God of Judgment, God of Grace

“In the Old Testament, God reveals himself as a God of Judgment. In the New Testament, God reveals himself as a God of Grace.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard a well-intentioned Christian say something to that effect…

But wait.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said something to that effect.

The problem is, it’s wrong.

Or, at least, it’s incomplete.

God does indeed reveal himself as a God of Grace in the New Testament. But that doesn’t mean He fails to reveal himself as a God of Judgment.

God does indeed reveal himself as a God of Judgment in the Old Testament. But that doesn’t mean He fails to reveal himself as a God of Grace.

I’ve been thrilled to be teaching the Old Testament to three-year-olds in Sunday School this year. It’s great. I love the Old Testament. I love teaching the Old Testament.

And what’s struck me about the Old Testament this time around is that I haven’t yet seen an example of God’s judgment without His Mercy.

When Adam and Eve ate the poisonous fruit, God’s judgment on them meant death and banishment from the garden. Yet in God’s mercy, He promised a Savior and the ultimate destruction of their enemy the snake.

When Cain killed Abel, God’s judgment on Cain meant an end to his livelihood and a lifetime of wandering. Yet in God’s mercy, He set a mark on Cain to protect him from his greatest fear – that whoever found him would kill him.

When the people were so wicked that God could stand it no longer, God’s judgment on the world meant a flood that destroyed all people but eight. Yet in God’s mercy, He preserved eight – and promised to never again destroy the earth in that way (despite man’s evil continuing to provoke His anger.)

When humanity set themselves against God and sought to build a tower to display their own glory, God’s judgment meant confusing their language and their plans. Yet their punishment was God’s mercy, giving them a second opportunity to be obedient – to fill the earth and subdue it.

When Sodom and Gomorrah committed great atrocities before God, God’s judgment meant raining down fire and brimstone on them. Yet in God’s mercy, He let Abraham haggle with him over the fate of the city, promising to save the cities if even ten righteous men could be found. But even when ten righteous could not be found, God’s mercy saved the family of the one righteous man.

The New Testament really only requires one proof text – but it’s the proof text around which every other text hangs. God’s mercy meant pardoning sinful rebels. But his judgment meant pronouncing a death sentence on His Son.

God’s grace meant imputing His Son’s righteousness to wretches. His judgment meant nailing His Son to the cross for the wretches’ sin.

If you think that the Old Testament tells only of God’s judgment, read again.

If you think that the New Testament tells only of God’s grace, read again.

For wherever God reveals Himself, He reveals Himself as the Judge and the Justifier – the awful and the merciful.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
~Romans 3:22-26 (ESV)

God’s Justice (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

~2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (ESV)

What does God consider just?

God considers it just to repay persecuters with affliction and to grant relief to the persecuted.

When will God repay the persecuters and grant relief to the persecuted?

God will repay the persecuters and grant relief to the persecuted when Christ Jesus returns.

How will God repay the persecuters?

The persecuters will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might.

How will God grant relief to the persecuted?

The persecuted will be relieved as Christ is glorified in His saints and as Christ is marveled at among all who have believed.

I look at injustices and cry out for immediate judgement.

Make the wrongdoer’s pay. Make the victims restitution. Justice must be served.


That’s what I say.

God considers it just to wait to judge until Christ has returned.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servantsand their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

~Revelation 6:9-11 (ESV)

It can’t be right, waiting to judge.

But all God does is right. He is just to wait to judge.

“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

~2 Peter 3:7 (ESV)

God is not slow. He is patient.

He is not unjust. He is merciful.

When His judgment comes, it is final. When His relief comes, it is sublime.

He is willing to wait, chooses to wait so that relief may come to as many as are called.

The Incarnation: God become infant

** This post was copied from our Christmas letter this year – so don’t feel bad about skipping it if you’ve already read it. Otherwise, you are definitely obligated to read it in its entirety :-) **

It’s cliché to talk about how having children changes your view of God – but having a newborn this Advent season has definitely given me a whole new perspective on the Incarnation.

God became man. It’s a weighty thought any time – but this Advent, I’m struck with the reality that God became infant.

Part of being a human is having physical and psychological needs – a need for food and clothing and shelter, for comfort and companionship. And part of being a human newborn is having no way of fulfilling those needs by oneself – and only one way of expressing those needs to others. An infant cries.

As Tirzah Mae squalls in her bed or on a blanket or in my arms, I contemplate that Jesus – God Himself – cried. And as I run through the list of possible causes of Tirzah Mae’s distress, I contemplate that Jesus had an earthly mother who was just as clueless as I, who struggled to meet the needs of her newborn. I contemplate how the Creator of the Universe became dependent on His creation. What humiliation! And for what cause?

Philippians 2:6-8 tells us why Jesus came: “…though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus had all the needs humans have save one. Everything my Tirzah Mae needs, He needed – except one thing. Tirzah Mae, perfect though she may seem, was born sinful, under the wrath of God. Jesus was not. He had no need to be saved from the wrath of God because He didn’t deserve the wrath of God. Yet Jesus Christ came, bore the humiliation of being a human infant so that He could go to the cross – so that He could bear the wrath Tirzah Mae and I deserve. I can feed and clothe and comfort my Tirzah Mae, but I can never save her. Yet Jesus – Jesus came as a little infant like her so that He could save her.

Cliché though it may be, as I reflect on and care for my wonderful early Christmas gift, I am reminded of the greatest Christmas gift of all – and I am thankful that God became infant in Jesus Christ, that God became sin in Jesus Christ, that God bore the penalty of my sin in Jesus Christ, and that in Jesus Christ my greatest need is met.

I pray this Christmas that we all may come to know the great salvation for which Jesus humiliated Himself.

Is Painless Childbirth Possible?

I think it was Dr. Bradley who stated that pain is not a necessary part of childbirth – and claimed that stating that pain *is* necessary to childbirth is a misapplication of Genesis 3.

But I don’t think a plain reading of Scripture supports that view:

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.”
~Genesis 3:16 (ESV)

In fact, I think a plain reading suggests that pain was likely a part of childbearing even prior to the fall – since this verse refers to multiplication (which implies something pre-existing to multiply – multiplying by 0 doesn’t make anything). And certainly, it clearly states that woman will bring forth children in pain.

Furthermore, plenty of other Scriptures indicate that pain is a normative experience during childbirth. A frequent simile used by the prophets is “pain like a woman in labor” (Psalm 48:6; Isaiah 13:8, 21:3, 42:14; Jeremiah 6:24, 22:23, 49:24, 50:43; Micah 4:9). Jesus spoke of “birth pains” (Matthew 24:8, Mark 13:8) and of the “sorrow” and “anguish” of a woman in labor (John 16:21). The apostle Paul likened his painful toils for the church to the anguish of a woman in labor (Galatians 4:19). Other references that suggest that pain in childbirth is normative include I Samuel 4:19 (her “pains came upon her”), Isaiah 26:17 (“writhes and cries out in her pangs”), Jeremiah 4:31 (“cries” and “anguish” as of a woman in labor), Jeremiah 48:41 and 49:22 (“birth pains”), Jeremiah 13:21 and Hosea 13:13 (the “pangs” of childbirth), Micah 4:10 (“writhe and groan like a woman in labor”), Romans 8:22 (pains of childbirth), and I Thessalonians 5:3 (“labor pains”).

Other Scriptures imply that childbirth is something that requires great strength. The midwives who cared for the Hebrew women in Egypt stated that they weren’t killing the baby boys they were delivering “because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” (Exodus 1:19 ESV) The Hebrew women’s vigor meant that their labors were fast enough (apparently) that the midwife didn’t get there in time to assist. Hezekiah spoke (in 2 Kings 19:3 and Isaiah 37:3) of children coming to the point of birth but mothers not having the strength to deliver them.

From my reading of Scripture, it seems plain that childbirth is indeed labor (work) and that it is generally painful labor.

Yet I am not afraid of childbirth, nor do I wish to blunt the pain of childbirth with drugs. Why is this?

Am I playing martyr, arguing against the umbrella that could guard me from this consequence of the fall?

No. I’m not. I expect pain in childbirth, but I’m not going to shy away from it because I believe two things: I believe that pain in childbirth is purposeful and I believe that it has payoff.

While some pain has no apparent purpose (for instance, in fibromyalgia), most pain does have a purpose. The pain of touching a too-hot stove tells us to withdraw our hand before damage is done. The pain of backache or a strained muscle often tells us to change our posture or our activity patterns. Other times pain simply tells us that our body is working. We feel the “burn” when we’re exercising vigorously. And, when having a baby, we feel pain that lets us know that our uterus is contracting to push baby out. If we know what to look for, pain also tells us when we should be actively working with our bodies’ involuntary impulses to push baby out.

And finally, I believe that the pain of labor has payoff.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
~John 16:21 (ESV)

Following the pain of childbirth comes great joy – joy in a new human being. Inasmuch as it depends on me, I want to be fully there and fully aware to experience that joy – even if it means I have to endure additional pain leading up to it.

Remnants of the Temple

“It’s like the Wailing Wall,” he told us, “Historically meaningful but not much to see.”

That, coupled with the hefty $18 per person price tag for a boat ride out to Fort Sumter, had me thinking it was an attraction to be skipped. Daniel thought otherwise, so we decided to go anyway.

Our friend from home turned out to be right in at least one respect. There wasn’t much to see at Fort Sumter.

I told Daniel once we got back that this didn’t mean I was willing to skip the Wailing Wall if/when we find our way to Jerusalem.

The Wailing Wall is different, I explained. Sure Fort Sumter is an important part of our nation’s history, but the Wailing Wall is all that remains of the place GOD chose for His Name to dwell.

Today, as I read the plans for the Tabernacle in Exodus and consider the Passion, I recall Christ’s words to the unbelieving mobs of Jerusalem:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
~John 2:19 (ESV)

The unhearing hearers protested the impossibility of rebuilding Herod’s temple in three days.

And they were right. Herod’s temple, which took 46 years to build, now lies in waste for 1,943 years. The Wailing Wall is all that remains of that majestic temple.

But that temple, majestic and meaningful though it may have been, was nothing compared to the temple Jesus spoke of.

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
~ Colossians 2:9 (ESV)

The ultimate temple is Christ Himself. God in bodily form. God become man.

This temple was destroyed a little less than 2000 years ago. This temple was rebuilt by His own strength only three days later.

As much as I long to gaze upon the remnants of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall, I long much more to gaze upon the Resurrected Temple, my LORD in the New Jerusalem.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
~I Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
~I John 3:2 (ESV)

Musings on the Glorified Body

Will our glorified bodies bear evidences of our unglorified lives?

Will my glorified body bear stretch marks from when my body developed curves?

Will my glorified radius and ulna exhibit thickening from an old break?

Will my glorified chin still have a divot from where the asphalt took its ounce of flesh?

Will my glorified back have a smattering of scars from the shingles I got in my late twenties?

Will I still be me without these marks, these scars, these evidences of life lived, difficulties borne?

It’s really rather speculative, up to anyone’s guess.

We only know one example of a glorified man, and He was more than just a man.

But He still bears scars.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'”
~John 20:26-29 (ESV)

I do not know whether I will bear scars, but I know that if I do, they shall remain for one reason only–they will remain because God is glorified most in my scars.

For is that not the point of the glorified body–not that I be glorified, but that He be glorified in me?

The Physicality of Eternal Life

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
~1 John 1:1-3 (ESV)

What did they hear?

They heard the words of Christ.


“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
~John 6:68b (ESV)

What did they see?

They saw Christ in the flesh.


“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
~John 14:6b (ESV)

What did they touch?

They touched the wounds of Christ.


“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
~John 20:27b (ESV)

The Life was made Manifest.


Eternal Life incarnate, displayed for all to see, to hear, to touch.

Eternal life crucified, risen, bearing wounds proclaiming victory over death.

Eternal life ascended.

Eternal life proclaimed.


The message John proclaims is not that we can obtain eternal life from Christ, but that we can find eternal life in Christ.

We do not come to Christ so that He can give us eternal life.

We come to Him because He is eternal life.

Our gospel is incomplete if eternal life is separated from the person of Christ.

Because eternal life isn’t living forever.

Eternal life is Christ.

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
~I John 5:20 (ESV)

Sunday School in Review: Part 7

After hours trying to figure out how to teach Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, I gave up. In complete defiance to my usually very carefully typed lesson, I had no typed lesson, no handwritten notes. I opened my Bible to Nahum and started teaching.

In Nahum, we learned of God’s judgment on Nineveh–but wait, we asked, didn’t God show mercy to Nineveh? Why is He now going to destroy them?

In Habakkuk, we heard Habakkuk’s lament that God isn’t doing justice: “Why aren’t you giving people what they deserve?” We learned that God is just–which means that He DOES give people what they deserve.

My students had a legitimate question: “But didn’t we just learn last week that God is merciful–that He doesn’t give people what they deserve?”

I explained how God doesn’t give us what we deserve because Jesus volunteered to take what we deserved and give us what He deserved.

We moved on to Zephaniah to review the Day of the Lord–the day when God executes judgment on His enemies and shows mercy to the enemies that He’s made His friends.

We talked about God’s justice and God’s mercy. We talked about substitutionary atonement. We talked the salvation of God.

There’s no way I could have ended up there except for God’s orchestration of this unplanned lesson.

God is good.

I copied over my lesson for Zechariah and Malachi–and this time I don’t have any idea what I taught.

Ah, well. I guess we can’t remember everything.

Next week, I’d be moving into the New Testament–a terrifying chapter after the easy Old Testament.

Why do I say the New Testament is terrifying? I wrote about it on this blog as I moved into Acts:

“Teaching the Old Testament is easy.

Almost every line tells of our desperate need for salvation and our absolute inability to effect salvation of ourselves. Every line points forward, from where many of my students likely are (unregenerate) to Christ’s work.

Teaching the New Testament is hard.

The epistles are especially hard, since they’re written to believers. Most of the epistles answer the questions “What just happened?” and “Now what?”

Good questions, necessary questions, but ones I have a hard time teaching to little unbelievers.”

Read the rest of my explanation here.

Sunday School in Review: Part 6

In Amos, we looked at a map of the nations surrounding Judah and Israel–the nations that Amos pronounced woes upon.

“For three transgressions of Damascus and for four, I will not revoke punishment because…”

We imagined Israel and Judah smirking as one after another of their neighbors came under God’s microscope. “Yeah, that’s right! You sic ’em, God.” We imagined them saying. “Kill all our enemies. Destroy them all.”

Then God began in on Judah. Judah, no doubt, was mortified, but we imagined Israel’s self-righteousness at being the only one God hadn’t pronounced judgment on.

But Israel was mistaken. God’s list of Israel’s sins goes on and on. Furthermore, God describes all He’s done to Israel to make them come back–but the repeated refrain announces “Yet you did not return to Me.”

God thundered out–and I thundered through the classroom–


We saw how God pronounced woes on those who seek the day of Lord. We learned that the people of Israel wanted God to come and destroy their enemies. That’s what they thought the “Day of the Lord” was all about.

What they didn’t realize was that the “Day of the Lord” isn’t when God destroys THEIR enemies, but when God destroys HIS enemies.

We discussed who God’s enemies are and came up with a long list–a list that included every person in our classroom.

We ended with a sober note, the reality that as enemies of God we are destined for destruction in the day of the Lord.

Which paved the way for the next week’s class, where we learned about God’s mercy through Jonah and Micah.

We asked four questions each of three different groups of people. First we looked at Jonah and asked 1) What did Jonah do? He disobeyed God 2) What does Jonah deserve? He deserves to drown in the ocean 3) What does Jonah get? Swallowed by a big fish and spit up on dry land, 4) Why doesn’t Jonah get what he deserves? Because God is merciful.

We asked the same questions regarding Nineveh–a wicked city that deserved to be destroyed but which was spared because God was merciful.

We moved to Micah and asked the same questions regarding Israel. Israel had broken God’s covenant and deserved death. But, because God was merciful, He sent them into exile and gave them the promise of a Messiah.

We closed with Romans 6:23, comparing what we deserve for our sins (death) with what God has offered us freely instead (eternal life in Christ Jesus).

To be continued…

Sunday School in Review: Part 5

For Ezekiel, we opened with a rousing chorus of “‘Dem Bones” before rushing through the “bones” of Ezekiel on our way to the main story for the day: The Valley of Dry Bones.

We read the story. We assembled a skeleton from paper bones. We talked about how God makes dead men live. I was dancing with the reality of hearts of stone becoming hearts of flesh–and can only hope and pray that the students caught the wonder of what God does when sinners become saints.

I wrote over my lesson for Daniel so I’m not entirely positive what I taught.

Actually, scratch that–it’s all coming back to me. We had a mini nutrition lesson and learned about the four Jewish boys who chose to be faithful to God and were rewarded. We learned about the three men who wouldn’t bow to an idol and who were rewarded with God’s presence among the fiery furnace. We learned about a man who wouldn’t let a foolish king’s law change his devotion towards God–and who was protected in the midst of a cage of lions. We learned that being obedient to God wasn’t always going to be easy–but that God would be with His children even in the midst of a foreign land, a fiery furnace, or a lion’s den.

Although I love Hosea, I was a little frightened to teach it to 2nd and 3rd graders–especially because the ESV (which I use) reads: “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”

Yeah. I imagined parents beating down my door and beating in my head for teaching their children about whoredom.

I used the NIV that week, allowing the slightly more comfortable “adultery” (which I explained as “acting married with someone you aren’t married to”) to take the place of “whoredom”.

We learned how Gomer was like Israel and how Hosea was called to be like God. Gomer ran away from Hosea just like Israel ran away from God. Hosea stayed with Gomer (even though she ran away with other men) just like God stayed with Israel (even though they worshiped other gods.) Gomer committed adultery with other men, just like Israel committed idolatry with other gods. But Hosea bought Gomer back even when she was unfaithful–and God bough Israel back even when they were unfaithful.

We played hangman again (the kids got quite fond of this game)–and one little girl begged me not to erase the verse I’d chosen for our game until she could copy it down into her notebook: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

We switched gears suddenly by transitioning immediately from Hosea into Joel. Usually I try to connect the books we’re doing on the same day with some thematic element–but I couldn’t find or didn’t choose to elaborate on any theme between these two.

The kids colored a locust while I raced through my main points: Locust killed everything (yes, I brought in some Laura Ingalls Wilder here). This was God’s judgement for Israel’s sins. God promises to forgive His people when they repent. God will pour out His Spirit on all people and will save them. God will destroy His enemies and live with His people.

We looked back at the historical locust plague. We looked at the fulfillment of Joel 2 in Acts 2 (and I feared my Charismatic roots were showing as I quoted said passage from memory in the most excited of tones). We looked forward to the day when Christ comes back and completes the fulfillment of Joel by destroying His enemies and living with His people.

To be continued…