Terrible God

I’m sure your rss reader has been flooded the last few days with posts on Easter; I know mine has. And yet I feel guilty posting on all the other things we’ve been writing about and seemingly going on as if we had no regard for the most important Christian holiday of the year. I’ve wanted to say something, but I haven’t had anything particularly arresting to say.

No longer. In church this morning the Easter sermon was on the unlikely text of Revelation 5:9-10

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

   from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

   and they shall reign on the earth.”

Patrick, our pastor, preached today what I believe was a terrific sermon, but I was lost around point 3 as I was struck by the terrible nature of the God we serve.

By terrible, I don’t mean evil, but frightening, incomprehensible, awe inspiring. Here is a God who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The 24 elders and four living creatures say to the lamb, the Son of God, “worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God.” Why did Jesus offer himself up on the cross? Because God the Father told him too. Because God wanted *men* (people), and the blood of the righteous Son of God was the price for them that was set by our sin.

The death of Jesus Christ was not nothing: it was the dearest price to be paid. Nor can you say that he was offered up in fair exchange, for the Son of God is worth infinitely more than the sum of all of us put together. If you tried to say that people are valuable, and therefore Jesus died to redeem us, you would be stating the case exactly backwards. People have value because they are created in the image of God, but not a value equal to the Son of God. Which of *us* would be thought wise to give up Jesus in exchange for men? No, but we have greater value in Jesus Christ because our worth was raised simply by the price that was paid for us.

Yet God did give up his Son for men. Does that make God foolish? No, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” God wasn’t making a fair exchange; he was following through with what he had prepared from long ago, no matter what the cost. *This* God is *terrifying*. This is the tyrant king who always gets what he wants, whose plans always come to pass, and who does not care who has to be crushed in the process (“he was wounded… he was crushed”). In The Godfather, there is a famous scene where a movie producer who has rebuffed the mob boss wakes up to find the severed head of his prize horse in his bed. The message is clear: there is nothing that the don will not do in order to get what he wants. Terrified, the producer capitulates. This is exactly the image I get when I hear “that God, his son not sparing, sent him to die.”

This is craziness! Not even tyrants sacrifice their sons to gain trophies. And what are we but trophies? He could have destroyed the world and made it over again, rather than sacrifice his Son, and who would have blamed him? Yet God chose to sacrifice *him* and save *us* for no greater reason that I can discern but to mark a point about his character: What God has set from the foundation of the world, *that also will he do.* He *will* have *men* “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

What God wants, God the Father gets. The scripture says in Ephesians 1 that “before the foundation of the world,” we were chosen “that we should be holy and blameless before him.” To this end, Philippians 2 says that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Because God wanted men, Jesus willingly offered himself up. And God did not hesitate to accept the trade, so determined was he to achieve his ends.

In terms of redemption, the task is complete; there is nothing left to add. He *has made* us a kingdom and priests to our God, and we *shall reign* on the earth. Yet there is work in us yet to be done. We are not yet sanctified as we ought to be, and who can say exactly what stands in the way? But if God did not spare his own son, will he relent at any other obstacle?

Therefore in awe and terror, I capitulate and bow before the God who will stop at nothing to do what he has said he will do, whom “no one can hold back his hand, or say to him: “What have you done?”

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