Kindness and Severity

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands,forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”

 (From Exodus 34 (ESV))
 
I read this passage a while ago and it was at the same time completely amazing and eerily troubling. On the one hand God says plainly that He is exactly who we believe He is. He is forgiving and steadfast and faithful. We know those things are true. We can see it all over the Bible and we can recount our own testifying experiences. 

Yet on the other hand and presented as just as true, God says that He doesn’t pardon the guilty. That He will let children and grandchildren suffer for their father’s sin. 


This sounds very harsh… But when I consider it further it is a deep comfort. Because He does forgive the guilty who repent and as my husband reminded me, He does allow us to rise above the sin that we inherit from our fathers. But He is also just. And we need a just God.


We need a God who does not let the wicked prevail.


We need a God who defeats His enemies.


We need a God who will defend us from the crooked, who will guard us from sin.


Iniquity travels. It is the natural course of morality (which affects spirituality) that our poor choices negatively impact our children. Our very poor choices impact our grandchildren. Our extremely poor choices can ruin our families for generations. A man who abuses his wife teaches his sons to abuse their wives and so on. A man who abandons his family leaves his children with a lasting scar that carries into all kinds of bad decisions on their parts. A man who squanders the family fortune catapults them into poverty and leaves future generations who would otherwise be taken care of to fend for themselves.


And yet we can rise above our circumstance. God is gracious and mighty and He sees our hearts, not just our heritage. Gabe is a godly man despite the great sins of his father (and at least in part because of the righteousness of his mother). As Gabe also reminded me while we were chewing on this together, a big part of the good news that Jesus brought us is that we are no longer tied to our families, we are adopted into God’s family. We who were orphans now have a Father. We who were broken have now been restored. We who were destitute have means beyond means. 


I am so grateful for a God who makes Himself known. I’m grateful for His grace and His justice. 

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you,provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

(Romans 11:22)
 

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