The Severity of God
If thou hadst not
Been stern to me,
But left me free,
I had forgot
Myself and Thee.
God’s severity is not a popular subject today. We want a deity that lets bygones be bygones, that excuses sin with an avuncular, “boys will be boys.” But love devoid of judgment is nothing but sentimental and insipid kindness and God is not merely kind. C.S. Lewis said: “Love is something far more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”
Kindness doesn’t care whether its object is good or bad, helpful or harmful, but love cares. God is love and perfect love will not stand by while we destroy others and ourselves. He will strike at our sin and if our hearts are entwined with it they will break in the process. We may lose everything we have—our health, our homes, our reputations, our fortunes—everything but the God who loves us.
“It is bastards who are spoiled,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “The legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.”
Love in action can be a harsh and terrible thing, but it is always redemptive. Its wrath drives us to the end of ourselves and draws us back to God. Like the Prodigal, we come back home, because there is no other place to go. Then God can begin to restore us and undo the damage we have done.
Sin is sweet. It has its allure and pleasure—but it also has its tragic aftermath. Thus God must come after us; he cannot help himself. As long as peaceful, gentle methods work he will gladly employ them. “He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). But if we resist his love we will experience his fatherly discipline. He will let us have our fling and we will experience in our bodies and souls the results of our folly. He will not give up until he has broken the heart of our resistance.
“God opposes the proud, but exalts the humble,” scripture affirms. A broken and humbled heart he will not despise. When we have come to the end of ourselves he is there to “save us to the uttermost,” as the King James Version put it (Hebrews 7:25). God saves from the “guttermost to the uttermost,” my father used to say.
There is nothing too hard for God to do; nothing he will not do. He knows how to use our pain and heartbreak to draw us back to his love. He also knows how to use the wounds we have afflicted on others to draw them to his healing. The wrong we have done can be set right; the results of our sins gloriously redeemed. That’s the God we have—the only God worth having.