NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 22nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Here’s commentator Janie B. Cheaney on human nature and the nature of God.
JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: The most shocking aspect of wartime atrocity in Ukraine may be that we are shocked. If there ever was a war conducted politely, according to rules of engagement, I haven’t heard of it. All God has to do is loosen restraint for human bloodlust to take over, and over and over. Violence is a recurring theme in the Old Testament, and the book of Isaiah is as representative as any. Judgment alternates with mercy throughout, sentences of doom with cries of anguish—because Isaiah reveals what we can reverently call God’s great dilemma.
He loves us, but he can’t tolerate us.
While thinking of Yahweh in Westminster-Confession terms, of his being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, justice, and truth, we don’t feel his emotion. But Isaiah and the other prophets reveal a heart laid bare. Like smoke and lightning on Mount Sinai, we see God’s perspective in flashes of rage and anguish, love and pleading, almost as if he was revealing a human side before appearing as human. But God is One, without “sides.” As humans are rational and emotional creatures, he is reason and emotion, perfectly integrated with holiness.
Thus, he loves us, and can’t tolerate us.
Prophetic descriptions of his judgment are lacerating; why do we need to read them? Possibly to remind us that where human nature is concerned, nothing has changed. War, wherever it breaks out, shows us to be the same savages who ripped up pregnant women in Assyria. Throughout the Old Testament record our righteous Judge swings between fury and mercy, sometimes in the same passage. The cycle of wrath and restoration plays out again and again, from Exodus through the outcry of prophets, long after a purely rational being would have written off the creation project for good. Humans just can’t seem to get it right. If not wrecking cities, we’re wrecking relationships and calling evil good.
But, as hopeless as our God’s dilemma may seem, something has changed. In Chapter 27, Isaiah foresees the Lord planting another vineyard at some unspecified time. Unlike the vineyard he ripped up in chapter 5, he says, “I keep it night and day; I have no wrath.” He will protect it from invaders—or, if the invaders themselves experience a change of heart,
“let them lay hold of my protection; let them make peace with me. Let them make peace with me.”
What has changed is the way of peace, secured by the Prince of Peace. The arm of the Lord, previously stretched out in judgment over all the nations, is laid bare to receive their wounds, “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Abel’s blood still cries out, but if we listen closely, we hear a louder voice and a better word (Heb. 12:24): the solution of an age-old dilemma.
He loves us, full stop.
I’m Janie B. Cheaney.
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