Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
By no means, but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he hath declared, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 4, Question 10
The tone of this question and answer is quite different from the previous one. There we made bold to ask whether God was not doing us an injustice by demanding of us the impossible. God’s law confronts us day and night with the demand: Love Me, for I am God! Love me whether awake or asleep, when you eat your meals, when you work, when you speak or act. Let the deepest impulses of your soul and all your thoughts be directed in love to Me, so that your life is permeated with that love. We find in ourselves the very opposite. I hate God. I hate my neighbor. I am so completely prone to hate, that I transgress every command of God, and am not able to keep one of them. Yet He demands love.
That was our problem in the previous question and answer. We now are conscious of our willful disobedience whereby we, in Adam, ate of the forbidden tree. We realize that this was nothing short of rebellion against our God, We transgressed His covenant, allying ourselves with God’s enemy, Satan. According to the strict justice of God we deserve that God’s image in us be perverted into “Blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment.” We are become “wicked, obdurate in heart and will, and impure in (our) affections.” (Canons III, IV, art. 1). Willful disobedience and rebellion characterize our entire lives.
“Will God allow such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?” We are standing before the tribunal of the Judge of heaven and earth, Who by the Scriptures and by the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts brings us to trial in our own consciences every moment, every day. Every attempt at self-defense has disappeared. As guilty sinners we bow our heads before the condemning verdict of our God: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
In humble submission we confess that God “is terribly displeased with our original as well as our actual sins.” We say with David, “Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:4, 5). The original guilt, and therefore the original depravity of Adam, is passed on in the geneiations to each of us. To that we add our personal, daily transgressions, which we commit before the very face of God. Therefore God has just reason to be displeased, even terribly displeased with us. God’s displeasure is not a momentary flare-up of temper, that soon fades away. Even as God is eternal, His displeasure is eternal. Because sin is transgression of God’s holy, law, God is filled with consuming wrath against the sinner. Because sin dishonors God’s holy Name, God arises in defense of His Name. We are told in the second commandment, “For I, Jehovah thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” God does not merely hate sin; He hates the sinner. God does not cast sin into hell. He casts the sinner into everlasting torment for his sin. The workers of iniquity must perish. Therefore our Catechism speaks of God’s just judgment both temporally and eternally.
The Gospel Of God’s Judgment
This just judgment of God is poured out upon the wicked already in this present time.
God writes VANITY over the lives of evil men. They never succeed. Their lives are like a treadmill, wearying them to total exhaustion, yet getting them nowhere. They try to dethrone God, but they never succeed. They build their tower of Babel, but God always disrupts their efforts. Man accrues a fortune for himself, but leaves it all behind when he dies. He may have a Brink’s truck with all his treasures following his hearse to the cemetery, but he knows nothing about it. Man makes a name for himself, but this is often forgotten before, he dies. The wise preacher of the Scriptures warns us: “It is all vanity, and vexation of spirit.” The wicked have no peace, saith my God.
This is strongly confirmed in Romans 1—”For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” We are told here that these ungodly men “hold the truth.” They know that God is the only true and living God, for God manifests Himself unto them in all the works of His hands. God surrounds them with His power as the ever-glorious God. It is exactly for that reason that man’s rebellious heart suppresses the truth “in unrighteousness.” Even the pagan in the jungles who never heard of the ten commandments knows that God must be served, that stealing is stealing, that murder is murder, that adultery is adultery. Let someone steal his goods, or rape his wife, or kill his child; the pagan knows that this is sin against God, and condemns him for it, even though he condones the same sins in himself. Paul tells us that man’s conscience accuses him. God never leaves himself without witness that He is God, so that no man has any excuse in the day of judgment.
Under the righteous judgment of God sin breeds sin.Romans 1 goes on to describe the rapid degeneration of the sinner who forsakes God. Because he banishes God from his thoughts, God gives the sinner over to the vain and foolish worship of idols. Idolatry leads to immorality, as is evident from the idol worship in heathen countries where male and female gods are worshipped, and immorality is a part of the worship. That same corruption develops rapidly in high society, as well as in the slums. Every form of evil lifts its vile head, producing sin upon sin in the individual, in the nation, and in the whole human race, until the measure of iniquity is full. Remans 1 ends with the blood-chilling note concerning evil men: “Who-knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” Sin is a cruel tyrant who binds in shackles, only to destroy. This same truth is taught us in James 1:14, 15, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Sin leads us like a dumb ox to the slaughter. Still worse, like an adulterous woman, the sinner becomes pregnant with sin, even repeatedly, producing a large family of vile children: Evil desires, evil words, evil deeds. This goes on from bad to worse, to ever bolder sins, until the conscience is seared as with a branding iron, and hell swallows up another victim. It is indeed terrible to fall into the hands of the living God!
Under the judgment of God even the prosperity of the wicked leads to their destruction. Asaph in Psalm 73 had been jealous of the wicked as they wallowed in their abundance, especially when he compared this to his own afflictions. He brought his problem to the Lord, and learned, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places (like a steep bobsled run); thou castest them down into destruction.” James in his epistle pronounces God’s wrath upon the boastful rich by saying, “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.” (James 5:5). How evident this is today in an affluent world. Does abundance cause the nations to recognize God as the Giver of these gifts? Does it fill their hearts with thankfulness? On the contrary, we live in a pleasure-mad, sports-mad, money-mad age, in which young and old indulge in gamblings, lotteries, drinking, gluttony, immorality of the worst sort, and every form of corruption. There are more unhappy marriages, more broken homes, more abortions, more woeful miseries than ever before. The measure of iniquity is rapidly filling up upon the earth!
In all this God does not leave Himself without witness. He speaks louder than ever as His judgments increase. Countless tornadoes reap their destruction upon the earth; numerous earthquakes cause the souls of men to tremble, be it but for the moment. The air, the streams, the lakes, and the oceans are becoming putrid with pollution. The prophecies of the book of Revelation are being fulfilled before our eyes. Yet no one cares. Formerly these visitations were still referred to as “acts of God,” but now they are referred to as freaks of nature or scientifically explainable disorders. There was a time when a national prayer day would show some semblance of fear, but even that semblance is disappearing. We are reminded of Pharaoh, who was continually warned of impending disaster, but whose heart was calloused by the blows of judgment that fell upon the land. Or we think of Ahab, who was not ready for God’s wrath to be poured out upon him as long as he walked in sackcloth in a pretence of mourning. But, when he defiantly went to battle in spite of Micaiah’s warning, he was ready to be sent to hell. God causes the cup of iniquity to be filled by every individual, by every nation, and by the whole world; then comes the end. The Judge of heaven and earth stands at the door. (James 5:9).
From this temporal judgment of God upon the wicked follows the eternal torment of hell. Hell is not annihilation, but isolation. Hell is being forsaken of God. The wicked are cast away with a wrathful, “Depart from Me, thou worker of iniquity.” Weeping, gnashing of teeth, everlasting fire express symbolically the anguish of God’s just vengeance, that causes the souls to writhe in remorse forever. Anyone who knows God’s justice must confess: “Our God is a consuming fire.”
“The gospel,” you ask? Does the justice of God whereby He punishes sin both temporally and eternally belong to the glad tidings of salvation? It certainly does. Once more we stand before the tribunal of God. Our conscience condemns us that we have and do transgress all God’s commandments—that we keep none of them; that we are not able to keep any of them. We hang our heads in shame, realizing that we are worthy of God’s just judgment as we stand burdened with the guilt of our sin. The voice of Jesus calls to us, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Fleeing to the cross and clinging to the feet of the Savior, we hear the verdict: No condemnation! No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, since He bore the full burden of God’s wrath for the sins of all His people. With the Psalmist we confess ever anew: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
Never need the child of God fear that he is being punished for his sin. No matter how great our sin may be or how many our transgressions, or how repeated our wanderings, Christ bore the burden of our guilt and set us free. The rod falling upon us is held by the gracious hand of our heavenly Father, Who is afflicted with us in all our afflictions, and uses His wise chastisements for our sanctification. “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12 speaks volumes to us.
With us in our afflictions. Punished for us so we may be chastened in love! What a Savior!