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“The Last Judgment” – Munster Cathedral, Bern, Switzerland

Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. [Exodus 43:6-7 (NLT)]

If asked to draw a picture of God, many would probably draw a pleasant old gentleman with a gentle smile. Looking a bit like Santa Claus, he’d be dressed in a long white robe instead of a fur-trimmed red coat and hat. This kind-looking grandfatherly man would be seated on a throne with several little children in his lap. Reading the Old Testament, however, makes one rethink this picture. While we meet a loving and forgiving God, we also encounter a judgmental and destructive God: a God who sends plagues to his people, destroys whole towns, and sends his people into slavery. This is not the “warm and fuzzy” God about whom we want to think. He’s certainly not the good-natured God of my Sunday school classes.

It certainly is more comforting for us to think of God as loving and merciful and, indeed, He is. But, as the Old Testament reminds us and the New Testament warns us, God can get angry with his people. He hates sin and he is ready to hand out punishment to those who defy him. Fortunately, we also have a loving and forgiving Heavenly Father who hasn’t lost faith in his children. He saved Noah and his family from the flood. He rescued Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He saved Jonah from the whale after Jonah said he’d obey God’s directions. After telling Nineveh they would be destroyed in forty days, God relented when they repented their sinful ways. After punishing the Israelites for their disobedience, God finally led them to the Promised Land. Later, He rescued them from their exile in Babylon. Although we continually disappoint God with our disobedience, He mercifully gave us his only son as a sacrifice for our sins.

The righteous character of God includes both his anger and judgment along with his love and mercy. It is not enough to read and hear only God’s comforting words. We must remember that His justice goes hand in hand with His love.

Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! [Jeremiah 2:19 (NLT)]