What in the world is God doing?
If you were to write a job description for God, what responsibilities might you include?
Creating life, forgiving sins, providing food, shelter and protection would certainly be correct, and they are all nice ways to describe God’s work.
But does God ever behave in not-so-nice ways?
Does the God of the Bible ever cause the death of human beings?
Does he exterminate entire ethnic groups and cause nations to collapse?
Does he afflict individuals with illnesses and entire communities with plagues?
Does he divide families?
Does he uproot people from their homelands and send them into exile?
Finally, does God do such things, and more, to the people he loves?
If you answered “yes” to all of the above, I congratulate you on knowing your Bible.
The God of the Bible is very different from the false gods we create for ourselves.
We create gods who are safe, harmless, and who allow us to believe and do whatever feels right.
But a god who is safe and harmless is a god you can safely ignore—a god who inspires neither respect nor fear.
John Calvin famously said that the human heart is an idol factory.
One cause of unbelief in America today is our tendency to create idols which are little more than projections of our selfish desires and therefore not worthy of belief.
The God of the Bible is worthy not only of belief, but of both fear and love.
How can God, who is love, also inspire fear?
On the basis of Scripture, Martin Luther distinguished between two very different works of God: God’s “alien” or strange work, and God’s “proper” work.
This can be seen in such passages as Deuteronomy 32:39, which may serve as a partial job description for God.
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
Luther would say that God’s proper work is to make alive, to heal, to show mercy and to forgive, not on the basis of our own merit but on the basis of Christ’s merit alone.
Such works are proper to God because they reflect his very nature, for the Scripture says that God is love.
On the other hand, God’s alien work is to condemn, kill, wound and destroy. It is his alien or strange work because he does it only out of necessity and takes no pleasure in it.
However, God can and will judge to preserve life and human flourishing.
In a fallen world, certain behaviors must be curbed and quarantined, making condemnation and judgment necessary.
With God, condemnation is never an end in itself, but a means to bring about repentance and restoration of blessing.
The prophet Hosea wrote, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”
God’s alien work of judgment, discipline and condemnation is preparation for his proper work — his display of mercy in Jesus Christ.
Finally, do not assume that God’s judgments are always the result of a particular sin. The Book of Job provides but one example of a righteous sufferer.
God’s ways are higher than ours, and we often do not know why God afflicts us.
He owes us no explanations, and speculation is dangerous.
He is not a god you can safely ignore.
But the end of the matter is never in doubt.
The God who has torn you is the same God who will heal you.
If he strikes you down, he will surely bind you up.
Your job is to hold on to his promises and trust in his mercy until he is again gracious.
As Hosea has written, “Let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Columbus and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.