Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Righteous and True

“Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Righteous and true are your ways, O King of the ages… Righteous are you in these your judgments… Yea, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Rev. 15:3; 16:5-7). We might wonder what all this high praise is about. Actually, it is about a series of foul and devastating plagues unleashed on mankind, described as the “wrath of God.” Now we might really wonder…

In the Book of Revelation, divine justice is seen as something in which we ought to rejoice, since it means the end of the persecutions of God’s faithful ones. As the plagues are about to descend on the world, it seems to be quite a glorious thing: “Out of the temple came seven angels…robed in pure bright linen, and their breasts girded with golden sashes. And one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls—full of the wrath of God.” So, upon the earth come painful diseases, and rivers change into blood; the sun scorches men, there are earthquakes and storms of hail the size of basketballs. Rejoice!

The point of all this—for us, anyway—is that whatever God does is good, righteous, true, and just. Whether He is blessing us with peace and prosperity, or raining down blood, fire, or hundred-pound hailstones, his judgments are righteous and true. It may take a little time and effort to get used to this. But if we don’t, we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of anger and frustration, and if we really decide to rebel against chastisements and purifications, we may end up like the blasphemers who had thrown in their lot with the Beast and the False Prophet.

The plagues had a two-fold purpose: to punish evildoers, but at the same time to call them to repentance. For the “wrath of God” is not like human rage—God doesn’t lose control of his emotions, get all red in the face, and then impulsively do things He’ll regret later. No, God’s wrath is simply a righteous, just, and wise response to human wickedness when it has not heeded the repeated call to repentance. God wanted repentance to be the outcome of the plagues, but instead, people “cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory” (16:9). We get a little more detail after some earlier plagues: they “did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols… nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their immorality or their thefts” (9:20-21).

So what must we do? Praise Him for his righteous judgments, of course, and use the opportunities for repentance that are offered by various calamities. Better to endure a few plagues now than the Lake of Fire forever. We really have no idea of the meaning of all the events of our lives, especially the painful ones, so we have to trust Him “who has power over the plagues.” Whatever He sends or allows, He does so for reasons righteous and true. It is a hard but indispensable lesson to learn: we have to give Him glory even as the hailstones fall. The vast majority of spiritual writings these days seem intent on creating a portrait of God that is to our liking, that is soothing and consoling to our emotions, and that is not in any way threatening or demanding—in short, “God, as we’d like Him to be.” But the Scriptures reveal to us God as He is, or at least to the extent He has chosen to reveal Himself, and that is the image we ought to keep before us. God is a Lover, a Forgiver, an Embracer, a Savior, a Judge, an Avenger, a Punisher of evil and a Rewarder of good; He blesses his people with peace and He makes fire fall from heaven. There is much more that can be said, but the point is that we have to take God as He is, and not deny his right to judge with justice or even to inflict salutary punishment. For this very judgment of God, as we see in the Book, invites the praise and glory of the saints and angels, who know that everything God does is worthy of praise and honor.

Let us practice now, in the midst of our minor (even if many) trials, so that when the big plagues come we’ll be ready to bless and not to curse. “Great and wonderful are your deeds… righteous and true are your ways!” It will all be proven so in the end, anyway. Now is the time to affirm it in faith and trust, so we will at length be found worthy to join the heavenly choirs in praising the all-wonderful—even if mostly incomprehensible—righteous and true God!