“You shall not make for yourselves an image in the form of anything in heaven above or earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations for those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6, NIV).
These verses are the 2nd Commandment of the Ten Commandments. Although I’ve read and repeated the 2nd Commandment many times, I’ve never paid much attention to the second part of the commandment, which explains the consequences of obeying or not obeying the commandment.
But, God uses the pronouncement of a curse and blessing in the 2nd Commandment to make a striking contrast between the everlasting effects of His boundless love for those who worship and obey Him with the exigency of punishment for idolators.
“Some time later, Cain presented an offering to the Lord from the land’s crops while Abel presented his flock’s oldest offspring with their fat. The Lord looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice. Cain became very angry and looked resentful. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:3-7, CEB).
Evil is a corruption of good and seems to be a necessary condition of God’s love and plan for redemption (see Part 1). There can’t be a love relationship with God if there’s not a choice to love Him, or not!
God has given people the choice to do good or not do good.
Then, maybe evil isn’t all bad?
In the Old Testament evil is sometimes directly attributed to God. For example, “Then an evil spirit from the Lord came over Saul” (1 Samuel 19:9, CEB).
From the perspective of the Old Testament writers, all actions and events in heaven and on the earth emanate from God. In other words, God’s “will” rules over His creation.
“And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12, CEB).
God is love. But, love, God’s love, is incomplete and unfulfilled unless it’s received and reciprocated. So, God is desperately seeking humans to love Him back. To have fellowship with Him. To enter into a love-relationship with Him.
But, the reality of God’s love is not the reality we see. The reality we see says that life on Earth is all there is. The reality we see tells us that when we die we’re done.
“God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins… We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10,19 CEB).
God’s absolute nature is love. So, God is love in action!
But, for love’s action to be complete, it requires not only the giving of it but also the receiving and returning of it.
If God just emanated love, He would merely be a spectator of His creation, a cosmic stalker, of sorts, of the beings He created for love!
“The Lord is good, a haven in a day of distress. He acknowledges those who take refuge in him. With a rushing flood, he will utterly destroy her place and pursue his enemies into darkness” (Nahum 1:7-8, CEB).
Nahum prophesied during a time when Judah was attempting to gain independence from its Assyrian overlords. His prophecy foretold the destruction of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh.
Nahum begins his prophecy on the downfall of Assyria by laying a theological framework describing the character of God. In verse 1 Nahum says God is jealous and vengeful, full of wrath, and rages against His enemies. He says that although God is great in power, God is calculating and severe when administering justice: “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can confront the heat of his fury?” (vs 6).
“How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!” (Psalm 139:17-18, NLT).
It’s hard to imagine that the Creator of the universe, our Heavenly Father, thinks about me! After all, doesn’t He have a universe to manage?
This Psalm assures us that not only does God think about each one of us constantly, but:
The way we sometimes present the gospel would make this verse read more like this: “For we sinned so much that God gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will quit sinning.”
We make the gospel out to be about our sin rather than God’s love. We send people down the Roman Road–“all have sinned” (Romans 3:23)–instead of up the Via Dolorosa–“He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).