Everyone has a view of God, whether they believe in him or not. If you listen to Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins, you quickly discover they have a view of God although they profess he does not exist. Christians have differing views of God. We do not all agree. Some see God as an angry tyrant, ready to strike people down for not obeying his rules. Others see him as a lovable grandfather figure who is willing to overlook any and all sin. The truth is both of these are caricatures, and neither of them is an accurate depiction of the God of the Universe. Sadly, our view of God is often shaped more by circumstances than scripture. Parents, misguided preachers, folk theology, movies, music, and more shape our view of God.
Throughout much of history, God has been pictured as someone waiting to punish wrongdoers. People have carried around an image of God in the heavens with a lightning bolt in his hand waiting to strike whoever messes up. Even though this view is not as common as it once was, when something bad or tragic happens in our lives, we feel as though we are being punished by God. We think if we would have been more faithful, then possibly this bad thing would have never happened. Although people incur immediate judgment and are struck down in the Bible (2 Samuel 6:5-11; Acts 5:1-11), this is a rarity. It is out of the ordinary for God to do something like this. In Exodus 34:5-7, God reveals his character. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”
Although God is “slow to anger” and forgiving, he also judges (Exodus 34:7). There is a price to be paid for sin. If God is not waiting and ready to strike people down for their unfaithfulness, then what do his judgments look like? Some might be surprised to discover that God’s judgments are quite ordinary. His judgments often involve giving people what they want. In 1 Samuel 8, the people come to Samuel demanding a king so that they can be like the other nations. In this instance, God attempts to reason with the people. He lists many reasons why a king would be bad for them (1 Sam. 8:10-18). After hearing this, the people still want a king. God instructs Samuel to give the people what they want (1 Sam. 8:7-9, 22). Why does God do this know it will not be good for his people? It is because the people had rejected God and served other gods (1 Sam. 8:7-8). God’s judgment was to give the people what they wanted.
Something similar occurs in Romans 1. Paul discusses the sinfulness of Gentiles before turning his attention to the Jews. He begins in verse 18 by mentioning God’s judgment (“wrath of God”). He then outlines the problem (Rom. 1:18-23) before revealing his judgment (Rom. 1:24-32). So, what was God’s judgment? He gave them over to their lusts (Rom. 1:24), passions (Rom. 1:26), and whatever was in their minds (Rom. 1:28). In other words, God let them have what they wanted.
Understanding the judgments of God is helpful in several different ways. It reveals something about the character of God. He is patient and merciful. He wants what is best for us and is continuously working toward this end. It is only when we repeatedly rebel that God will step back and allow us to take charge. When we are given full control of our lives, it doesn’t take long for us to make a mess of it. God’s judgments not only reveal his goodness, but they also show our inclination to make poor decisions on our own. We desperately need God’s guidance in our lives. We need to be in his word daily. We need to go to God in prayer and meditate on the holy scriptures he has given us. By being faithful to God and obeying his commands, we can avoid judgment because we are following his plans rather than our own.