Recently, I have really enjoyed listening to other people preach while I am out jogging. Thanks to the modern development of the iPod, this is now possible without the preacher actually running alongside of you. On a regular basis, I tune in to Greg Boyd, who pastors a church in the Twin Cities.
I appreciated some insight he had on why in the Bible, we find a God that is at times described as loving, benevolent, kind, gracious, and good, while at other times this same God seems to be angry, judgemental, and bent on punishment. We believe in one God, and so these are not two different deities. We also believe in the wholeness and perfection of God, so this is not a "yin and yang", good-God, bad-God routine. So if it is the same God, how do we reconcile these concepts that are so radically different from each other?
One helpful insight comes from C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia series. In the last book, aptly named The Last Battle, Aslan appears towards the end of the story. To those who know him and trust him, he appears as a mighty, glorious Lion. All those who love him run to him and are filled with joy at his appearing. To his enemies, however, Aslan appears as a horrible monster. They are filled with dread and fear and they run from him. This is the same Aslan, and he is a good and wonderful Lion. But depending on the heart condition of the person, Aslan will appear either as wonderful and beautiful, or as a horrible monster.
This is perhaps a good picture of why God seems to be both filled with love and filled with judgment and anger. As Boyd puts it, God is a God of fire. That's is his nature, and his nature is love. When we trust him, his fire fills us, burns away our sin and our imperfection, and draws our hearts to him. The fire is good and redeeming. But if any will not trust him and love him, God is still fire, and that same fire that is good in the heart of those who trust is painful for those who run from Him. As Boyd points out, it is not God's desire that any should perish. He is not hoping to judge and condemn anyone. But in his nature, he is a God of holiness and love, and when that holiness and love are not received, they become like a horrible monster. The difference is not in the fire. The difference is not the character and nature of God. He is love, and His all-consuming love is like a fire. The difference is in the response and perspective of the person.
What is your response to Him today? Will you trust Him and let him fill you with His fire of love? The alternatives seem rather bleak. But to know His fire, and let it consume you, is life itself.