How can a loving God have wrath?

Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s

God is love. If you want to know what love is like, look at God. But the same Bible that proclaims God’s love also proclaims his wrath. We usually see Jesus as gentle, kind, and loving, but he lost his temper once and got violent in the temple. He also described hell more graphically than anyone else in all of Scripture.  What’s going on here?

First of all, just what is wrath? The original Greek word is variously translated anger, indignation, vengeance, and wrath. It comes from a word that means to stretch oneself or reach out after.… Read the rest

God’s love and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami


How can we reconcile God’s love with disasters? For a couple of weeks now, the news media have brought us new images of the disaster in Japan: the worst earthquake there on record, a tsunami that struck the coast within 15 minutes and that caused a nuclear catastrophe worse than any other except Chernobyl. We have probably all received multiple reminders to pray for Japan, and I hope this post will serve as another, but I want to consider the question of how a loving God can allow such devastation.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’   “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.… Read the rest

Moses and the Burning Bush: The Presence of the Living God

The story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3) is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew baby boys killed. Instead, Moses’ mother put him on a raft so Pharaoh’s daughter would find it, and then joined her household. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s court with all of its privileges, but also with full understanding of his heritage. In his zeal for justice, he murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, then fled. God met him in the burning bush forty years later. Sometimes the story’s very familiarity keeps us from understanding its meaning.… Read the rest

Trusting Jesus when it makes no sense: healing the blind man of Bethsaida

Christ Healing the Blind Man of Bethsaida (14th. c.) 

Mark’s gospel records a very odd healing. Some people in Bethsaida brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. Usually in Scripture we see Jesus instantly
moved to compassion, but these people had to beg him. Then, instead of laying his hands on the man, he led him out of town, where the story becomes odder still. Implicitly Jesus had challenging questions for the blind man, his disciples, and all of us: Do you believe me? Is trusting me still an option for you?

In Luke 10:13, Jesus pronounced woe to Bethsaida fir its unbelief at the miracles performed there.… Read the rest

Recycled resolutions: love one another

A Christian’s New Year’s resolutions all boil down to one: I resolve to be more obedient to God’s commandments. I gave up making New Year’s resolutions years ago, not because I think I don’t need to improve, but because I don’t want to confine resolutions to do better to one time of the year. I do notice, though, that people who talk about their New Year’s resolutions tend to resolve the same things over and over. Recycled resolutions! But does God ever recycle his commandments? As a matter of fact, he does.

According to a well-known anecdote, when the apostle John was an old man who had to be carried to church, his message always consisted of a single commandment, “Little children, love one another.” When asked why he essentially preached the same sermon all the time, he replied that if his flock would just do that one thing, little else needed to be said.… Read the rest

Isaiah 40: one prophecy, three fulfillments

Isaiah 40 may be one of the best-known passage among all the Old Testament prophets. Anyone who knows Handel’s Messiah will immediately recognize the text for the first tenor recitative and aria, the first chorus, the first alto aria (with chorus), and the second alto aria among the first eleven verses of the chapter: “Comfort ye my people,” “Every valley shall be exalted,” “And the glory of the Lord,” “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” and “He shall feed his flock.”

We associate these verses with the Christmas story at least because John the Baptist claimed to be the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,” words quoted in the tenor recitative.… Read the rest

Jonah’s grievance against God: a failure of love

God told Jonah to go to the enemy capital of Nineveh and preach to them. Jonah didn’t like the idea, so he bought a ticket to a distant city in the opposite direction. God found him and provided free transportation back to his own country.

As soon as Jonah got back on dry land, God spoke to him as if nothing had happened: I want you to go preach to Nineveh. This time, Jonah decided maybe he just would (Jonah 3-4). The Bible says it took three days to walk through Nineveh.

It’s only about a mile and a half in diameter, but ancient cities were not laid out in a nice grid.… Read the rest

Hedged behind and before

My wife and I bought two puppies a couple of years ago and started collecting information on how to raise them. Nearly every author recommended crate training, and then had to take time to defend the idea. Apparently they had heard lots of people protest that confining an animal overnight seems cruel. But dogs are not people. They are denning animals and find crates homey and comforting, especially when we put blankets over them to make it nice and dark.

Sure enough, two years later our dogs still sleep in their crates. Bed time comes and we walk together into the bedroom.… Read the rest

Wickedness: our questions and God’s answers

Today, fanatical Muslims blow themselves up in crowded market places in the name of their god. They didn’t invent terrorism and are not alone in dishonoring their own religion by their actions.  Christians, too, have been guilty. What else can serial murders of abortionists be called?

Many historians describe the tactics of radical abolitionist John Brown an injection of terrorism into American politics, and he though he was acting for God. The religious policies of Spanish King Philip II and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II amount to state-sponsored terrorism in the name of God.

Not all wickedness is violent. Those who devise Internet scams, those who choose profits over human lives in board rooms, and any others who steal at long distance do not sin violently.… Read the rest

Fear, doubt, and love.

It never ceases to amaze me where ungodly fear can lurk—even in times of Bible reading and meditation! I offer my own recent encounter with 1 John 4 as an example of what can happen when I’m not careful. Here are a few verses from the NIV:

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

Read the rest