A couple of years ago while I was reading through the Bible, I came across a verse in Revelation. I tend to not get too bogged down in Revelation because so much of it is difficult to understand. But this verse really stood out to me. “Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.”
Don’t worry, we’re not going to be talking about the horses, sword and killing part of this verse. I’ll leave that to people much smarter than me. But there is a nugget of perspective in that verse that we might miss because we’re distracted by the other stuff. “Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth.” What’s the significance? Well, if it can be taken away, that means it is here. In other words, as ludicrous as it may sound, the reason things are as good as they are right now around the earth is because of the presence of God’s peace. Another way of saying it would be: if you think things are bad now, you can’t even begin to imagine what they would be like if God hadn’t blessed all peoples of the earth with His peace.
James 1:17 says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Every good thing that any human has ever known that has ever existed has come from God. All the goodnesses we enjoy in this life are gifts of God. A lot of theologians use the term “common grace” for this concept. Common grace is the grace of God that is extended to every human being. A non-Christian couple who enjoys 50 years of marriage is experiencing common grace because they are enjoying the faithfulness, patience and self-control God gives the earth. The reason they are able to be faithful to one another is because God has given the common grace of faithfulness. The love we experience (and by love I mean the “lay down your life for someone” kind of love, not the “take advantage of someone for my own personal pleasure” kind of love) is an act of God’s common grace. We can experience love because God has extended it to us as a gift.
These acts are grace because we haven’t done anything to earn them. God simply extends them. Creation itself is a gift of God. Love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are all good things that all humans are able to experience because God has gifted them to us. Why did God do this? So we could taste and see that the Lord is good. Romans 1:20 says: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
As the Psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” (Ps 34:8) God has given freely of Himself to the whole of humanity so that they might be able to taste of his invisible qualities – like His love, joy and peace – and see that He is good. Because every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.
We are constantly changing. Our society is undergoing rapid change right now. Most people can’t keep up. By the time you are able to determine what is a value for our current society it has changed. It would be nearly impossible to experience this culture and then be able to make a choice to embrace or reject it. But God on the other hand, never changes. So you can taste of His goodness and know that it’s the same as it has always been.
Were we to experience God’s wrath, (something we won’t have to do if we are in Christ, something we will have to do if we go it alone), we still see God’s goodness. God is not being wrathful because He is an unstable, mad scientist kind of a God who likes to run experiments on His human test subjects to see how they respond. If God is demonstrating His wrath, it is because of His love for us. People have a hard time with this.
In the chapter for this week, (The Reason for God, Chapter 5), Keller quotes from Author Becky Pippert: “God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer…which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with His whole being.” (Hope has its reasons)
God wants His best for the life of every human being. John 3:16 says that “God SO loved the World,” not the chosen, not the elect, not the few, the world. God loved the world, that’s why He sent His son.
It’s interesting, we often feel like God is being wrathful and judgmental towards us when we’re not getting our way or things aren’t going as we wish they would. But, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone be radically offended at the fact that God poured out his wrath on His only son who lived the only perfect, sinless life that has ever been lived. Jesus never rebelled against the Father, even when He really, really wanted to in the Garden. Yes, He was tempted, but He did not give in to the temptation. Because he never indulged the temptation, because He was never lured away by His desires, He was the sinless, spotless lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But, how was that fair? How was it fair of God to annihilate His one and only perfect son to take my place on the cross for my acts of rebellion against God? That’s the least fair thing I can think of.
Except that, this was not forced on Jesus, He chose to do it. Yes, it was a command that was given to Jesus, but Jesus chose to lay his life down. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
Why would Jesus lay down His life of His own accord? Love. Because He loved us, because God loves us. That’s what love is. Love isn’t only doing what you want to do to get what you want out of someone else. Love is choosing to lay yourself down for someone else’s benefit.
And yes, this is a command that Jesus gave to us as His followers: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35. But, just like the Father’s command to Jesus, we too have the option of choosing to obey.
Which, by the way is another way God has shown His love for us. Love does not force another to love in return or in exchange for goods or services rendered. God created us with the ability to choose or reject Him. Anyone listening who is a parent can understand this. You have brought life into this world, you have raised them to the best of your ability. You have sacrificed for them to give them the best life possible. And yet, when they become teenagers and young adults, you realize that you no longer have the ability to coerce a response from hem. When they’re younger and dependent on you, you can get a child to give you hug because you do something loving for them. But, as the child gets older, you can do loving deeds to which the young adult may or may not respond in kind.
You love your kid. You know that what’s best for them is to leave the protection and provision of your care so they can become contributing members of society. But releasing them to do that also means you may release them from your care entirely. They may reject your love entirely, they may spread their wings and move across the country (as I did), or a hundred other responses.
Nevertheless, you give them your sacrificial, unconditional love anyway. You give it knowing they may spit in your face. Whether they receive it or not would not keep you from giving it. You will give and give and give, because of Love.
To an infinite degree, this is the goodness of God toward us. God is good and all His actions and intentions towards us are good. They can’t not be good (which we will discuss in more detail tomorrow.) This is the goodness of God.
The exact opposite is Hell. Hell is where God not only removes all love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control from civilization, but Hell is the complete absence of His presence. We don’t realize it, but so much of life is good because God is good and He is with us. There will be a day when that is taken away. And what remains will be the most miserable, abysmal reality anyone could possibly ever imagine.
God offers us His love, but it comes at a price – sacrifice. We can’t receive God’s gift of love and hold onto our lives at the same time. The only way to receive the free gift is to die to what we think life is so that God can resurrect us to a new life in Him. As God did not force Jesus to go to the cross, but Jesus chose to obey, He will not force us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow His son. The only way for the seed to come to life is if it dies.
And because He so loves us, he leaves such choosing to you and me. What will you choose?