Tuesday, March 8, 2016

God Is Merciful

Part 2 of God Is _____.

Text: Lamentations 3:1-33

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:22-23). 

The God of the Old Testament

There are some parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, where God might appear to be severe and unloving. In his book The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins writes,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. [1] 
Is Dawkins correct? Is the God of the Old Testament a merciless monster?

A Book of Sadness

Lamentations is not one of the most popular books of the Bible. A “lamentation” is “an expression of great sorrow or deep sadness.” The author of Lamentations [2] mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The reason for the destruction of Jerusalem was the people’s sin: “the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (1:5).

A book like Lamentations gives extra credibility to the Bible. The Bible is not a book of propaganda. If it was, it wouldn’t include Lamentations—a book that might cause some people to question God’s love. “The Bible leans against our tendency to construct a god after our own image. We cannot approach the delicatessen of God’s person like we approach a buffet—taking a heaping of this and a dollop of that, while passing over what we deem unpalatable.” [3]

Rich in Mercy

Lamentations frequently mentions the anger of God, but God is not a merciless monster. For example, 3:1 says, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath.” Many people don’t want to believe that God gets angry, but would God be good if he didn’t hate sin? The New Testament also mentions the anger of God. The apostle Paul writes that we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.

God does hate sin and will punish sin, but he always desires to show people mercy. 

The writer of Lamentations says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). God’s mercy is his “goodness toward those is misery and distress.” [4] God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:3), evidenced by Christ being punished for our sin on the cross. This is why there is hope for us!

God will always show us mercy if we repent of our sin. “He does not afflict from his heart” (v. 33). “God’s first instinct is not to punish. He does so only when his patience with sinner does not lead to their repentance.” [5]

Our Response

How should we respond to the mercy of God? [6]

1. We should seek mercy from God. 

“Good” people don’t go to heaven. If it were possible for us to earn salvation by our goodness, why did Christ die? The cross shows us our desperate need of God's mercy and the foolishness of thinking we could ever be good enough to gain salvation. We are unable to do anything to save ourselves, but if we call out to God for mercy, he will give it to us.

2. We should show mercy to others. 

For Christians, there is always the danger of losing sight of what is most important. This is what happened to many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were very good at doing religious things, but weren’t good at showing mercy to others. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite—two religious men—chose not to show the injured man mercy.
“Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan], do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robber?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “you go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 31.
[2] The traditional view is that Jeremiah was the author of Lamentations.
[3] Mark S. Gignilliat, “Not Just a New Testament God,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/exorcising-marcions-ghost.html. 
[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 200.
[5] ESV Study Bible.
[6] We should always ask, “So what?” when studying a biblical doctrine.

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