We may have difficulty reconciling the image of a brokenhearted God Who wants to restore the nations with One Who sends a flood to destroy the earth and rains down fire on cities like Sodom and Gomorrah. How do we explain the many passages of Scripture which refer to God’s judgment on the nations and His wrath towards sinners? Does the Bible contradict itself, or have we simply failed to interpret it correctly?

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)”

Mankind greatly increased upon the earth, and as humans multiplied, so did wickedness. The serpent did not go around to each individual person and tempt them with evil. Evil simply gained entry through man’s self-centered urges.

“Every intention of the thought of man’s heart was only evil continually”: this speaks of an inward condition. The resulting violence that filled the earth and corrupted all flesh is an outward condition; the inevitable result of all those evil intentions and selfish thoughts.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jam. 4:1-3, ESV)

That this inward condition falls short of the Creator’s intended purpose for man is an understatement. God’s response to this universal corruption is not anger (as some would suppose), but sorrow: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Gen. 6:6). The Hebrew word for repented here means to be sorry, to be moved to pity, to have compassion; while the Hebrew word for grieved in this passage means to be afflicted with pain, tormented. We can say with all sincerity that the evil condition of man upon the earth breaks God’s heart and moves Him to compassion for man; the wrath is always directed towards the evil condition, not towards the people. In fact, it is the compassion of God for the lost condition of man that fuels His wrath against the evil that keeps man in bondage.

What tremendous insight this gives us into the heart and mind of God towards His creation. God’s intention is to eradicate evil from the earth; the Flood proves this conclusively. But there is more to the story, for “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). Here is the first example of God bringing something good out of evil. There is always a remnant of persons whom God will preserve no matter what. When that remnant is threatened to the point of extinction (as in the case of Noah), God will directly intervene in human history to bring correction.

God’s Desire for the Nations

 But God was moving towards something more than the preservation of a single family. His heart is for all men, not just a select few. He will work with a remnant to accomplish His purpose but He is not satisfied with a mere portion of people delivered from evil. He is working towards a worldwide reconciliation: “[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

This far-reaching New Testament assertion is not an abstract idea, but the expressed desire of God based upon a multitude of Old Testament declarations – so many that space will only permit us to provide a sampling:

  • All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Him. For the Kingdom is the LORD’S: and He is the Governor among the nations. (Ps. 22:27,28)
  • The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Ps. 24:1)
  • That Your way may be known upon earth, Your saving health among all nations. (Ps. 67:2)
  • Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him. (Ps. 72:11)
  • All nations whom You have made will come and worship before You, O Lord; and shall glorify Your name. (Ps. 86:9)
  • And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. (Isa. 2:2)
  • Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and will not return, that unto Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear. (Isa. 45:22, 23)
  • The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (Isa. 52:10)
  • For as the earth brings forth her bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. (Isa. 61:11)
  • I will gather all nations and tongues; and they will come, and see My glory. (Isa. 66:18b)
  • At that time they will call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations will be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither will they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart. (Jer. 3:17)
  • And there was given [Christ] dominion, and glory, and a Kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom that which will not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:14)
  • For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Hab. 2:14)

A Different Perspective on God’s Judgments

We may have difficulty reconciling the image of a brokenhearted God Who wants to restore the nations with One Who sends a flood to destroy the earth and rains down fire on cities like Sodom and Gomorrah. How do we explain the many passages of Scripture which refer to God’s judgment on the nations and His wrath towards sinners? Does the Bible contradict itself, or have we simply failed to interpret it correctly?

Surely the problem is not in what the Word of God says but in what we think it says. We cannot appreciate or understand God’s judgments if we do not fully comprehend His  purpose for judgment. Scripture shows that His judgments are meant to teach, not to destroy: “When Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa.26:9).  Unfortunately there is no other way to really learn the wickedness of evil apart from seeing, feeling, and experiencing God’s wrath upon that evil. Until we hate it as much as He does we will continue to follow the path of self-centered independence. Judgment is a necessary (albeit painful) part of spiritual maturity.

God’s judgments are consistent with His Ultimate Purpose of redemption. He does not punish for the sake of Punishment:

 For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. (Lam. 3:31-33)

All of us are afflicted on some level with the self-centeredness that leads to evil in all of its forms; thus, judgment must come in some manner to all. According to Peter, even those in the house of God are not exempt: “Judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17). The severity and duration of God’s judgment has much to do with our willingness to learn the intended lesson.

Nothing we have stated thus far minimizes the need for repentance, or is meant to suggest that somehow man can be saved apart from Christ. The Bible suggests the very opposite: that God’s judgments are meant to reduce us to Christ. But equally important is the fact that His judgments are designed to decrease us, not destroy us. As soon as we learn the lesson then the judgment has accomplished its purpose. The Lord will not cast off forever. Let us repent and submit to His judgments sooner rather than later! No matter how severe that judgment may be we can have confidence that God’s judgment is not the final word. We can pray, “In wrath, remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).

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