Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. - Romans 11:22 (KJV)
As I take this journey to draw nearer to God, I am bothered by the things which preoccupy my heart. Today, I vaguely remembered a verse and decided to find it. When I read it in its context, I was amazed at the goodness and severity of God that I found in the passage. I have read the chapter many times before, but I never noticed the significance of the words like today.
Ezekiel 14:1-11 (ESV):
1 Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. 2 And the word of the LORD came to me: 3 "Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? 4 Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, 5 that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.
6 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. 7 For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the LORD will answer him myself. 8 And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the LORD. 9 And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the LORD, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. 10 And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— 11 that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord GOD."
It almost seems like somewhat of a strange and self-contradictory passage. I have read it through many times, and I still have trouble following it through all the way. It starts with some elders coming to Ezekiel to inquire of God through him. Instead of giving them what they want, God gives them what they need. They have a severe problem that needs immediate attention: they have taken their idols into their hearts. The question is not whether we have idols or not, but where are our idols? Sadly, I must admit that I take them into my heart too often. Doing so is putting a stumbling block right in your own face! Take one step forward and you will trip and find yourself flat on your face!
The Lord then asks: "should I even allow you to consult Me?" We have absolutely no right to approach God with a question, much less be answered by Him. Yet He says that if we do this and yet come to inquire of God, He will answer us. Why? To lay a hold on our hearts. So here I am, idols in my heart, falling flat on my face tripping over my iniquity. God would be fully just to ignore me, or as verse 9 says, even to let me be deceived. Yet what does He do? He answers when I consult Him, for He wants to lay a hold on my heart. While we all know this, why do we so seldom think about the significance of these words?
So when God answers, what do we do? The rest of the passage is somewhat hard to follow, but in it are mixed together goodness and severity until it seems almost one. If God lays a hold of our hearts, we repent and turn away from our idols and abominations. However if we separate ourselves from God by taking our idols into our hearts and come to inquire of Him still, He will answer us, but He will turn against us and bring us to ridicule and ultimately destruction. Now, do I see three chances here to repent, or is this the slow painful demise of one who did not have his heart gripped by God and did not repent when he inquired of God and discovered his idols in his heart? I do not know. The only thing I can see is that the purpose of such severity is so that we may not go astray from the Lord our God again, that we would not defile ourselves again, and that we would be His and He ours.
Why does such severity have such an effect? The answer, I believe is in the verses before the opening verse in this note:
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. - Romans 11:17-22 (ESV)
The severity of God humbles us and puts in us the fear of the Lord. It also magnifies His greatness:
For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth. - Psalm 47:2 (KJV)
Why do we see God's goodness and severity come into almost one at times? I believe it is because together, they lead us to repentance:
The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. - Psalm 118:18 (ESV)
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? - Romans 2:4 (KJV)
And of course, the greatest picture of God's goodness and severity coming together in one is at the cross!
It is when I read these kinds of passages that God lays a hold on my heart and shows me His majesty in His goodness and severity! The fear of the Lord then awakens in me at His severity and I am broken over my sin and His goodness towards me and I repent and cast out my idols from my heart so that I may be His and He mine!