During the First Great Awakening in American revival history, there was an emphasis on the sinfulness of the human heart. During the 1730’s and 1740’s, ministers of the gospel faithfully proclaimed the need for repentance from religious dead works.
One of the most famous sermons of this period was preached by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
Lest people despair, the message of man’s utter ruin by sin was united to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and the hope of salvation, by faith alone, in Christ alone.
With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, and the growing influence of Enlightenment ideas, theology underwent a dramatic shift in emphasis. The universal Fatherhood of God was set forth, and the brotherhood of all mankind was promoted. Maybe individuals are not as bad as ministers had led people to believe.
The message of the love of God, and the goodness of man, was preferred over the sinfulness of man, and the anger of God.
The Christian message took another turn in the twentieth century, as Christianity and Enlightenment ideas fell before the rise of Secular Humanism. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844–1900), a philosopher and philogist from Germany, went so far as to declare that “God is dead, and we have killed Him.”
Not everyone agreed with the new emphasis of Secular Humanism. A “Crisis Theology” emerged within the context of Neo-orthodoxy to remind the Church that if Christians are to take seriously the Biblical revelation of God, then the wrath of God must be embraced and declared. Neoorthodoxy set forth a pessimistic view of human nature, because it recognized the inner contradictions of humans, resulting in a crisis in the conscience.
Reacting to Crisis Theology, radical theologians dared to assault the goodness and integrity of God, going so far as to ascribe to Him a demonic display of capricious anger. One example offered is found in Leviticus 10.
“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace” (Lev. 10:1-3).
Upon examination, it is discovered that God was not irrational in the judgment he gave to the sons of Aaron. The LORD had spoken on what was to be acceptable worship when He said:
“Among those who approach me
I will show myself holy;
In the sight of all the people
I will be honored.” (Lev. 10:3, NIV).
When Aaron heard this, he held his peace.
Aaron was silent, because he remembered that when God established the priesthood, He said there would be certain principles He would not negotiate. Those who violated the principles of proper worship would be held accountable, to the point of death.
In particular, God would be holy before anyone who dared to minister in His presence. Anyone who forgot that principle would be disciplined. God would be treated with reverence.
Another illustration of how protective the LORD is of His holiness, and those who minister, is found in the story of Uzzah, recorded in 2 Samuel 6.:6-23.
The background to the narrative involved the moving of the Ark of the Covenant from Kirath Jearim (Baalah) to Jerusalem. For 70 years the Ark had been in the home of a Levite, who was probably a priest, named Abinadab. David wanted to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.
What David, and others, neglected to do, was to take the transfer of the Ark seriously. The Ark was placed into an oxcart instead of being carried on the shoulders of Levites from the clan of Kohath, as the LORD had instructed Moses.
When an ox stumbled, and it looked like the Ark would fall to the ground, Uzzah instinctively reached forth his hand to steady the Ark, and was struck dead.
The sudden death of Uzzah ended the celebration of the return of the Ark, and rightly so, because the people were not solemn and reverent, but frivolous in the presence of God.
Was God capricious when He judged Uzzah for his protective care of the Ark? No, God was just being holy, and keeping His Word. God had told people not to touch the Ark of the Covenant, ever. To disobey was perilous, as Uzzah discovered.
With the death of Uzzah, the people of Israel were compelled to remember that God will not be mocked. People will not be frivolous in His presence, but solemn, reverent, and respectful as befits the thrice holy God.
With the death of Uzzah, the people were compelled to consider why God acted as he did. Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, the realization came. Uzzah had acted presumptuously.
The presumption of Uzzah was that he believed his hands were less polluted than the dirt. They were not, for out of the dirt man was originally created. At every funeral it can be said, “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.”
The Ark would not have suffered had it touched the dirt, for the dirt does what God designed it to do. But Uzzah did not do what he was designed to do. He was designed to obey the Law. He was designed to honor the Word of the LORD. He was designed to follow strict instructions regarding the Ark. In all of this, Uzzah failed. His judgment was just.
It is possible to read the Old Testament, and the stories that are told, and stand in judgment on God. Why did God destroy every man, woman, and child in a universal flood, except for eight souls? Why did God command the slaughter of every man woman and child in certain Philistine cities? Why did the Law establish capital punishment for more than twenty violations of the Law? Why did the LORD kill the two sons of Aaron, and Uzzah? Why?
The Biblical answer is this. God is holy. God is absolute righteousness. Anyone who violates the holiness of God must die. The soul that sinneth shall die. There is no other alternative.
Death in the Bible is separation. There are three types of deaths in the Bible.
There is spiritual death. This occurs when individual commits a sin. The relationship with God is broken. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
There is physical death. The breath leaves the body. The soul returns to its Maker. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7).
There is eternal death, which is endured in a resurrected body suited for eternal judgment. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
When all the narratives of the Old Testament are viewed through the prism of God’s holiness, then He is not a monster, but majestic, and awesome.
To understand this, is to avoid what so many have tried to postulate, the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament.
One person who held an erroneous view of God was Marcion. His heretical teachings (c. 144 AD) did have a positive result however. He compelled the Church to collect all the Books of the Bible in circulation, and formalize the Canon which we embrace today, 39 Old Testament books, 27 New Testament books.
Marcion himself rejected all the books of the Old Testament, and many of the New Testament writings, if they contained any reference to Jehovah. Why? Because the Jesus of the New Testament revealed a much kinder God than the capricious and meanspirited Jehovah of the Old Testament era.
The spirit of Marcion exists today. There are people, who like the Father God of the New Testament, and recoil at the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Upon reflection, the real problem is that God’s creation does not value the holiness of the Divine One.
There is nothing unjust, unrighteous, mean spirited, or even surprising about the holy God punishing anyone, angel or man, that deliberately commits an act of evil.
The truly amazing part is how temperate the Lord is in His judgment, and how restrained is His wrath. The fact that the number of capital punishment offenses were reduced to a specific limited number reflects infinite mercy and grace.
In the original creation it was said that the soul that sinned would die. Any sin would bring death. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Biologically, it was over.
Then grace came, and sin was imposed for specific sins of a limited number. From all sin bringing death, some sin was punishable by death.
If God were to demand, and extract the original terms of creation, He would do no wrong. God is sovereign, which means He is free to do with His creation what He wills.
The Natural Man recoils at the sovereignty of God, and the design of His original creation. But let God be true, and every man be silent. “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” (NKJV)
The arrogance of the Natural Man is the essence of sin, for in his pride the Natural Man says that his will is higher than the will of God. What man wants to do should take precedence over what God wants done.
People dare to say they have a moral right do engage in homosexual acts, slaughter the unborn babies through the butchery act of abortion, and enjoy bring a pedophile. Where does the Natural Man think he gets his right to act as he pleases? God never made man that independent of Himself.
To the presumptuousness of the creature, God says no. “The soul that sins shall die.” “You do not have the moral right to do as you please.” The Natural Man does not have the right to challenge the justice of God, or to violate His holiness.
The fact that individuals are accustomed to defying the Living God, and standing in judgment on Him, only emboldens the sinner to sin more.
The idea that individuals can do evil with impunity, is an illusion. God will not be mocked. Though His mercies are renewed every day, He will not always sleep, or slumber. The Lord will exact the penalty He has imposed on those who are committed to doing wrong. The soul that sins shall die.
God’s mercy and grace, designed to lead to repentance, is often misunderstood, as if God does not care. He does. That death and judgment are delayed is a testimony to God’s goodness and longsuffering, not to His abandonment of His holiness.
In the Old Testament era, the Lord was quick to judge. Because of Christ, God is willing to be longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but all should come to the acknowledgment of truth. But God is still God.
The God of the mountains is the God of the valleys. The God of Mt. Zion, is the God of Mt. Calvary. Grace and mercy have met with judgment and kissed.
If the judgment of God does fall swiftly at times, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), it is only to remind people in general, and the Church in particular, of His justice.
If the justice of God does fall swiftly, God does no wrong. Those who refused His mercy, those who do not repent, those who say that “God is not fair” shall know no mercy, but they shall be shown perfect justice, and be damned.
The moment a person starts to demand God be a certain way, or act in a certain way, is the moment mercy and grace is withdrawn, in favor of justice and holiness.
It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God, who administers justice, apart from mercy in Christ Jesus.
Be careful what you think of God, and what you say about Him.