Hey there! Last time we talked about the greatness of God as shown through His activity and victory. Today, we’re going to explore His greatness a little more, this time as shown through His mercy and restraint.
(As always, please be sure to view this image, “Wrath Fall,” on the Full of Eyes website and check out their other visual ministry resources. Many thanks to them for these images).
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV). This verse and many others in the Bible paint pictures of God’s raw, awesome power, which is something we are confronted with when we come before God’s throne.
Yet the same Bible that calls God “a consuming fire” makes statements such as, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV).
And so, we are confronted with a holy and powerful God who could have wiped sinful humanity from existence long ago – but never did. His plan for fallen man was not to destroy us, but to save us through the sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God.
Can we just appreciate that for a moment? Humanity betrayed God, and God’s plan even before we betrayed Him was to let our punishment fall on Himself. He knew exactly what was going to happen in the Garden before He made Adam. I don’t know about you, but when someone betrays me, my first thought is not how to take their punishment on myself so that they can be forgiven and treated as though their sin never happened.
But that’s what our God did. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8, ESV).
It’s interesting to me that so many people think the Old Testament is full of only God’s judgment and the New Testament contains His mercy. I used to think that, too – until I actually read the entire Old Testament. I was floored by the number of precious verses and stories contained therein, all illustrating God’s love for us and proving that He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). Here’s just one short example: “‘I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you'” (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).
The book of Isaiah is one of my favorites in the Bible. It shows God working to reconcile the rebellious people of Judah to Himself and prophesies the coming of Christ, the perfect Sacrifice for both Jew and Gentile. Don’t let anyone fool you; God’s mercy was just as evident then as it is now and always will be:
“‘For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer. ‘This is like the days of Noah to Me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:7-10, ESV)
The picture I see of God in the Old Testament is one of steadfast love, mercy, and extreme restraint. Even if He punished people for wrongdoing, it was always for the sake of bringing them back to Him. Then and now, this is the merciful God that I see: “All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations” (Isaiah 65:2, NIV).
For those who answer His call, He never fails to forgive: “‘All those the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away” (John 6:37, NIV).
Now…what about our mercy and restraint toward others? We pray for God to forgive us as we forgive others, but am I the only one who feels nervous saying that? I’m terrible at forgiving. I’m big on fairness and justice, which makes it really hard for me to let go – unless, of course, I was the one who committed the wrong, and then I want everyone to let it go.
When I express my frustrations over a wrong to others, I’ve often been told “You’re more patient than I am” or “It’s only human to be angry.” But the point is that as God’s children, bought by His blood and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, we’re called to be more than human. It’s not okay for us to listen to the flesh just because we don’t do it as much as some people.
At this point in time, I’m afraid I don’t have a pat answer for how to forgive others as God forgives us. I’m still working on it, and God is still working on me. But there are two things I can say: first, we can never truly forgive others if we don’t understand the extent of God’s forgiveness toward us. That’s one reason why understanding His mercy is so vital.
Secondly, try looking at the person who wronged you as yourself. They say that the people most like us are the ones who drive us the craziest. But even if you would “never” do what that other person did, try to remember that God once looked at the unforgiven sinner who was you and said, “I love you.” Forgiveness and love are choices, not feelings; they have to do with how you treat someone else. Perhaps we can start by just praying for the person, allowing God to work in our hearts so that we can forgive. And, we should always remember that forgiveness apart from God is impossible – only by surrendering to Him and letting Him work through us can we truly forgive.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I look forward to sharing the next post for Approach the Throne with you!