Monday, January 25, 2010

Severity of God

My thoughts have been focused for some time on the topic of the goodness of God. Any perusal of my blog will lend itself to seeing this theme coming up again and again. There seems to be a way of thinking both in and outside of Christianity that ascribes ultimate goodness as something that would never, in any way, cause suffering, harm, destruction, or death. While Christians often avoid any seemingly awkward discussion of the severity of God, it is something that is an indispensable attribute of The Most Holy. Consider the following passage.

Romans 11:22 (New American Standard Version)

“Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

God invites us to partake of His kindness, but that does not mean He is not also severe and that some meet justly with His severity.

God’s goodness and His justness are not at odds. He is one and He is always Himself. He is fully good and fully just at the same time. His omnipotence – His power—is also aligned with His goodness as well as with His holiness, and justness, and all His other attributes. Thus there are things God cannot do. He cannot lie for He is Truth and the Truth cannot also be non-truth. He cannot do something that is not good for that would be contrary to His nature. His mercy and His justness are not at odds, but are perfectly expressed rightly. (See the previous post which is an excerpt from A.W. Tozer for more on this).

Some argue that if He is the standard for good that goodness becomes whatever He wants. This is true because His actions are in line with His nature. There is no wrestling between what He wills and what He does for both are equally and ultimately good. Thus all that He wants is good. A good tree bears good fruit. God is the ultimate good Tree. He always bears good fruit. His actions always line up with His nature.

In light of the conversation at hand, I recall one of my favorite passages from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In The Silver Chair, Jill and Scrubb are whisked off into an adventure in Narnia. Scrubb, otherwise known as Eustace, had been there before, but for Jill this was a new experience.

To set the stage for the passage quoted below, Scrubb and Jill become separated and Jill encounters Aslan for the first time. Jill was very thirsty and saw a stream where she could drink, but next to the stream lay the Great Lion.

“If you're thirsty, you may drink.”

They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I'm dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I - could I - would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting,

nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

(Passage from The Silver Chair – Chapter 2)

God does not answer to us. We answer to Him. We do not judge Him; He is the good Judge of us. He will not move out of the way for He is The Way. He will truthfully tell us “there is no other stream.” We can drink of His life, or we can die in our thirst. But this life He offers is found no where other than in Himself and He invites us in. But to be on the outside of that goodness, is to live in an alternate non-good state of being that has consequences that are right and just despite their unpleasantness.

Modern culture has embraced the idea that tolerance is the highest virtue. That good cannot allow for suffering or harm. Part of this view is true in the context of a world without sin. Good then would not have suffering, destruction, and death. But this world is not the good world that was first created. It has been altered by sin when we allowed the enemy to have power here. A day is coming where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more suffering. But sin is a reality and it does come with consequences. Evil must be reckoned with. At the heart of almost every story ever told is the battle between good and evil and the triumph of good over evil. But in that triumph comes much cost and those who are on the side of evil do not fair well. God is not a tolerant God; He is very much a good God.

Tolkien eloquently depicts this universal battle when evil enters the peaceful happy village of the Shire through the greed of a Hobbit who took a ring for himself that did not belong to him. Consequences ensued as evil showed up at the doorstep of the shire commencing a great journey for a little Hobbit who inherited the ring and his fellowship to see evil overcome. The costs were great, but good fought back the evil and the evil forces were overcome. Pain and suffering including death happened also to those in service to good, but it was the costs in overcoming the evil that had infiltrated the land.

Good must be understood to not trifle with evil. God does not play around when it comes to evil. We ought not to expect Him to be a Lamb in the face of evil, but a Lion. The fullness of His gentle kind persona is still in the Lion, but He acts in severity when it is good to do so and in mercy and kindness when that is the good response. Even His justice is merciful for He never ceases to be merciful when He is just and never ceases to be just when He is merciful.

When John encounters the glorified Christ, he fell at His feet as though dead because of the Holiness that stood before Him in full unveiled glory. We must not consider God without His Holiness. That word holds little meaning for most. Many a scholar will define “holiness” as the absence of sin, when in reality the Eternal God was Holy before any sin ever existed. Holiness has a mysterious triumphant glory that is greater than we could possibly imagine. God invites us to come and be holy as He is holy. He wants to clothe us in His righteousness, but we cannot tame Him, He will not fit our boxes. He will not be judged by us, but He will give us all that is His if we come and drink. There is no other stream.

1 comment:

CyberKitten said...

karla said: Modern culture has embraced the idea that tolerance is the highest virtue.

That's news to me. I'd say it was either democracy or capitalism myself or maybe free-trade or simply freedom. Tolerance is part of the liberal mind-set so hardly universal in modern culture (whatever you mean by that since contemporary culture is a very varied beast indeed....)