Monday, April 12, 2010

God's Wrath is Not For You

I was reading in the book of Jeremiah the other day when I found myself glancing to the opposite page. This is the verse that caught my eye...

"Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: “See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?" Jer. 9:7

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is the concept of sin, punishment and judgment. I talked a little about this a few days ago {click here}. What also seems to always play a role in that is the concept of the wrath of God. So these are some of my thoughts on the whole thing. I haven't totally worked it all through, so consider this post as me thinking out loud.

I have always been of the mind that sin is and of itself the punishment. That God is not the one punishing but instead is allowing the sin to punish on its own. Sin in the Hebrew mean "to wander from the way" the way being God's way. So when we sin we go our own way contrary to God's way and that just so happens to be the Devil's way. There in lies the punisher, the one who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. The other side effect from sin is separation from God. So the destruction and separation the sin causes is the punishment. But that destruction and separation isn't caused by God it is caused by the person teaming with the enemy.

"Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with Death, and with Sheol we are in agreement." Isaiah 28:15

I still don't understand how people get in their minds that our God is a God of destruction and death. That God seeks destruction or separation for any man. A God of war yes, a God of justice yes. But the war has always been and will always be against sin and the Devil, NOT THE PERSON! That is his justice and that was the cross!  He took the wrath of the enemy that was intended for us. He stood in for us so that we wouldn't have to be separated from God.  He was separated from God for us.  He took the death that was intended for us. But he conquered death! He took the control over death from the enemy so that all my have the choice of redemption and everlasting life. That we never have to be separated from God.  What I still am trying to figure out and have questions about is this...Did Jesus have to die to appease God's wrath for us or or was his wrath for the sin that separated us from him? Yes, God is totally indifferent to sin and hates it.  But Jesus who was God in the flesh had indifference to sin but never the sinner.  I guess that is why there is a few different views of atonement {penal substitution view, ransom view and Christus Victor}.  Still trying to work those  Ok...getting off track...back to the Old Testament.

The cry of the prophets in the Old Testament were always the same. "Return to the Lord and He will spare you". But they wouldn't, they just kept on sinning. So then their sin would lead them even further from the Lord ie: into exile. Then the call of the prophet was "return to the Lord and He will restore you". The cry from the people was always "why has God forsaken us". That has always meant to me that during their times of "punishment" and "exile"they didn't feel like God was there. Meaning He wasn't the one punishing, the enemy was. Now they did also cry "why are you allowing this to happen?" To which God would respond "Because you sinned". Simply as that really. But can you see how it was not necessary for God to actually punish? The sin takes care of that on it's own. All God did was warn that they were headed in the wrong direction and they were moving out of his protection. When they didn't listen he let sin and the enemy take it's course.

Remember in the other post {link above} we talked about how the word "punishment" in the Hebrew to attend to or to hold back? Well one of the other meanings was to correct or instruct. What I want to help do is get out of the mindset of God being a punishing God and get into the mindset of God being a correcting God. See punishment in most people's mind can be arbitrary and unfruitful and a lot of times it is. Look at the justice system in America. We have millions of people in prison being "punished" but only a hand full are being "corrected". God is not arbitrary and He is never unfruitful so what he does is correct. Remember the devil has already taken care of the punishment part. Correction puts us back on the path that we wandered from in sin. The way he lovingly corrects is to refine and test. Look at the verse again.

"Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: “See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?" Jer. 9:7

So isn't it cool that God takes the situation that we got ourselves into usually after He warned us not to and He works it for good. For what else can he do? He can't stop the punishment because remember the punishment has to do with our choice to sin. So in effect ending the punishment of our choice would be overriding our free choice. Believe it or not He doesn't want to destoy His people.  Notice He doesn't give what they deserve.  He doesn't wipe them out. He gives grace.  He uses a bad situation for good. He works it for growth. He works it for testimony to His glory. The analogy of refinement and testing is used many times throughout the Old Testament.

"I will also turn My hand against you, And will smelt away your dross as with lye And will remove all your alloy. Then I will restore your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning; After that you will be called the city of righteousness, A faithful city Zion will be redeemed with justice And her repentant ones with righteousness."
Is. 1:25-27

"...For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness...For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."
 Mal. 3:2-3,6

Yesterday I gave myself a crash course in gold metal smelting. Some interesting things I learned about gold are that besides its beauty and rarity it is sought after because it is the most malleable and ductile metal; making it a "precious metal". Basically meaning you can do a lot to gold before it breaks. It is also virtually indestructible and unaffected by most corrosive agents; making it a "noble metal". It also can be found pure in its metallic form in nature {like a nugget}not always within ore; making it a "native metal". To extract the gold{pure} from the ore{impure} in ancient times you needed oxygen, heat and fuel. The fuel is usually the from the sulfide content. BTW "brimstone" in both the Hebrew and Greek means sulfur, a little more on that later. The heat charged by the fuel of the sulfides would cause the gold and ore to melt and separate. The gold was extracted and the slag{impure ore by-product} was cast off. That is refining in a nutshell; a very small nutshell.

"Testing" in the KJV this is usually the word "try". The Hebrew word is bachan meaning to examine, try, prove. To test gold in ancient times they would scrape it on a black stone to see if it left a mark. Or to test gold coins they would bite them to see how soft they were. The softer the coin the more pure the gold. I always try think of testing based on the character of a loving God. Meaning it's not a test to see if we are good enough it is a test to prove that we are. The refining process it what always make the test sure. That is his grace to us.

"But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold." Job 23:10

Finally for this post we will talk a little about the "wrath of God" and what that means in the light of what we have just talked about. Wrath in the Hebrew is several different words. Here are some not all. Charon meaning heat, 'Aph meaning nostril-from the root word 'anaph meaning to breath hard, Quatsaph meaning displeased or angry, Chemah meaning hot, fever and 'Ebrah meaning outpouring or overflow. Now we have our heat source! Did God get angry and wrathful in the Old Testament? Yes. But the question is who he is angry or wrathful at? I propose He is angry at the Devil first and foremost for the destruction of his creation and created.  Is he angry at pure wickedness?  Yes, and usually they didn't stand they test and were consumed by the devil.  Is He frustrated at the wickedness of his people? Yes. But His frustration is not at who they are it is at what they have become. There's a difference. Look at the Hebrew words for indignation; another very "mean" sounding word in the OT. Ka'ac means grieved or distressed, Za'am means to denounce.

So I have started to view the wrath of the Old Testament as God attending and defending His people. Being grieved for the state of his people he would show up in anger denouncing wickedness, meaning the devil and the agreement the people had with him. Then he would use the time {if they repented} as a time of purging and refining. Those that didn't purge were consumed. Why? Because the devil still had charge of them. They didn't take God up on His offer to change. Is it painful to purge and refine? Yep! Is that pain the punishment of God? Nope! I believe the pain that we feel in refinement are the claws of the enemy digging into our skin trying to keep us from getting taken away. Think of a hard core drug addict trying to kick the habit. They are often hospitalized due to the immense physical pain of trying to get the drug out of their system. Now is God trying to punish them for their sin? No. The devil causes the pain. The devil is trying to keep them on drugs! If they shoot up again all that pain leaves in an instant. The same is true with the refining "wrath" of God. The devil will never let you loose without a fight and so it is painful! Remember he wants to destroy you. And that is the reason God sent his Son.

Final consumes wickedness but refines righteousness.  The devil always wants to consume and God always wants to purify.

Next these concepts in the New Testament...

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