Punishment or grace?
For a number of years, I was told that God’s wrath outweighed His mercy. I’ve struggled with simply reading the Bible as a result… and the really sad thing is, I’m not alone.
Sunday, I wandered into a class on Jeremiah. Though the class didn’t discuss most of what I got out of it, I did learn something that might help others as much as it helped me. The lesson focused on Jer 29:11. However, that verse is a promise given after God warned the Israelites to straighten up for 23 years (Jer 25)… and they didn’t do it. That promise came after they were sent into exile. Was there more punishment or promise in these chapters, then? And was exile a punishment, or what they determinedly went for even after being warned? If a child is told not to put his hand on the stove and does anyway and is burned, was the damage/hurt/pain the result of the parent’s punishment or the child’s willfulness?
I was taught that God was holy. And He is. I was told that He was just. He’s that as well. But to base a knowledge of God on those two attributes is to overlook several things. Yes, God is holy and just. But He is also merciful, gracious, and loving. He isn’t just holy, just, merciful, gracious and loving, though. He IS love. Not everything that happens is a result of God being angry at us or punishing us. Many times, He warns us to protect us. Not from His wrath if we disobey, but from ourselves, and from the pain we will face as we learn why He said no to begin with (like a child touching a hot stove).
When we disobey, though His holiness and justice demand punishment, but very often His love outweighs justice, and He promises-and plans-to bless in spite of our willfulness. That’s grace. That’s mercy. That’s my God.