Jul6ThuJuly 6, 2017
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God,” wrote the Apostle Paul in one of his “God-breathed” letters [Romans 11:22]. Kindness. Severity. Paul was not the only servant of God who saw those two contrasting character traits in the heart of God.
There was also Nahum, an Old Testament prophet who served God—and the people of God—in the 7th-century B.C. To him was given the delicate and dangerous task of proclaiming the intentions of God to the people of Assyria—the world power that at that time was Israel’s greatest threat—and particularly to Nineveh, its capital city: “the great city” [Jonah 1:2; 3:2; 4:11]. For exactly half of that 7th century it was the largest city in the world. To this day, its ruins lie on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq.
Here, in part, is what Nahum wrote: "The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies … Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness" [Nahum 1:2-8].
Two contrasting character traits of God declared. Jealous … avenging …. “fiery, rock-breaking” wrath. And “refuge-providing” goodness. "The kindness and the severity of God." Both duly noted. But for the great city of Nineveh, in the year 612 B.C., it was solid severity.
So what does this contrast tell us about God? Not that his primary purpose for the creation of the human race was that “a good time be had by all.” The majority of the population of Nineveh may have held that view for those 50 good years, but the siege and the sacking of the city by the Medes and the Chaldeans changed many minds. And whether we look further back in ancient times—or ahead to all the centuries since—the view is the same. There has always been a whole lot of suffering going on.
But there has also always been peace and joy and laughter and love and respect and affection. So what IS God’s ultimate purpose for this world? Not to reveal himself as "a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak,” as one well-known author has written, but to reveal himself to be holy and just, and good and “a stronghold in the day of trouble.” And so determined is God to be personally known by “those who take refuge in him,” he took upon himself human flesh and blood, and lived justly—and died unjustly—some 800 kilometers from the ruins of Nineveh.
Studying the life of Jesus Christ in the Gospels—and in other ways in other parts of the Bible—we can see "the kindness and the severity of God" in human form. Opening our eyes and ears to the experiences of lesser human beings can reveal to us something of the nature of God, as well. But "it ain't over till it's over."
So deep are “the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God;” so “unsearchable” and “inscrutable” are his judgments and his ways, none of us will ever fully know “the mind of the Lord” [Romans 11:33,34]. But seeing with our own eyes how the long story of the human race comes to conclusion will make many things much more clear.