The picture of God in our culture today is distorted in many ways. One is that God is a “cosmic kill-joy”, a God who makes up rules that take all the fun out of life, a God who wants dreary, somber people to follow him. If this is your picture of the God of the Bible you couldn’t be more wrong.
The biblical God is one who calls his people to joy, who seeks their ultimate fulfillment and happiness, which can only be found in him, and who wants to spare people the serious consequences of their sinful folly. In the following brief examination, I want to show who the God is that speaks to us in scripture, why God gives his commands, what following them results in for his people, and how grace ties this all together.
First, let’s look at Deuteronomy 4:39-40:
…know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
In v.39 it is clear that the Lord not only is God, but he is the only God. He is the Creator who established the Earth and everying in existence to the end of the universe. Being God, he is infinitely wise, and knows what is good to do and what is not. He knows so much better than we what will bring us lasting happiness, so in his loving wisdom he gives us commands in scripture.
Notice here that God doesn’t want to hem people in, or make life boring with his commands, it’s actually quite the opposite. He says that his commands are for the welfare and protection of his people. Imagine if you are a parent and have an infant child. Are you just being a spoilsport if you don’t let her eat candy 24/7? Are you being uptight when you teach her not to touch the stove because it is hot and will burn her? Absolutely not! Now take this example to the infinite degree. You may be much wiser than your young child, but imagine how much wiser the God who spoke everything into being is than you are.
Sin has consequences. Some are evident in this life, and some may not be known until the next, but it is absolutely certain that sin has only destruction in mind. It creates anger and enmity and breaks up families; it produces greed and envy that bankrupts people and nations; it causes disease, despair and death. Sin is not your friend. It wants you dead.
God in contrast expresses his deep longing for the welfare of his people in Deuteronomy 5:29:
Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever
Do you hear the longing, the desire of God in these words? His longing is not to spoil people’s fun, but “that it might go well with them” etc. This is always the point when God speaks. He doesn’t promise a life without suffering, rather he uses suffering to purify us. However, he longs that we be spared the shame and the guilt and the other consequences of our own sin.
If you are reading this, you have broken many (if not all) of God’s commands. So what are you to do? At this point, it is absolutely crucial to understand how God deals with disobedience to his word. We get a great look at this again in Deuteronomy (if you avoid the Pentateuch in your bible reading you should rethink that). Let’s look at how God introduces his “10 Commandments”. Before any commands, he says in 5:6,
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
This is really important to understand. The “law” is always undergirded by the grace of God. Before God speaks his law, he reminds his people of his past work of redemption on their behalf. In the Old Testament context, he speaks to them of his bringing them out of Egypt with mighty signs and wonders, freeing them from their bondage and slavery. Notice that God did not appear to them in Egypt and say, “Here are my commands. Do them, and we’ll see about getting you out of these chains”. No, any step of obedience toward God must be based on the ground of his grace previously experiences.
It is the same on this side of the cross. If you are a believer in Christ and you try to obey God in order to get his favor, you have it backwards. We don’t obey God’s commands so he will love us and take care of us, etc. We can obey God because he has already interceded to bring us up out of slavery to ourselves and to sin. In Christ’s death, he paid the full penalty for sin, and provided a perfect righteous to all who believe in him as their substitute. Obedience has always been based on God’s grace and always will. Once again, the reason God gives us commands is for our own welfare. God gave for us the most precious thing in existence – his Son, so he won’t hold out on us if there is any other good he can possibly bring us.
As small, short-sighted human beings, we usually don’t see how this works. However, if we have living, real faith in Christ as our saviour, we must be compelled to obey, not because of threat, but because of the grace that has been poured out on us, the new heart that we have been given which can only be happen when walking in step with the Spirit, and the love and gratitude we have for our Saviour.
No, God is not a “cosmic kill-joy” out to spoil everybody’s fun. He is the divine, infinite, wise, caring, Creator, who by his grace wants us to find the ultimate joy – the never-ending spring of joy that is only found in him.