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The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Greetings All,

      Today's "thought" comes from Tim Keller's bestselling book, "The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism."  Keller, if you know him, is a deep thinker who filters all he sees through a solid Gospel grid.  Alongside Ravi Zacharias, Os Guiness, D. A. Carson, and a few others, he  ranks as one of the most astute Christian apologists and preachers of our day. Most anything he has written is well worth your time in reading, including the above mentioned book.
     This particular thought addresses the common complaint of many non-Christians that, "If God is a God of Judgment He Can't be a God of love."   In fact, that is the heading for this particular subsection of the chapter dealing with God's more unpopular characteristics -- His justice, judgment and wrath. It is well worth the minute or two it will take you to read it.  It really is rather profound.  Enjoy.
       "In Christianity God is both a God of love and of justice. Many people struggle with this. They believe that a loving God can't be a judging God. Like most other Christian ministers in our society, I have asked literally thousands of times, "How can a God of love be also a God filled with wrath and anger? If He is loving and perfect, he should forgive and accept everyone. He shouldn't get angry."
     I always start my response by pointing out that all loving persons are sometimes filled with wrath, not just despite, but because of, their love. If you love a person and see someone ruining them -- even they themselves -- you get angry. As Becky Pippert puts it in her book 
"Hope Has It's Reasons":

"Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships.
Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it... Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference... God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer...which is eating out the insides of 
the human race he loves with his whole being."

     The Bible says that God's wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made... The Lord watches over those who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy" (Psalm 145:17-20).  It is at this point that many people complain that those who believe in a God of judgment will not approach enemies with a desire to reconcile with them. If you believe in a God who smites evildoers, you may think it perfectly justified to do some of the smiting yourself.
     Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who has seen the violence in the Balkans, does not see the doctrine of God's judgment that way.  He writes:

If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence -- that God would not be worthy of worship... The only means to prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God...My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many... in the West... [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God's refusal to judge.  In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die...
[with] other unpleasant captivities of the liberal mind." 

       In this fascinating passage Volf reasons that it is the lack of belief in a God of vengeance that "secretly nourishes violence." The human impulse to make perpetrators of violence pay for their crimes is almost an overwhelming one. It cannot possibly be overcome with platitudes like, "Now don't you see that violence won't solve anything?"  If you have seen your home burned down and your relatives killed and raped, such talk is laughable -- and it shows no concern for justice. Yet victims of violence are drawn to go far beyond justice into the vengeance that says, "You put out one of my eyes, so I will put out both of yours." They are pulled inexorably into an endless cycle of vengeance, of strikes and counter-strikes, nurtured and justified by the memory of terrible wrongs.
     Can our passion for justice be honored in a way that does not nurture our desire for blood vengeance? Volf says the best resource for this is the belief in the concept of God's divine justice. If I don't believe that there is a God who will eventually put all things right, I will take up the sword and will be sucked into the endless vortex of retaliation. Only if I am sure there is a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly, do I find the power to refrain." 

     Those who are biblically astute will have already noticed this is nothing more than what Paul tells us in Romans 12:19 where he writes: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge, I will repay says the Lord." 
     In the context of that verse it is both sincere love (v. 9) bolstered by the belief that God is a God of justice who will one day right all wrongs, that gives people the power to refrain from feeling the strong  urge to right them themselves.  It's not just love alone that restrains retaliation.  It is love combined with the assurance that God will one day (and not always in this lifetime) right all wrongs. As many of you can attest: If we don't believe God will avenge all evil, we will feel the nearly irresistible need or compulsion to avenge it ourselves. That is, when we let go of belief in a God of justice and wrath -- in the face of terrible violence and injustice -- we will seek to execute that justice, judgment and wrath ourselves. It is only the assurance that God will do it, as Paul points out, that frees us from the deep inner compulsion to do it ourselves.
     Thank God we can trust Him to avenge such things -- as His Word assures us He will -- or this world would be an even more violent place to live.

With prayers for the blessing of God upon your day, Pastor Jeff