Knowing God, chapter 16: Goodness and severity

Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God (Rom 11:22, KJV)

In the verses preceding this one, Paul had  reminded his Gentile readers that God had rejected the Jews for unbelief, while at the same time bringing the non-Jews to saving faith. He invites them to take note of the two sides of God’s character as revealed in this transaction. They weren’t to dwell on His goodness alone, nor on His severity alone, but to contemplate both together.

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When the biblical writers call God ‘good’ they refer in general to His moral perfection. This is a theme seen throughout the Bible. In Exodus 34:5-7, God’s self-proclamation was a fulfilment of His promise to make all His goodness pass before Moses (Ex 33:19). David declares, ‘As for God, his way is perfect’ (2 Sam 22:31 = Ps 18:30)

God spoke of Himself as ‘abundant in goodness and truth’— Ex 34:6—which is the quality of His generosity. Packer gives this definition: “Generosity means a disposition to give to others in a way which has no mercenary motive and is not limited by what the recipients deserve, but consistently goes beyond it. Generosity expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy.”

God is generous in bestowing natural blessings—Ps 145:9, 15, 16; Acts 14:17. He shows even greater mercies in spiritual redemption—saving Israel from Egypt (Ps 136), His willingness to forgive (Ps 86:5), His willingness to teach men His ways (Ps 119:68). The best exposition of God’s salvation in the OT is found in  Ps 107:6, 13, 19, 28. The response to His salvation is found in vv 8, 15, 21, 31, and it is worship and thanksgiving.

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What of God’s severity? The principle behind Rom 11:22 is that behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity if that goodness is scorned. If we don’t respond in gratitude and love, God will turn against us. We ought to be humble and thankful, especially when we see God’s severity being worked out against others.

God isn’t impatient in His severity—He is ‘slow to anger’ (Neh 9:17; Ps 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2) and ‘longsuffering’ (KJV) (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:15). He is patient and postpones merited judgments in order to give more opportunity for repentance (1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:9). And since God is patient with us, we too are called to be patient with others (Gal 5:22; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12).

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From this, we can learn 3 lessons:

  1. Appreciate the goodness of God. Don’t take either natural or spiritual blessings for granted—be constantly grateful.
  2. Appreciate the patience of God. Think how much He has borne with you, and still bears with you. Seek grace to imitate His patience in dealing with others; make an effort not to try His patience any more.
  3. Appreciate the discipline of God. His is a discipline of love (Heb 12:5), meant to keep us from straying (Ps 119:71).