being absolutely horrified by this train of thought. I'm kind of horrified by it, truth be told.

God's decision to spare Nineveh produces a very curious reaction in Jonah. Does Jonah fall down and praise God for His merciful loving kindness? No. He whines about it. Really. It's amazing, but true.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!" Jonah 4:1-3, NKJV

Goodness gracious!

Far be it from any of us to ever have such an attitude. But I fear that there are some who would rather see the destruction of the world than the mercy of God. There is a subtle trap laid for us dear brothers and sisters. In wanting to prove the power of God and the truthfulness of His Word so desperately, we find ourselves almost cheering on Armageddon. "Who's laughing now? That'll teach ya to not believe!" I've done this. I've caught myself doing it. I'm not proud to admit it.

Perhaps Jonah feared he would be seen as a false prophet when his prophecies did not come to pass. The penalty for false prophecy in those days was no laughing matter, so on one hand, you can understand Jonah shaking in his boots at what might become of him if God relented and never made good on His threat. Perhaps Jonah wanted to prove to those godless Ninevites for once and for all the supremacy of his God. Perhaps he wanted so much to be right, he let his emotions cloud his reason. Because I've been there, I'm trying to give Jonah the benefit of the doubt.

Jonah and I are not the only ones who have been prone to getting testy with the world. Jesus himself rebuked James and John for similar thinking. Read it here for yourself:

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"

But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." And they went to another village. Luke 9:51-56

In past times, yours truly has been guilty of wanting justice and judgment over mercy. I have prayed that my views and my God would be justified and vindicated. Throw down some lightning, crumble the earth under their feet! That'll learn ya to mess with my God!

Dear readers, when we think like this, we know not what manner of spirit we are of. This is not the spirit of Christ, who himself said he sought not honor for himself, but to glorify the goodness and mercy of God.

Which brings me back to the terrible events of the last few days, and the shock and the horror that has gripped us as the news reports come in. With the psalmist our hearts cry:

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13, KJV

All of us are grappling with questions about God's part or lack thereof in this. We yearn for signs of deliverance, for testimonies and miracles; we are on tenterhooks, waiting for God to answer His critics with an incredible act of mercy. Some large part of our faith and hope is riding on it, and we want to protect God from the blame, I admit it.

But may I respectfully suggest that may be overlooking an important aspect of God's character and will if we believe that those killed and injured and orphaned must necessarily all be godless sinners under judgment. Consider Paul's rebuke in Romans:

And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:3-4 NKJV

Perhaps you still believe that the earthquake and the devastation was a call to repentance, and a sign to those of us still living that we need to get our house in order. I would agree with you that it is not a bad thing if all of us who remain from hereafter become actively engaged in examining ourselves and asking God to forgive us and help us to be more like Him. But tell me, when we have the Bible, and we have millions of books, radio stations, TV stations, and now Christian blogs to send us this very message, why would God indiscriminately kill over 120,000 people to get the message across to me or my neighbor? It is akin to saying that God will strike down someone in Great Britain if I don't stop indulging in my weakness for gossip. Why would He not rather convict me in my own heart?

It was God's mercy and goodness to me that drew me to Him. The fear of His judgment sends me scurrying, like Adam and Eve, for the nearest place to hide myself from His presence. It is the love and protection and provision of God that will no doubt make the difference in the lives of each survivor. So many have nothing left. No homes, no family, no food, no hope. Yet God is there, offering Himself. He is the only thing any of these people can lay claim to in this their dark hour of need and desperation. Only His goodness and mercy stands between them and death.

Would you tell such a one at such a time: Repent!

Or rather would you say, grab a hold, and hang on! Hope thou in the Lord!

We who know that there is a day of reckoning coming, what manner of persons ought we to be? Let us be those that account the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and as our Lord before us, we should likewise not be willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9)

Let us then prevail upon the mercy and goodness of the Lord, knowing His heart's desire is to save, and not to destroy.

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