“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
Romans 11 v 22 (King James version)
I have to admit that this is one of my favourite biblical ‘catchphrases’. Whenever I say to myself I imagine a deep resonating voice booming out over all the land: “BEHOLD THE GOODNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD” Something like that.
The phrase neatly encapsulates one of the more common errors a Christian can make. Namely that we exaggerate either the goodness of God or his severity. In its worse forms solely focusing on the goodness of God leads to a doing away with hell, universalism (everyone will be saved) and a neglecting of God’s wrath. And solely focusing on the severity of God can often present him in the words of Dawkins as a “a petty, capriciously malevolent bully”
Neither is true. Both are making God to be in man’s image rather man in God’s image. Both views assign human imperfections to a perfect God. As such, I figured it would be profitable to consider them both and doing as Paul commands behold the goodness and severity of God.
The fact that the world is somehow ‘broken’ is a recognised fact. A flick through a newspaper will show that the world could be so much better than it is. Injustice, war, crime, theft, fraud, oppression, slavery, genocide and dictatorships are ever present companions in this world. The question that all political, economic, philosophical and religious thinking has to answer is how do we fix it?
Education! Say many. But the universal education of the population has achieved little of what was thought. Education was going to abolish poverty, make crimes a thing of the past and push society to greater heights. True, education is vastly preferable to ignorance but it can’t fix what is broken.
Democracy! Say others. If only! The world has more democratic governments than ever before but utopia is still out of reach. Democracy is a god that has failed us.
Atheism! Imply some. If only there were no religions then ‘right thinking’ men and women could live about their lives in peace and harmony. Bah, I say, are atheists really better people? Are they more moral? More tolerant? Less prone to lying, cheating, stealing, abusing authority? I think not.
Good manners! Chivalry is dead, honour a forgotten concept, sportsmanship long gone, a sense of responsibility is dead. If only we had these like we had them in the past. And while these things would do some good they aren’t the be all and end all.
Justice! If only criminals were hung and the law was enforced with an iron fist. Again, although preferable to our current system crime would still pay. People would still choose to break the law.
All these things make up civilisation, all of them (except atheism) are good things, excellent things, concepts which are rightly valued and fought for.
But they tackle only the symptoms of mankind’s real problem.