God’s Goodness and Severity
We have just recently passed through the Christmas season with its colorful decorations, thoughtfully purchased and carefully wrapped gifts, and all-too-calorie-filled seasonal goodies. Of course, we can’t forget the one person who embodies those qualities which are deemed most important at Christmastime: Santa Claus. And before you think that I’ve somehow sold out to the corporate interests, let me point out what J. I. Packer calls “the doctrine of a celestial Santa Claus,” that is, the idea that God’s character can be summed up in terms of indulgent benevolence completely devoid of divine wrath or judgment. This doctrine has become the default view of many who call themselves Christians in America today. To these I would simply quote the apostle Paul from Romans 11:22, “Consider the goodness and severity of God,” being sure not to overlook the key word, and.
There is no doubt that the Bible presents God as good. He is abundant in goodness, as Packer says, “spontaneously good, overflowing with generosity,” granting to us all sorts of natural and earthly gifts. “Every meal, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sun, every night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, everything else that sustains and enriches life, is a divine gift.” Yet even these generous blessings pale in comparison to the gift of spiritual redemption which God has granted to rebellious mankind. In context, this is exactly the goodness of which Romans 11:22 speaks, that God has chosen to save those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, not just among the Jews but also of the Gentiles.
Yet we must not neglect the other side of that verse, for he speaks of both God’s goodness and his severity. As Packer explains, “The word Paul uses in Romans 11:22 means literally ‘cutting off’; it denotes God’s decisive withdrawal of his goodness from those who have spurned it.” This is not God acting in an arbitrary manner, like an ill-natured child who throws a fit when he does not get what he wants, but it is a very real warning of severe judgment if we scorn the goodness which God has shown. Like it or not, the goodness of God cannot be separated from his severity, which will come, sooner or later, to all those who refuse to respond to God’s goodness by repentance and faith.
Packer offers 3 lessons we should learn from the inseparable truths of God’s goodness and severity:
Appreciate the goodness of God. Learn to thank God for all his benefits, both the natural and spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. “Calvary is the measure of the goodness of God; lay it to heart.”
Appreciate the patience of God. “Think how he has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him and you have so richly deserved his rejection.”
Appreciate the discipline of God. Packer asks whether the daily experience of his goodness has led you to repentance and faith in Christ. If not, he warns that “you are trifling with God and stand under the threat of his severity.” Even believers experience the thorns of his discipline in order to cause us to rise up early and seek his mercy. Will you respond to him today?