Monday, May 15, 2023

Righteous Judgment (Psalm 97)

"Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne" (Ps. 97:2).

After two weeks of study on the destiny of the wicked and the nature of hell, many may be asking, “How can a God of love and compassion tolerate, much less inflict, eternal pain and torment upon even part of His creation?” In addressing this issue, we must not underestimate the concern and the passion fueling this question. Thoughts of hell, God’s justice, and eternal wrath evoke a great deal of emotion and inner turmoil. Because this is such a stirring subject, because hell is so terrifying, because the wrath of God is so real, we need to beware of letting our feelings rule our judgment. No matter how we may feel about these things, we must accept the teaching of our Lord and humble ourselves before His wise judgment.

The rationalization of hell is nothing less than this: Those who sin against a holy and just God deserve infinite punishment for their crime. God is not only loving, patient, merciful, and tender; He is just, holy, righteous, and fearful. Sin against God is a crime of infinite magnitude. Only a punishment proportionate to the crime can satisfy true justice. “If a righteous God must punish wicked men, Edwards argues, this punishment must be eternal. Sin, he says, is enmity against the giver of all being. It is rational to suppose that this would incur the hatred of his great Being, and this Being’s hatred and wrath would be as infinite as He is.”

You may ask at this point, “But didn’t Jesus take that punishment upon Himself? Isn’t His death of infinite value?” Yes, Christ paid the penalty for sin, and His death is sufficient to cover all those who put their faith in Him—that is the Good News. But for some reason, and we don’t know why, God has chosen not to save everyone. He is certainly not obligated to do so. As a result Christ’s death, which is of infinite value, is only effective for some. The reason God did not choose to make it effective for all (as universalists think) remains hidden behind the cloud that surrounds the throne of God. It is not our place to try to penetrate that sacred barrier. We must simply accept that the eternal punishment of the wicked is just and proportionate to the infinite and terrible crime they have committed against a loving and holy God.

How is God portrayed in Psalm 97? What kind of response do the people have toward His judgments? What is your response toward God’s judgment of the ungodly? If you think it is unloving for God to send people to hell, meditate on Psalm 97, confess your unfaithfulness, and humble yourself before God.