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On October 7, 2010, USA Today published an article entitled “How America Sees God.” This was based on the findings of two sociologists from Baylor University in Texas.
The survey said that 28% of Americans see God as “engaged in history and meting out punishment to those who do not follow Him.” Then it says that 22% of Americans believe in a benevolent God who is “a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts, and will comfort all.”
Their conclusions seem to suggest that, if we believe God punishes, we cannot at the same time believe that he is a God who loves. And if we believe that God is love, we cannot at the same time believe that he punishes.
In Romans 11:22, the Apostle Paul says, “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Rom 11:22 KJV). J. I. Packer says, “Christians…are not to dwell on God’s goodness alone, nor on his severity alone, but to contemplate both together.”
If you want to know who God is, you need to consider both his goodness and his severity, both his mercy and his judgment, both his love and his wrath.
You cannot know the meaning of Christmas unless you grasp the goodness and severity of God.
The Severity of God
In Deuteronomy 32, God gives to Moses and Joshua a song about his goodness and severity. We are told, “Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel” (v. 30).
The song begins with a catalog of God’s blessings. God found you in the desert (v. 10). God shielded you and cared for you (v. 10). God guarded you like an eagle guarding its nest (v. 11). God nourished you with honey from the rock and with oil from the flinty crag (v. 13).
Consider your own blessings today. God’s blessings in your life are more than you can number.
Then the song addresses the choices that the Israelites made: “Jeshurun grew fat and kicked” (v. 15). The name Jeshurun was the most upright way of describing Israel. So God is saying that, even at their best, his people are disposed to sin!
God says to us, “I know what’s in your heart. I know what you are disposed to do. When you receive my blessing, you will be filled with a sense of your own importance. And you will kick against me. You will resist me, resent me, doubt me, and speak against me. You need to know that this is what you are like by nature.”
Notice then what God says he will do:
“I will hide my face from them…” (v. 20)
“I will make them jealous…” (v. 21)
“I will provoke them to anger…” (v. 21)
“I will heap disasters upon them…” (v. 23)
Why? God says, “For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below (v. 22). This is the judgment we all deserve. Have you considered the severity of God? Is this truth rooted in your mind and your heart?
When everything has been said about the judgment of God, there is something else.
The Goodness of God
“The Lord will judge his people and have compassion on his servants” (v. 36).
God has compassion for us! Christ came into the world to destroy the works of the evil one by bearing God’s judgment for our sins. He carried our iniquities in his body on the tree. So the goodness and severity of God meet at the cross.
Christ came under the curse that belongs to us, so that we might enter the blessing that belongs to him.
You can’t make sense of Christmas without considering the goodness and severity of God. Christ came into the world because of the severity of God. Our sin alienates us from a holy God. There is a judgment due to us for our sin and a curse to be removed, and only Christ can remove it.
Christ came into the world because of the goodness of God, who looks upon us miserable sinners with compassion. He has pity on us. He gives his Son. Christ gives us himself.
All over this city, there thousands of people who do not feel that they need Jesus. Maybe that’s true of you. Consider the severity of God. You will see that you need a Savior.
Maybe you have come to a place where you would like to find peace with God. You would like to come to him, but you feel unworthy and ashamed. You say to yourself, “Why would God want anything to do with me?” Consider the goodness of God. You will see how God has compassion for you.
Let the goodness and severity of God draw you to Christ this Christmas.