Goodness or Severity: It's Your Choice…

On this blog, some things are easier to discuss than others…

It was challenging to write about God as judge.

It was super challenging to write about God as wrathful.

Now I have to discuss the last half of J.I. Packer’s chapter entitled God’s “Goodness and Severity.” 

Severe is a word that elicits immediate negative reaction.  When someone is severe with you, they are giving you behavior that is bad.  Severe is defined as an adjective meaning (of something bad or undesirable) very grave, dire, intense. 

Packer provides some Biblical context for God’s severity.  He turns to Paul in Romans 11:22 when he writes that God “cuts off” His goodness from individuals who have spurned His goodness.  God is severe when He does this.

Let’s flesh out that comment a bit more.  This is the same God who told Moses that His love is “abounding and faithful.”   Sounds good doesn’t it?  God will give us plentiful love, abundant love and  will be loyal, constant and steadfast.  But let’s look at the key word in the comment from Paul in Romans 11:22: that word is spurned. 

Spurned means you have offered something to someone and they have declined it, refused it and it is often done with disdain or contempt.  In the aforementioned Scripture from Romans, Paul is speaking of the nation of Israel who refused to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They presumed that God was going to be good to them, but when they found themselves face-to-face with God’s Son Jesus, they turned away.  What is Paul trying to tell us?

God’s love is magnificent if you accept it.  If you turn away from it, God can be very severe in His reaction.  Paul is doing much more than just speaking of the Jewish people; he is also speaking to Christians who are susceptible to a lack of appreciation of Divine love.

Why are we discussing God’s severity?  When I wrote about God as judge and God as wrathful, it seemed like that covered the topic of God’s negative qualities.

In the chapter on “Goodness and Severity,” Packer is trying to make a different point.  He is discussing choices that we can make in life.  Knowing God as judge helps us to understand God more and after all, the title of Packer’s book is Knowing God.  Knowing that God can be wrathful helps us understand God too even though we would much rather not think about God as a deity who shows rage and fury.  I guess it is better to be warned if His wrath than to be surprised.*

God’s severity is a much different matter since it is coupled with God’s goodness.   We don’t have to experience a “severe” God if we make choices that lead us to a more righteous life.  We don’t have to experience a “severe” God is we repent of our sins. 

There you have it; God’s severity is intended to lead you to repentance.  “Paul tells the Roman Christians that God’s goodness is their portion only on a certain condition—‘provided that you continue in His kindness.’”  It is no mystery why some people are “cut off” from a loving God.  “Those who decline to respond to God’s goodness by repentance, and faith, and trust and submission to His will cannot wonder or complain if sooner or later the tokens of His goodness are withdrawn” [Packer, 164].

This sounds ominous until you consult Scripture that speaks of God as a patient God.   Many times in the Bible, God is described as “slow to anger.”  Many times in the Bible He is described as “longsuffering.”  He postpones judgement to give us multiple chances to repent.  Packer cites Peter’s reference to Noah in 1st Peter: “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah” referring to God’s one hundred twenty year wait to destroy the corrupt earth by the flood after He had judged it as hopeless.

Again in First Peter, the Disciple tells us that the final judgement of man has not happened due to God’s longsuffering nature.  God does not want unbelievers to perish; He wants them to repent.  “The patience of God in giving a chance to repent (Revelation 2:5) before judgement finally falls is one of the marvels of the Bible story.  It is no wonder that the New Testament stresses that longsuffering is a Christian virtue and duty; it is in truth a part of the image of God” [Packer, 165].

Ok, we know God can be severe.  We know that we don’t have to experience His severity.  We have a choice to appreciate His goodness.  We also know that God can be patient with us, hoping that we will come to Him and accept His goodness and repent of our evil.

Given this knowledge, Packer writes that we should respond to this information in three ways.

First of all, we should appreciate God’s goodness.  This is going to sound simplistic, but be grateful for what God has given you aka. “count your blessings.”  Thank God for your earthly pleasures.  Do not take the Bible for granted; read it.  Work to get to know Jesus Christ; don’t just lapse into a casual relationship with Him.  The Bible tells the story of a wonderful God who has given His Son to us and allowed His Son to be killed on Calvary for our sins.  What can we do to repay our Lord for this unbelievable gesture?  Live a life of everlasting gratitude.

Secondly, we should appreciate the fact that God is patient.  I speak for myself.  I have sinned so much that I wonder at times why God has not taken me.  My life is far from worthy.  What I deserve is to be taken and then rejected.  Yet He keeps me around, trying to do some of His work to the best of my ability.  As God is patient with me, He expects me to be patient with others. 

Lastly, we should appreciate the discipline of God.  If God’s longsuffering nature is designed to lead us to Him, then we can view this quality as a means to discipline us.  If you have experienced God’s goodness in your life and you have yet to repent and express your faith in His loving Son, what is causing that reluctance?  Are you “trifling with God” even though you stand under the threat of His severity.  The famous Methodist George Whitefield says God puts thorns in our bed on purpose.  Are they put there to awaken you from the sleep of spiritual death; we feel them and rise to ask God’s mercy.  Or as a believer do we continue to sleep in complacency as we take God’s goodness for granted. 

The thorns are there to remind us of God’s severity, to keep us from having to bear the full brunt of that severity which we will feel if we ignore God’s discipline and continue on with a sinful life.

In retrospect, I conclude this discussion of God’s severity with the admonition that no believer has to experience it.  It is our choice to accept God’s goodness and God’s love and appreciate it.  God does not desire His children to suffer; He wants them to thrive, to live good lives, to experience His blessings.  Jeremiah 29:11 speaks directly to all of us when God says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,  plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

These plans are based on us accepting His goodness, appreciating His goodness, repenting of our sins and trying to live the best life we can.

A life inspired by God’s son…

A life inspired by Jesus Christ.

*[See discussion of wrath on the St. John Studies posts “Sometimes We Truly Deserve the Switch” December 28, 2019 and “The Cross: Protection from a Wrathful God” January 5, 2020].

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