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GREATNESS AND GOODNESS

“For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared (Ps. 47:2).”
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps.34:8)!”

{{I’ll apologize in advance because this entry will be longer than I desire for my blogs to be. However, I believe this topic is worth it because of its impact in contemporary culture. For the sake of any who might read it, I will attempt to speak about a profound truth as directly as possible, which won’t be easy, especially for me. It is my hope, however, that it is concise, clear, and stirring to the soul.}}

One of the great misconceptions in modern culture is the idea that the God of Israel, as A.W. Tozer puts it, is somehow different than the Lord of the Church. This presiding false impression – that Jehovah was judgmental and wrathful and that it was Jesus who introduced God as merciful, loving, and full of grace – is nothing further from the truth. God’s grace and mercy are just as evident in the Old Testament as in the New, and maybe even more so from a human perspective. As Tozer says, “Had the Old Testament times been times of stern, unbending law alone the whole complexion of the early world would have been vastly less cheerful than we find it to be in the ancient writing.”[1] The endeavor of this entry, though, is to show that the God of the Old Testament is the Lord of the New Testament, and that there is no divergence in any of His qualities from New to Old because He can never be other than He is. Consequently, any advancement of the idea that Jesus introduces a variance in God’s disposition, quite honestly, is lazy theology at the least and heresy at the worst.

God’s grace and mercy is displayed, remarkably, in His steadfast love toward the nation of Israel throughout the entire Old Testament. Was there ever a period in which they didn’t rebel against God and provoke His discipline? Moses recalls, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place [Beth-peor, before crossing the Jordan], you have been rebellious against the Lord (Deut. 9:7).”

Israel deserved destruction because of their consistent rebellion against God from the moment they left Egypt, and likely even more so than anyone else because God’s visible and written revelation to them, yet God unfailingly spared them. Isn’t this an incredible display of God’s mercy and grace throughout the Old Testament? God even showed mercy toward Gentile nations throughout the Old Testament. He was merciful toward to the Canaanites by withholding His judgment against them for nearly half a century, He would have showed mercy to Sodom and Gomorrah for only 10 righteous people (and maybe less if Abraham asked), and don’t forget the story of Jonah and God’s mercy shown to the Assyrians, who are renowned for their vicious brutality.

The very reason Jonah gave God for fleeing to Tarshish when God called him, and the reason for his irritated moping at the end of the book, was because He knew God would be merciful to the Ninevites, which ended up being the case. He said, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (Jonah 4:2).” God’s response to Jonah’s anger is even more telling; God said, “…should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left…(Jonah 4:11)?”  The Old Testament is a detailed record of God’s mercy, grace, goodness, and faithfulness to Israel and other nations. It is a true display of His person.

The God of the New Testament isn’t different from God of the Old Testament. The incarnation, the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the New Covenant, is only the fulfillment of God’s faithfulness, grace, mercy, goodness, and steadfast love previewed, and promised, in the Old Testament and planned before the foundations of the world. It is only a completed unveiling of God’s person, which is not conflict or manifested in different degrees. God can only be Himself and act in accordance with His character, and His greatness and goodness portrayed through different attributes, which we delineate because of our finite understanding, are one. As Tozer says, “God’s being is unitary; it is not composed of a number of parts harmoniously, but simply one.”[2] His mercy and grace, and His judgment and wrath, are ushered forth from the same well – His infinite and magnificent Being. He is who He is, and will never be other than He is.

It is important to understand the cohesion and immutability of God’s being because if we do not then we end up creating a God that doesn’t exist and preaching a God unfamiliar to the Scriptures. You cannot remove from God who He is and who He describes Himself to be. To do so would be the epitome of arrogance. As such, any God that is preached with facets of His character removed is not God at all. They are, rather, malicious derivatives that fall far short of the Divine Being and, thus, leave people believing in a God and doctrine that are completely false. Unfortunately, this is where we are in Western culture and in many churches within it.

The acceptable God, the God of Carl Lentz and The View, is solely a loving and merciful God that is devoid of any of the judgmental stuff we see in the Old Testament. The Old Testament, as Brian Zahnd suggests in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, is a confusing misrepresentation of the God we find in the New Testament, which Jesus, thankfully, clears up for everyone. To them, Jesus came to fix the mess the authors of the Old Testament created in their deluded writings. Nevermind, though, that the New Testament writers refer to the Old Testament as divinely inspired and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).” These are errors that derive from man’s faulty presuppositions of what “love” is and their confusion in equating love with God, or, in other words, making God literally love and love literally God thereby annihilating God’s personality and denying all His attributes, save one. [3]

These views of God and the Old Testament, as I have proven, are false premises. And, as a side note, the New Testament is filled with judgment, and judgment that is far weightier than that of the Old Testament because Jesus, the Messiah, has come. The Apostle Paul said to the Athenians, regarding the world’s ignorance of who God is, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed (Acts 17:30-31),” and in Hebrews 10 the writer concludes, of those who reject Christ, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).” The unrepentant sinner should be far more fearful now than anyone during the Old Testament period ever was.

In the following section, I will hopefully discuss both aspects separately, with my limited ability, and show how greatness and goodness are inseparably beautiful realities of our Triune God, who has been great and good within Himself long before the world was ever created.

GOD IS GREAT

God is All: He is omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present), and omniscient (all-knowing). He is irresistible, invincible, immutable, incredible and terrible; He is the Lord God Almighty. And this Almighty God sees everything, knows everything, and has the power to pronounce and implement anything and everything. Nothing escapes His view and no one will escape their due reward. “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth (Ps. 47:2).”

God is Transcendent: He is beyond our comprehension, our imagination, our presuppositions, and our definitions. He is the divine mystery; an ocean of indescribable beauty and immensity. What we know of Him has been revealed, and revealed in the Scriptures, namely the Bible alone. Any true knowledge of Him produces affection and dread in paradoxical cohesion.

“But He is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For He will complete what He appoints for me, and many such things are in His mind. Therefore I am terrified at His presence; when I consider, I am in dread of Him (Job 23: 13-15).”

God is Just: He is the lawgiver and judge of the whole universe. In His absolute perfection and unlimited power He will judge all with absolute equity. All men will get the due reward for their actions, whether they are good or evil, and no one will escape His judgement. If His mercy is spurned, provided through Jesus Christ, the wicked will bear the punishment for their sins. He will “by no means clear the guilty (Ex. 34:7)” and for those who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Rom. 2:8).”

God is Perfect and Holy: there is no hint of shade or darkness in Him, and nothing can be compared to Him. He stands alone. God is “righteous in all His ways (Ps. 145:17)” and “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).” This perfect God demands perfection, for we must be “perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48)” and “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15-16; Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:26).” Perfection can only accept perfection. Absolute holiness is the standard for any who would desire to see the LORD. Therefore, we must “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb.12:14).”

This indescribable God cannot be trifled with, and He is to be feared. The “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7),” wrote Solomon as the thesis of  the Book of Proverbs. No one will glorify the LORD without the fear due to Him; alas, no one is born again without seeing the One who holds them to account and the perfection that is required of them, which they can never achieve of their own efforts. This compels the question, “…what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?”

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Is. 6:1,5).”

GOD IS GOOD

God’s goodness is contextualized by His greatness: God is good because He is great. This great God, despite His awe-inspiring power and knowledge, and His unapproachable transcendence, in His goodness has revealed Himself and His Word to sinful men. King David proclaims, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way (Ps. 25:8).”

This great God has no obligation to His creation other than to punish them for their cosmic rebellion, and yet He offers mercy to the humble. This is to equate a man showing clemency to the fly that swarms by his head. We are but despicable flies among the presence of this holy God, yet He does not swat or crush us, but instead offers what He demands – perfection. He provides it to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… and were by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1,2,3),” yet “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:4-5).” The indivisibility of God’s person is shown perfectly at the cross, where judgment and mercy meet. The cross is the means by which God justifies the sinner and proclaims him or her righteous.        

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Rom.11:33)!” cried the Apostle Paul when summarizing the unfathomable redemption of our indescribably merciful God, who dispenses grace without measure. For “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20).” And even further, this great and good God adopts us as sons and daughters through His Son, who gave us “the right to become children of God (John 1:12),” and provides to us the Holy Spirit by whom we cry out to God as Father. As the song says, “O Lord, You’ve shown us mercy; sinners are washed as saints; You’ve shown your loving-kindness; sons of disgrace are righteous made.”

Finally, this good God will punish the wicked. Those who refuse to humble themselves and submit to the authority of God in Christ, and believe on His Name, will bear their sin in judgment. For a good God will not allow inequity to be unpaid. Every wrong, every injustice, and every crime, seen and unseen, will be held to account. God, in His perfect justice, will make every wrong right. This provides hope for the victim and strength for the weary, “for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ (Rom. 12:19).”

The greatness of God gives context to His goodness. Without understanding the wrath, judgment, and power of God we will never fully grasp the magnitude of His love and mercy. For, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy (Rom. 9:22-23)?” Freedom from the slavery of ignorance is won through a true knowledge of God, and knowing Him is accepting what He has told us about Himself in fullness.

Yet, preachers and churches would rob God of who He is and rob humanity of His Gospel. They offer unsuitable replacements, based on fiction, in order to appease the itching ears of those who would not hear the truth, and by doing so deprive the Gospel of its power to deliver the enslaved. The Gospel is only “Good News” because there is bad news, namely the coming wrath of God against the ungodly, and these false teachers have only offered fallen humanity an uncontextualized love that looks all too similar like the corrupted love they have for themselves and the sins they desire.

God is great and God is good; God is Himself. All of His attributes are eternally indivisible within Himself and, thus, none of them can be abrogated without denying Him. He is not one or the other, and He does not act good or act great when He so desires. No, He is greatness and He is goodness, and all of His works are derived from His absolutely perfect and holy Person. Glory be to His Name.

“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
~1 Timothy 1:17~

 

 

 

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p.148.
[2] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p.136.
[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p.152.

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