THE KINDNESS AND THE SEVERITY OF GOD

There are some books I have read that though they are not scripture, they have seemed to me to be the nearest thing to it. One such book is C.S. Lewis’ “The Horse and His Boy”. It tells the story of an orphan boy called Shasta who has been brought up by a wicked step-father, and who after many adventures meets the Christ figure in the book, Aslan, the Great Lion. After some encouragement, Shasta pours out his story before Aslan, who listens and then explains that He is the One who has protected him and guided him through all his wanderings. It is very early in the morning and still dark, so Shasta fearfully questions if he is encountering a ghost. But after being reassured that Aslan is not a ghost, we’re told that “…a new and different sort of trembling came over him.”[i] Finally as dawn breaks, Shasta sees the Great Lion pacing beside him, and we are told, “…No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful.”[ii]

I appreciate so much how C. S. Lewis in his writings presented God in a biblical way: infinitely loving, yet wonderfully fearful. The Apostle Paul expressed this in Romans 11:22 in the phrase, “The Kindness and the Severity of God”. I think it is fair to say that most of us would be happy with God’s kindness, but not too thrilled at His severity. We have been weaned on images of God portrayed by the “hollywood theologians” and celebrities such as George Burns some years ago, and Morgan Freeman today. A God who inspires any kind of fear is just a little too hot to handle, and a public relations nightmare. So since God made us in His image and likeness, we returned the compliment and refashioned Him in our image: a safe, avuncular, Santa Claus god.

Paul knew well the history of his own people. They were the first to experience God’s wonderful election and kindness to them. But when they had wandered away from God and worshiped demi-deities strange and weird, they soon became very familiar with God’s severity. They had even been warned against this in Deuteronomy 28, about the curses that would follow such activity, yet they decided nonetheless to put it to the test. Ouch! The Book of Judges is the best place to start for a study of the consequences of rebellion. Each of the chapters seem to follow the same pattern: people falling into idolatry, then experiencing oppression by their enemies, turning back to God in desperation, and God in His kindness answering their prayers by sending a deliverer.

As I explained in my first post, I named this blog, “godscollie” because I liked the image of a pastor being the Shepherd’s dog. The sheepdog guards, protects and directs the sheep. But it is imperative that the sheepdog stays close to the Shepherd. I say this because this collie in “godscollie” wandered from the Shepherd a long time ago and tangled with the wolf. He got mauled and mangled and almost destroyed, if the Shepherd hadn’t turned up and bonked the wolf on the head with His crook. So the collie learned a lesson: if you wander from the Shepherd, He may allow you to experience severe consequences.

Our God is not a “take-it-or-leave-it” god, folks; you just don’t mess with Him. There is a general opinion today that hell doesn’t exist and that all we need to do to get to heaven is to die. Heaven is the fullness of God’s Kingdom. In order to experience it we need to submit to God in the obedience of faith. It’s either that or the trapdoor opens. Sorry for the bluntness, but the scriptures are even more blunt. Whether believers or unbelievers, our society has lost its sense of the fear of God. We are like the unjust judge in Luke 18:2 who neither fears God nor respects man. Both the church and society (perhaps for different reasons) need to recover the kindness and the severity of God. These qualities on the one hand stand together in dynamic tension, yet also confront us as possible destinies: when the night falls we will either embrace His kindness and mercy, or endure His severity. The choice is ours; God is Ultimate Accountability.

[i] C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, Book Three, “The Horse and His Boy”, (New York: Harper Trophy, A Division of HarperCollins, 1954) p. 165.

[ii] Ibid p. 166

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