THE KINDNESS AND SEVERITY OF GOD
A good friend recently reminded me to, “Always remember the kindness and severity of God.” Evidence of God’s kindness is everywhere. The ability to form a coherent thought and type this sentence is a testimony to God’s kindness. The lines painted on the pavement and the traffic lights that made my drive to the office orderly and safe this morning are evidences of God’s kindness. The city of Charlotte, the East CLT neighborhoods, and my friends and family are fantastic reminders of God’s kindness.
We must see our lives in light of God’s parable about the vineyard. You can find this short story in Matthew 21, where God describes Himself as the creator and owner of a vineyard. He plants a vineyard, puts a fence around it, He digs the winepress, and builds an observation tower. The vineyard is immaculate and completely primed for God-awed productivity. Not only does this vineyard have all the infrastructure and furnishings for human flourishing, but most importantly it bears the unmistakable marks of God’s workmanship; the vineyard is ultimately a symbol of God’s greatest present to us …His presence. So God invites us into His vineyard, and graciously involves us in the sacred work of stewarding the property. He does not domineer us like a slave master, nor does He completely cede the vineyard into our possession; but He leases to us as tenants, thus inviting us into a marvelous tension where we cannot claim ownership, nor can we be careless renters. God entrusts us with this amazing place.
When the season for fruit rolls around, God sends His servants to collect some grapes. But we have decided to reject the kindness of God in favor of filling our heads with delusions of ownership. We opt for the gift over the Giver, and we become violent toward God. The vineyard was to be a constant reminder of God’s kindness to us …the greatest dimension of that kindness being God Himself dwelling with us in the vineyard (enjoying fellowship and communion with Him whenever He comes to walk the grounds or gather grapes with us). But we reject His kindness. God endures great episodes of our evil, and in longsuffering fashion sends us a myriad of opportunities to renew our receptivity to His kindness. We dig in, and become increasingly committed to rejecting God’s kindness. Eventually, God Himself shows up, and we kill Him. We want the vineyard on our terms.
In Luke 21:20 Jesus talks about the destruction of Jerusalem. Like the vineyard tenants in Matthew 21, the people of Jerusalem had determined to reject God’s kindness. While proudly residing in a city that was established to symbolize God’s supernaturally kind decision to dwell with us, the citizens of Jerusalem elected to crucify God and cast Him out of the city.
What will God do with this?
First and foremost, God will take this evil and make it an unstoppable force for good; ordaining such wickedness to be bring about salvation for many. The stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Second, God will take the vineyard away from the hard-hearted tenants. He will destroy Jerusalem and make the tenants jealous by putting His presence with outsiders (Romans 10:19; 11:11, 14).
What will we do with this?
- Turn from trying to have God’s gifts on your terms. Your spouse, your friends, your kids, your community, your stuff, your time, your skills, etc. …You own none of these. If you aim to own and control these gifts, you will only ‘succeed’ in destroying them. These precious gifts are given in order that you might enjoy fellowship with God.
- Lament the cancer that is sin, and the consequences of sin (e.g. Luke 21:23). Because God does not ultimately condemn us (Romans 11:1, 11), but has most dramatically and definitively come to save His enemies (Matthew 20:28; Romans 5:10); we can actually acknowledge the horrors of our sin, and we can accept the consequences (Psalm 51).
- Look at Jesus! In Luke 15 Jesus tells a story about a kid who wished his father was dead so that he could lay-hold of his inheritance and do life on his terms. Shockingly, the father made this kid’s “dream come true” (he didn’t die, but he gave the kid his inheritance money early and released him to pursue life on his own). In short order, the kid lost the entirety of his inheritance and was forced to face the shame of rejecting his father. The kid decided that his only option was to make the walk of shame back to his dad and beg to be hired as a slave (with no option of ever reclaiming the status of son). His father would hear none-of-it! The kid’s dad insisted on reinstating him as a son instantaneously and throwing him a welcome back party as if he had just saved the world! Of course, this invariably puts the rebellious child in a precarious position, because his other siblings, and the townspeople know of his shameful history. Where on earth would one find the audacity to accept such a lavish and scandalous reinstatement? Acceptance of such a gift can only come by fixating on grace. The kid would have to be mesmerized by the outrageously unmerited favor of his father to accept reinstatement as son and the seat of honor at a hero’s party!
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 (Romans 11:22).