God speaks shalom to his people [who follow him] and to his faithful [where he is the core] ones (a very loose paraphrase of Psalm 85:8)
Salvation is close to those that honor God (Psalm 85:9).
Then…we get Amos. When we first read Amos, we are tempted to think, “This is a loving God?” As with most prophetic speech, being too literal can be problematic. This is more of the arc of the story of Israel. In other words, it wasn’t one thing after another. It was one thing…time passed (even generations)…they didn’t return…another thing, and so forth. When it’s all tied together seemingly in a short time span as we read it, it can leave us breathless and/or anxious.
The symmetry of these issues goes along with Egypt, who would not “see” the power of God as worth listening to until the death of the firstborn (see Exodus 4:8–12:33). Then there is the addition of Sodom and Gomorrah (still used today as a prophetic whip). This also builds on Moses’ warnings which promised that the curses on Egypt would be inflicted on Israel if they did not choose God (see Deuteronomy 28:15–61).
This is where we who focus heavily on the love of God and the nature of God loving all need to pay attention ourselves. God is love. That doesn’t mean permissiveness. It often means discipline.
“Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the LORD your God disciplines you.” —Deuteronomy 8:5
We don’t like this. The fact that our emotional response to discipline is, “you don’t love me,” is one of the greatest struggles for our modern sensitivities. We struggle (and that’s fine) with the concept that God would discipline through pestilence, famine, war, etcetera. We will often use the language of “God allows”, or explain things as “an ‘old world’ understanding”. While this is understandable, there is a fundamental soteriological (theology dealing with the nature and means of salvation) flaw in it. When we diminish God’s acts to solely “natural” consequences, we remove God’s movement (including that of the Holy Spirit) in our lives, even the concept of prevenient grace (the grace that goes before us).
Removing Godly discipline is removing God.
Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) was muted (disciplined) by God (through an angel) when he questioned how he and Elizabeth in their advanced years could have a child. Want to see a preaching/teaching pastor freak out? Mute them. Zechariah’s duties may not have been preaching as we understand it, but in an oral culture (most people couldn’t read) not being able to speak was a severe handicap. Instead, when Zechariah confirmed that his son’s name was John and he was no longer mute, he praised God. After his discipline, he praised God. Being that praise was Zechariah’s first response (and praise not being, “thank you for healing me.”), it is quite probable that Zechariah was praising God even while mute. Praising God while being disciplined; that is hard.
It isn’t impossible. Yet we want to put God in a box. The box of the God of love is often the one where God doesn’t punish or discipline. God doesn’t fit into our boxes.
- In your life, what boxes have you put God into? How do these boxes deal with punishment, discipline, and/or love?
- Why might a God of discipline also be a God of love? How do we often confuse these?
- What do we lose when we remove discipline form the nature and/or character of God? Is that important?
Lord, there are things in life and in the Scriptures we just don’t understand. Grant us your grace to see you in and through it all. Amen.