In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:8
Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4
I learned something the hard way when I took a 400 level class in college. I was in the beginning of my junior year, and was blithely unaware of the more rigorous demands of 400-level courses. When I received my returned assigned term paper, the grade was barely passing. The professor had provided many red-pencil markings, one of which said, “You didn’t even have any primary sources.” Oh, I thought, I didn’t realize I needed to provide something more than a paragraph or two from an encyclopedia article. In other words, I needed to go to the source. I needed to quote Kierkegaard himself, not an encyclopedia article about him. Lesson learned.
I wonder about that in light of these verses about God’s compassion and kindness. As I consider these verses personally, I must confess that too-easily I can take a somewhat superficial approach to God’s compassion and kindness. This becomes a matter of cheap grace. It’s in the I know I’ve done wrong, and I’m sorry; but I’m not sure I need to go much further than that category of superficial faith. That’s faith that doesn’t really get to the core of my heart.
The trouble is two-fold. First of all, we have domesticated God. God is in his heaven, we think, a kind and grandfatherly sort who smiles in doting amusement at our wayward ways. Certainly that is not the God which the Bible reveals. Nor would this passage from Isaiah lead us to think of him that way if we take seriously the first part of that verse. God’s wrath boils in a toxic cauldron of death and condemnation. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. I don’t often think of God that way.
I’ve been on the brink of the chasm of God’s judgement and deeply aware of my sin. I’ve looked down into that fissure. The thought of facing that crevasse apart from God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness is beyond terrifying. But it is precisely there that the kindness and compassion of God becomes evermore sweet and blessed. That is the second part of a deeper repentance and truer faith. The kindness and compassion of God shown in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, takes deep root in the fertile soil of sincere humility and contrition.
The primary source of true repentance and faith is Jesus. We look to him on the cross and see the wrath and grace of God combined. We see him confronting the religious elitists, calling them whitewashed tombs, while eating with sinners and forgiving prostitutes. There is grace and truth combined. If Jesus Christ is not the primary source of our repentance, we have a dangerously-shallow faith. It will not long sustain us.
Jesus is precious not only to those like me who need to go deeper with their repentance. He is precious also to those whose faith is not as deep as they wish it was. The faintest and most tenuous faith that looks to Jesus will find him a true friend and gracious Savior. The dismissive and going-through-the-motions religious man or woman will find Jesus a challenging truth-teller, which they need more than they know.