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Love and wrath

God's forgiveness and His judgment are two sides of the same coin

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

As a book blogger, I'm interested in new editions of the Bible, especially children's story Bibles and translations. So the idea behind The Brick Bible intrigued me: stories of the Old Testament depicted in Legos. Upon examination it proves to be something of a stealth project. In his introduction, the author professes shock that so many people who cite the Scriptures as their rule for life don't know what's in it. He'll fix that: Every tale of wrath, vengeance, and slaughter gets the Lego treatment, with a heavy emphasis on red bricks. God, accurately translated "Yahweh" when appropriate, is shown as a white-bearded man with angry eyes, who often whacks people personally.

Imagine the author's spring-loaded response to parents who complain: It's in the Bible. Look it up for yourself! And he's right, to a point: Every word of the text is from some public-use translation, though much abridged. The deception consists of what's left out-no "steadfast love and faithfulness," no sense of holiness, no serious treatment of sin having to be dealt with. Also, depicting Yahweh as a two-inch toy encourages the idea that He's basically like us, only with more power.

The playground irony and emphasis on gore is an argument from the Enlightenment, repackaged for kids: The god of the Old Testament is a vengeful psychopath, and for him to demand worship is an insult to modern sensibilities. It's not an easy argument to answer because it appears to seize the moral high ground. Wholesale slaughter is a bad thing, right? At least it's bad when Stalin or Pol Pot do it. But Yahweh authorizes it frequently, and sometimes carries it out Himself. And that's what you call a god of love?

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God doesn't call Himself a god of love; leave that for Freya or Aphrodite. Rather, God is love. Love is the driving passion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the energy shared between them that burst into the joy of creation. Love is the fuel the universe runs on. Love compels the Trinity to open up and let more creatures in.

But what if we don't want to come in?

Those who rebel against God's rules, even in small matters, are rebelling against the only game in town. This is it; God is in all. All things consist in Him (Colossians 1:15-17); through Christ, He holds everything together. Try to imagine a world without chemical bonding-it falls apart; it doesn't exist. Likewise, nothing exists without God.

That makes it pointless to complain about the rules. Subjects can rebel against their king and citizens against their dictators, but to rebel against God goes against our DNA. That's why one "small" act of defiance led immediately to heartbreak, alienation, and murder. Even atheists know something is deeply wrong with mankind; they just think the disease is really the cure.

God's creative love still pours out on the just and the unjust. But His covenantal love is particular. The nature of this love assumes not loving-as we set friends and children and spouses apart from the rest of humanity, so covenantal love includes some and excludes others. Christians seem increasingly squirmy about this. We want to emphasize God's love and forgiveness, but it's often at the expense of His wrath and judgment, which is actually the flip side of the same coin.

Can't God just issue blanket forgiveness for all except the most heinous offender? On what basis? Crimes have to be paid for. Those who will not accept Christ's payment will have to pay for themselves. Well, can't He just destroy the rebels? How? The breath He breathed into Adam was never taken back. He's holding them together. He holds them together even through eternity, where His wrath awaits those who reject Him.

It could not be otherwise. Those of us who want Him to "just forgive" don't realize what we're asking. If lawbreakers are not punished in society, the result is hell on earth. If sin is not punished in eternity, it's hell in heaven.

Email jcheaney@worldmag.com

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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