The Unsettling Justice of God
One reason why we may be uncomfortable with the Bible’s portrayals of God’s wrath is because we do not want to see the judgment we deserve. From his series Blessed Hope, W. Robert Godfrey considers how the book of Revelation gives us perspective on the justice of God and His mercy in Christ.
Verse 4: “The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.” And now, the attack is on the fresh water, the water necessary to sustain life on earth. “And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they,” that is, those being judged, “have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’” Wow! Wow! If this makes you uncomfortable, that’s okay. We’re moderns. We’re not bloodthirsty—most of us, most of the time, unless we watch football maybe—but I mean that’s a whole other question. We’re not used to the kind of longing for judgment that we find frequently in the Bible, and then we have to ask ourselves, “Is that a failing in the Bible or is that a failing in us?” That’s a rhetorical question because this is one of the great issues. Will God be just in His judgment? And it’s almost as if John anticipated that because we go on in verse 7 and read, “And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!’” Now, when the altar says that, what does it mean? It means the souls under the altar that we saw in the second cycle, those who were martyred for Jesus Christ, those who died for Him, those whose blood was shed—they’re not sentimental about this. They think there ought to be a judgment for those who have rebelled against the Judge of heaven and earth. There ought to be a judgment on those who have rejected the God who blessed them and gave them so many benefits in this life. And sometimes that is hard for us to contemplate, because when we think of the God of that justice we often think about our own sins. And then we think, “Can I find mercy before such a God?” Or perhaps we think of family members and friends who don’t know the Savior, and we worry about them, and that’s appropriate. We should pray for them. But this book reminds us that we don’t have a right to mitigate the just judgment of God. We have to affirm the wisdom and justice of God in what He does. And tragically, if we start down the path of thinking that we are more loving than God is, we end up with a God who has no judgment at all, and that’s what has happened in too much of the modern church. We are “wiser” than God. We are “more loving” than God so we’ve “corrected” God’s Word, and we’ve found ourselves in a mess. And as hard as this is to really redirect our feelings and our judgments, this is what this book is intended to help us do. And again, I’m not saying it’s necessarily easy or what we necessarily immediately respond positively to. But I think part of the whole purpose of this book is to slow us down and make us think and make us reflect, make us reevaluate and say, “All right. Who’s right, God or me? Should I be more sensitive to God’s feelings as the offended Creator or insist on my own feelings?” And so here we have this challenge to us. And what we have to particularly meditate on, I think, is the insistence of Scripture, as hard as it is for us always to fully realize, that the judgment is what they deserve. That’s what’s said here explicitly in verse 6: “It is what they deserve!” And again, I think part of our squeamishness is we don’t want what we deserve. And what God says to the whole world is, “You don’t have to have what you deserve if you take refuge in My Son. But if you refuse My Son, whom I’ve provided for sinners, what can you expect except the just judgment for sinners?” And that’s what this book is teaching us over and over again.