“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.
It is best to start with severity as only when this is truly understand can the full and glorious extent of God’s goodness be truly understood.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”
Romans 1 v 18
“Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Romans 1 v 32
Romans 1 v 18 – 32 deal with the wrath of God. They make for very solemn reading. God’s anger is set against the fallen and sinful human race. Because man has broken God’s commands and rebelled against him God is wrathful against us. And it is a righteous anger. We deserve God to be angry at us for who has not committed a sin against him?
“As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one”
Romans 3 v 10
God gave us his law – the Ten Commandments, the Golden rule and various other commands as well. We break it, every day, each day, everyone breaks this law. As Paul says:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Romans 3 v 19 – 20
When we realise that we are breaking God’s law we also realise that we are sinners.
What is the punishment of sin?
“For the wages of sin is death…”
Romans 6 v 23
In his holiness God has decreed that sin is to be punished with death. And this isn’t just the physical death of the body but the eternal death of the soul in Hell. As Jesus says:
“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13 v 41 – 42
This is the severity of God. Yet eternal punishment in Hell is not an overreaction. We sin against an infinite God, our sins are of infinite demerit, we deserve infinite punishment. In Isaiah we get a picture of God’s holiness:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Isaiah 6 v 1 – 5
When we are faced with the holiness of God, his wrath against sin and severity against wickedness then we like Isaiah should say: “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
What is also important to note is that God’s severity brings him glory. In his punishment for sin we see the glory of his justice and holiness. As Paul writes:
“What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?”
Romans 9 v 22
To fully describe God’s goodness to the us all would take too long. Where do I even start? On the gifts and talents he gives us all? On the joy and happiness we find in life? In the beauty of creation? In the advances in science we see in this day? No wonder James writes:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
James 1 v 18
To fully realise the extent of God’s goodness we must look at the supreme example of his love:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3 v 16
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5 v 8
“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”
Romans 6 v 23
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1 v 9
Through Jesus Christ we can find salvation. His death on the cross bought eternal life for those who believe. How could this be?
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”
2 Corinthians 5 v 21
God making Jesus Christ, the sinless man, sin. God making God sin! What greater act of love could ever be done?
God knew that we could never keep his law, that we would always fall short and that no one would be righteous, no not one. And in his goodness he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for our sins. So now we do not find salvation from works but through faith in Jesus Christ. What was unobtainable by our own means is now made obtainable by the goodness of God.
“Behold the goodness and severity of God.”
It seems fitting to close with a passage from Isaiah describing the life and work of Jesus Christ:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.