I love the premise of “Desiring God” — that our chief end is to delight in God, enjoying Him forever. It can and should be “all joy” to know, and be loved by, the great and good God of the Universe. But when John Piper gets to describing what God is doing, and how the heavenly Father is treating the people he created, I see a disturbing picture that fails to find a balanced vantage point, an internally consistent understanding of God that harmonizes all that the Bible says about His attributes of love and justice. Let’s start with the first of brother Piper’s statements about God’s “final” wrath — that it is “eternal — having no end.” He leads with the following statement in support of his proposition:
In Daniel 12:2 God promises that the day is coming when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Let’s look at Daniel for a minute to see what he is arguing. In verse 1 he talks about the beginning of Messiah’s rule, when it starts to make an impact on the world scene. And he talks about 2 resurrections: those who awake to olam life, and those who awake to olam contempt.
Now, there is no question that olam, a Hebrew word for indefinite time, can and often does mean “everlasting”. There is also no question that the life of the righteous who are awakened at the beginning of Messiah’s rule do indeed live beyond the age of Messiah, into the unlimited future — everlastingly. I would argue, however, that the contempt referred to here is limited by other scriptures to the age of Messiah — the “judgment day”. As such, this scripture is focusing on the experience of 2 classes of people who are awakened and dealt with by God during the day of the Lord: those who were already proven righteous beforehand, and those who arrive without having done “the good deeds”, as John 5 describes it. For them, the age of Messiah will be an age in which abhorring or contempt will be their experience.
Take a look, for example, at another use of olam with regard to God’s wrath: Isaiah 57:16. There God says that he will not be always angry. How long is he angry? a long and indefinite period of time (olam in the sense it is apparently being used in Daniel 12:2); but not FOREVER (olam in the sense it is apparently being used in Isaiah 57:16). How long will he be angry and exert pressure on the sinners? Apparently, until the heart becomes contrite, and humility appears. Until that time, there will be no rest for the wicked. Or as the Psalm I quoted yesterday puts it, “call his wickedness to account till you find none.” (I think a number of passages make it clear that God has set aside one day of 1000 years to do all this — it won’t go on longer than that.) At the end, there will still be some who are incorrigible in their wickedness, as Revelation 20 makes clear. Their fate? Revelation 20 calls it the “second death”. The next verse here in the Psalms states, “the strangers are perished out of his land.” He will judge the fatherless and the oppressed, so that the man of the earth may no more oppress. (Psalm 10:18) He is trying to teach as many as become willing to learn. Those who refuse after God’s amazing grace has attempted with sweetness and fury to reach them, will perish — vanish, die, be exterminated according to Strong’s.
The problem God has with sinners is their sin. His hand is not shortened, it can save. But God is working with people in a way that is respectful of the condition he created them with — free moral agency. Unlike Satan, who dominates and enslaves, God allows even sinners the individuality of their will, such that they are able to choose not to be contrite, not to submit to God. Granted, as long as they remain in sin, in one sense they are not “children” of God until they come back to him in the only way he has appointed — repentance from sin and faith/obedience in the Son. But all people, including those still rebellious, are God’s creation, and God has promised some things for all of them.
Some nuts are really tough for even God to crack. Human fathers find this, too. Some of my kids were so responsive that I could catch their eye and melt them. Others needed direct, vigorous confrontation and the imposition of consequences to turn their behavior and, more importantly, their attitudes.
This variety of the tools of love needed for different folks is described in Isaiah 59.
Again, it is talking about the same group of people Daniel refers to, those whose sins have kept them from having a familial relationship with God. In 59:18, 19, God spells out the principle he uses in meting out vengeance — according to their deeds, he will repay. There is reciprocity there, and the penalty is appropriate to the sin. More on that tomorrow.
Still, hope is held out because of the power and commitment of God: (Isaiah 59:20)
And come to Zion hath a redeemer, Even to captives of transgression in Jacob, An affirmation of Jehovah. (Young’s Literal translation)
This is the verse which Paul quotes in Romans 11:26, to support his conclusion that “all Israel shall be saved.” Paul reads it as meaning, not that the Redeemer will only benefit the repentant, but that he will succeed in turning the “captives of transgression” toward righteousness. He will be a victorious Redeemer.
The Redeemer that is referred to, in the context of Isaiah 59, is Christ, of course, but I believe that Christ in the full, composite sense is meant. The entire body of Christ, the church and its Head, is what both Paul and Isaiah have reference to. For example, in Isaiah 59 God muses that there is no man that can accomplish this redemptive work, this intercessory work, on behalf of the rebellious of Israel. So he sends “his right arm” — a reference to Jesus. And this man puts on a helmet of salvation, covers himself with a breastplate of righteousness, and wears the garments of zeal, of vengeance. (See Isaiah 63 for further description of how Jesus is the agent of vengeance, paying for the sins of the world with his own blood).
All studious Christians will recognize these elements of the Redeemer’s clothing, the breastplate etc., as being descriptive of the soldier’s garb that is also given to Christians who follow in Jesus’ steps. (Although in this life Christians are told vengeance is not appropriate to them, it is promised as a reward in Revelation 2:27, and it is spoken of as what we are being prepared for in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
No question, the Bible is difficult to understand. And it doesn’t work to try and erect competing lists of “proof texts” to see whose list is longer. Let’s roll up our sleeves and earnestly try to catch the spirit of God, what the attitude of God is toward human beings.
I believe the harmony is found in recognizing that God’s anger is “for a moment“, and his mercy or undeserved kindness will indeed “endure forever.”
(Psalm 30:5, Psalm 136)
Remember. The Daniel text, and other seemingly harsh texts, must be harmonized with the picture of a father that Jesus gave us in the parable of the prodigal son. The father is willing to let the son squander his inheritance until he comes to his senses — and then he is ready to meet him more than halfway, helping restore and welcome him back to the fold.
Tomorrow — more on trying to understand God’s anger, its appropriateness, and its fairness and redemptive impact.