Good, but not safe



“Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord.”  2 Chronicles 19:2

A prophet said that to a righteous king.  And I have no problem with it at all.

The cross of Jesus satisfied the condemning wrath of God against us (Romans 3:21-26).  Now, through faith alone, we step into the circle of divine acceptance forever.  But Hebrews 12 also reminds us that, precisely because we are now God’s beloved children, he will discipline us along the way.  Our justification and adoption are not at stake.  That was settled at the cross, and we received our full reinstatement with the empty hands of faith.  Now God is deepening us in our sanctification, which includes painful disciplines.  That is the “wrath” the prophet spoke of in 2 Chronicles 19:2.  It means that our Father is not emotionally detached as he grows us up.  It means he is emotionally engaged.  When he disciplines us, his heart graciously feels fatherly indignation, grief and anger as part of his love.  If, when we offend him and harm others, God felt nothing but a placid equanimity, could we even trust his heart?  He is really connecting with us.

The cross removes God’s condemning wrath.  It does not remove God’s disciplining wrath.  Condemning wrath sends a sinner to hell.  Disciplining wrath prepares a sinner for heaven.  God is psychologically complex enough — even human fathers are complex enough — to cherish his erring child and to chastise his erring child, both at the same time, plus more, with the various emotions appropriate to every aspect of the relationship.

Jesus rebuked Peter (Mark 8:33).  The Lord disciplined the Corinthian church, so that some even died for their irreverence (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).  The Vinedresser prunes his branches for greater fruitfulness (John 15:2).  The risen Lord, who is so for us, also said to his early churches that he had things against them (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20).  He said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Revelation 3:19).

I say all this, because my morning Bible reading took me into 2 Chronicles 19, and verse 2 demanded some thought.  It is a serious matter.  If, within the totality of the ways of God with us, he includes disciplinary wrath, then we will want to face that and adjust.  I do not say this in order to align myself against any person or group in the present Christian scene.  I love all my friends, both those who are worried about antinomianism and others who are worried about legalism.  Both concerns are important — though I myself always worry more about legalism, and I think I’m right to do so.  But my motive here is simply to be a biblical Christian, as much as I can be.  I value our man-made theological systems less than I value the Bible itself.  Our systems are valid.  But the Bible itself always deserves to correct our systems and summaries and formulas.

If you have understood the gospel to be saying to you as a believer, “All God ever feels about you is approval and warmth and joy” — I don’t see that in the Bible.  A fuller view of the heart of God might help you account for some of the pain in your life, as his love pursues you in a profound way.  Let’s always see the love of God where he puts it, even if it shows up in ways we didn’t expect, including ways which our incomplete theology taught us did not exist.  If we will let the Bible speak to us with its own complexity, we will more fully revere the love of God, we will more wisely understand our own experience, and we will more helpfully care for one another, as we all stumble together toward heaven.

“His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.”  Psalm 30:5

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