The Goodness and Severity of God
It’s one thing to say you believe in God, but it’s another thing to believe Him as He really is.
Our perception of God is easily distorted by our preferences. We want Him to be just like we are, so that’s how we often view Him to be.
And when it comes to His attributes, we like those qualities that give us comfort – like His grace, mercy, and love. But we prefer to forget those aspects that remind us of our accountability to Him – like His holiness, justice, and truth. We want God to be good. But we don’t want Him to be severe.
Yet God is exactly both. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Rom.11:22). To remember that God’s character is balanced in this way goes a long way toward helping us live as we should before Him.
If all we do is dwell on God’s goodness, we easily fall into presumption and take His goodness for granted. If, on the other hand, we are preoccupied with His severity, we see God only as a threat to us and One who offers little hope.
We need to remember both, the goodness and the severity.
Typically – as is the case in our own day – it is thoughts of God’s severity that are most readily cast off. With this, a view of God that is lax and indulgent becomes the rule. And there is little thought that God’s favor has any connection to how much we fear Him.
But the Bible clearly tells us that such a connection exists. This is why it says. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr.9:10).
Indeed, God is good. He is filled with grace, mercy, and love. Not only is He good, but He does good (Ps.119:68). He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing (Ps.145:16). He is compassionate and slow to anger. He abounds in lovingkindness and forgives iniquity (Ex.34:6,7).
But that’s not the whole story. He is also severe.
Despite any thoughts to the contrary, God will not clear the impenitent and stubborn (Ex.34:7). And those who are conceited and unbelieving He will cut off (Rom.11:20).
This means that behind every display of God’s goodness toward us lies the threat of severity if He is scorned.
When this severity is felt, it should lead us back to Him. If we do not turn back, we have no complaint if the benefits of His goodness are withdrawn from us.
As many of God’s gracious benefits – like security and abundance – appear to be slipping away from us, could it be that God is calling us to a more well-rounded view of His character? Could it be that He is reminding us of His severity and calling us to repentance?
While belief in God is still high in our culture, we have tended to domesticate Him so that He would do our bidding. We’ve made Him into a pussy cat, when in fact He’s a lion.