What kind of a question is that? We know that atheists profess to be embarrassed—not so much by God, whose existence they refuse to acknowledge—as by people so ignorant and backward as to believe in what the atheists deem to be the foolishness of the idea of God. On the one hand, they point to Old Testament texts, such as the universal flood, as an illustration of the absurdity of believing in a God who would destroy almost the entire human race. On the other hand, they summon modern natural disasters and accounts of horrendous human behavior as proofs that God does not exist. It is embarrassing, they would remind us, to believe in a God who, in their view, would have to be impotent, ignorant, uncaring, or positively malign to behave in such a fashion. As believers, we pooh-pooh such rationalizations. Yet, if some of us would be brutally honest, we would be forced to admit that we are a little embarrassed by some aspects of God’s character. And there are some attributes of God that we would much rather ignore or pretend did not exist. Psalm 50 provides a case in point.
It begins with wonderful fanfare, everyone wanting to hear and quote in a loud stentorian voice its two opening verses: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth” (vv. 1, 2). We thrill at the glory of those words, at the description of God, beautiful and radiant in glory. But as familiar as are those verses to us, the very next one has sunk into obscurity: “May our God come and not keep silence; fire devours before Him, and it is very tempestuous around Him” (v. 3). What makes the first two verses so well known and the third one obscure? Same psalm, same context, same powerful, poetic language, describing the same altogether perfect God. But the former description we inscribe on murals, placards, and bookmarks, while the latter we sweep under the rug and pretend does not exist.
When we get to the middle of the psalm, we are squirming and trying to find somewhere else to read. At that point, God begins addressing the wicked. “But to the wicked God says, ‘What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth?’” (v. 16). And by the time we come to the next-to-last verse, we are absolutely cringing, hoping no one hears our mumbled words: “Now consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver” (v. 22). We’d rather not admit that our God will judge the wicked without mercy. That picture does not comport with our concept of a gracious, patient, loving God. It seems somehow vindictive, petty, so far below our kind and gracious opinion of how things should be. We’d just as soon skip over the holy and just aspects of God’s nature and the actions He takes consequent on those attributes. Honestly, they’re a little embarrassing.
And so we have manufactured a world where sin is not sin and crime is not crime. We may have a failure, frailty, foible, or faux pas here and there, but nothing more. God is good; God is gracious; God is loving. Everything will turn out all right in the end. Yes, hell is real, but we can’t imagine anyone going there. Well, maaaybe, someone like Hitler, or Stalin, maybe John Wayne Gacy, and just maybe the ones who flew into the Twin Towers on September 11. But . . .
With such thoughts, we have arrogated to ourselves a character that is more loving, gracious, and just than God’s. And we have come to worship an idol of our own making, rather than the one true, eternal, holy, just God revealed in Scripture—the One who boldly assures us that He will “tear in pieces” those who deliberately forget Him, the One who drowned all but eight people in Noah’s day, the One who will visit the earth with seven years of indescribable tribulation horror before His millennial reign, the One who consigns the wicked to the eternal lake of fire. To people with such thoughts God said, “These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes” (v. 21). And He has done so throughout the pages of holy writ. Believer, may we not present a caricature of our God, may we not make light of sin, may we testify of God’s holiness and justice, so that God might be lifted up and that sinners might flee to Him for mercy and salvation.
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