Wonderful, Merciful Savior
A few well-placed lightning bolts. Have you ever thought that? When we see extremely abusive spouses and parents, or child traffickers/sex abusers/porn purveyors, or politicians advocating for and people dancing in the streets celebrating things the Bible tells us to abhor, aren’t we tempted to think that if we had God’s power for 5 minutes we could aim a few well-placed lightning bolts and make the world a better place?
We wouldn’t be alone in that thought. In Luke 9:54-56 the disciples wanted to call down fire on a town that had merely refused them hospitality. In Psalm 73 the writer is struggling spiritually because it seems like the wicked of the world got away with everything, even prospering. We wonder at how a holy God can allow such evil to exist, even flourish. It rattles us sometimes, especially when we see godly people struggle while the wicked seem to have the world by the tail.
I was pondering this myself, as I thought about a rather worthless man who perpetrated a lot of sorrow, distress, and evil on his family, even continuing to do so in the present. Why does the Lord allow him to continue without judgment? Then my mind turned to politicians and areas of the country where it seems “what is good is called evil and what is evil is called good.” Surely this is an affront to a holy God who hates evil, yet He has allowed it to continue, even thrive.
But then I thought about the apostle Paul; he had persecuted the early church, casting people into prison, confiscating their goods, seeing to the deaths of some…and then writing huge sections of our New Testament Scriptures, founding churches, harvesting souls, suffering martyrdom for the glory of God. And I thought about Judah’s most evil of kings, Manasseh. For more than 50 years he reigned over the most idolatrous, wicked practices that nation ever knew. Why didn’t God depose him and set a more righteous man in his place? Yet, near the end of his life Manasseh truly repented. Yes, the damage had been done, and his son followed in his terrible practices, but God, in His mercy, waited him out, and redeemed even this evil man. It stands as a tribute to the longsuffering patience of a wonderful, merciful Savior.
I think the key to understanding how God seemingly allows evil to prosper is two-fold: 1) is to show His great longsuffering mercy, and 2) it is to show the justness of His eventual judgment and wrath against sin and unrepentant sinners. God’s mercy is shouted throughout Scripture, yet we often seem deaf to it. When only two humans walked the earth and sinned, how easy it would have been to just put an end to them and start again, especially knowing the depths of evil that would soon follow. How long would it be before He’d have to judge the earth by flood because evil prevailed over good? How long after that before He had to disperse the population because evil began to rise again? And yet, God mercifully allowed Adam and Eve to live, to be fruitful and multiply, and to promise a Redeemer would come to set things right. He mercifully promised, by the symbol of the rainbow, never to judge the earth by a universal flood again. Even in all of His judgments against Israel, He constantly plead with them to return, promised them restoration, and spoke of His everlasting love for them.
One passage which speaks to the wonderful mercy of our God is found in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” This is the wonderful mercy of our Savior—that He would love us when we were dead in our sin, and His rich mercy would reach down and make us alive with Christ. How many of us would be hopeless piles of smoldering ash if God had shot a “well-placed lightning bolt” in our direction at our worst moments of sin? But God, rich in mercy, has been patient with us. His great love has continued to pour out His grace on us instead of the rain of fire we deserve.
The psalmist of Psalm 73 ended his struggle with the seeming indifference of God toward the evil people of his day when he went to worship, and we, too, can find our perspective on why evil people appear to prevail when we come into the presence of God, as well. First, we can be blown away by His mercy. Even wicked Ahab, who by no means had a conversion experience, when he temporarily humbled himself at the word of the Lord, was given a bit of a reprieve. Even knowing that Ahab would return to his despicable ways, our God, rich in mercy, applied some of that mercy to Ahab. It assures us that we can be met with His mercy at our times of need (which is every day), by a God who is longsuffering and wonderfully merciful. If we look for it throughout the Scripture, we will begin to see it shine through in ways that will both humble us and move us toward worship. Indeed, the mercy of God toward us should be a strong theme of our daily praise and worship, for where would we be without the tender mercies of our Lord? (Hint: we’d be in the same boat as those very people which appall us now.)
Secondly, as we contemplate this theme before the Lord, we will find what this psalmist found—that there is an eventual day of judgment for the unrepentantly wicked. If they are not like Paul or Manasseh, if they do not take the mercies shown to them and, like Ahab, continue in their sin and rebellion, they will find that at the end of mercy there is wrath—a justified wrath for their affront to this wonderful, merciful God whom they rejected as Savior. This God has rightly warned us all that we should not be deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a person sows they reap. In some ways it is a comfort, because we can be assured that evil will face justice, but it’s also sobering. It’s a catalyst for true fear of God. It’s a spur to pray fervently for the mercy of God to be effective in the lives of the wicked people we see around us, so we, like Abraham, can plead for the Sodoms and Gomorrahs of our day instead of applauding God’s pronouncement of judgment. Or we can be those faithful prayer warriors who I believe were praying for Paul and Manasseh’s hearts to turn to the Lord. These actions show that our hearts beat with a similar mercy as that of our wonderful, merciful Savior.