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About this series
The Real God
How He Longs for You to See Him
There is a deep sense of unease in our rapidly changing world. Popular culture says that love means self-satisfaction and that status and appearance are what count. Social media reinforces that It’s all about me. This ultimately self-destructive perspective has thoroughly infiltrated the Church as confusion replaces conviction. At the root of our problems lies a distorted view of God. We’ve created a god in our minds that comforts our emotions but is powerless to deliver us from evil or transform our lives – because our creation is actually an idol based on who we think God is, not who He says He is. The way back to truth and hope starts with knowing God as He declares Himself to be. The Real God is an in-depth study of seven attributes of God – His goodness, sovereignty, holiness, wisdom, justice, love, and faithfulness. You’ll see and understand Him in a whole new light. It will revolutionize the way you think about God, others, and yourself. Are you ready for a new adventure? Join Chip on this journey to discover the real God.More from this series
If this message were in a little wrapper, and it was the justice of God, there would be a little sticker in the corner and the little sticker would be in that bright yellow and it would say, “Warning! This message may be hazardous to your health.”
We have talked about many of the attributes of God, but the one that we will talk about on this time together requires us to think at a level of clarity that is uncommon for most of us and it requires us to have a sense of sobriety, of seriousness. A sense of what is at stake if we are going to really hear from God.
And so, I would encourage you that even as we get started that you pray and say, Lord, I am a human being, and like all human beings, I have practiced and become very good at denial. I have learned how to fool myself, I have learned how to fool other people, I have learned to play all kinds of games, but I need You to take the spiritual wax out of my ears, to take any callouses that are on my heart, I need You to help me hear, clearly, and to see accurately. Okay?
There are two questions that I find disturb believers and unbelievers alike. I can go to a mall, I can go to a park, I can go to a church, I can talk with Christian leaders, I can talk to absolute pagans and I can tell you there are two questions that they struggle with, we struggle with, and everyone struggles with.
Question number one is: Why do bad things happen to good people? Six days after the tsunami hit, I was at a beach where a hundred and sixty people were out for a daily walk on Sunday morning and they heard an interesting sound, had no idea what it was, and a huge wave comes in, sweeps them off the beach, takes them out, and they are gone.
I walked around the corner and I saw a big shipping area, not like those little fishing boats but big fishing boats that were the livelihood of this village of a few hundred thousand people. And I saw huge ships just tilted like this.
How does a good God let tsunamis hit and kill tens of thousands of people? How does a good God let a 9/11 terrorist attack occur where innocent people, some guy kissed his wife and said, “Honey, I’ll see you later, I’ve got a business trip,” and gets on a plane from Pittsburgh and it ends up decimated in the ground.
Or some gal puts on her makeup and goes up to about the sixty-second floor and she’s just there early doing her work and all of a sudden, she hears all kinds of sirens go off and a plane has hit the building. And she scurries downstairs that are crowded and packed with screaming people and her family really doesn’t know whether she made it out or not. All they know is there are no remains and they ask, “Why?”
A thirty-nine year-old guy, a friend of mine that I know, great health, good shape, took care of himself, three kids, massive heart attack. Why?
One of the hardest things my son faced, he had a young man that grew up in our church who was unbelievably musically talented. Literally, I have never seen anyone where, he just played around and pretty soon he could play the piano. He didn’t take any lessons and he watched someone else and he picked up a mandolin and then he played the guitar and then he saw someone else playing something else and he could just sit down and God gave him these amazing songs.
And he and my son would make this music in my garage and then travel all over the country and do their thing. And John was always skinny and we would really kid him and give him a hard time. He was thin as in all the jokes, “John turned sideways and he disappears.” And he always had a little bit of a stomach problem and no one thought much of it.
But I remember the day I got a call and they finally found out what was wrong and John was twenty-five years old and he had cancer. And nine months later I remember sitting around his bed and one of the worship leaders in our church was with a guitar singing and his mom and his dad and myself and my son.
And we sat around and we prayed as we watched the last parts of life ebb out of John. And I get in the car with my boy and he’s been raised in a Christian home, his dad is a pastor, it’s me.
And my son looks me in the eye and goes, “Dad, Dad, that guy has more musical ability in his little finger than I have in my whole body and he has already written songs that we are singing in our church and his passion was to do this for God. Dad, why?”
And you could tell me stories of the cancer that hit people that you love and the car wreck and the drunk driver. Everyone struggles with this question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
And there is a second question. In fact, I have more problems with this one. I do! My confession is: Why do good things happen to bad people? You look at the corporate excesses and you have people now, after years getting a little slap on the wrist, and executives who defrauded people of hundreds of millions of dollars going home with a little parachute of ten or twelve million dollars as they run out the back door and then they interview grandmothers who had their life savings in the company, who are absolutely broke, seventy-seven years old, have absolutely nothing, and they have zero and this guy that hoodwinked everybody walks out the back door with ten or twelve million dollars.
And I don’t know about you, I not only get angry, I’m thinking, Hey, God! Where is the justice here? All of us have been in a corporation or a job site or even in high school and you found someone that you knew they lied, they cheated on tests, they were anti-God, they were arrogant, they were the kind of the people that the word jerk was made for.
And it just seems like the blessing of God is on their life! It’s like they don’t have any struggles, they don’t have any problems, they get the pretty girlfriend, they get on the fast track, they have the nice home, they’ve got the nice car, and you’re going, Hello!
Why do good things happen to bad people? And these two questions, there is something underneath of them. See, underneath these two questions is a big issue. The real issue is life is not fair. Right? I mean, the problem with the, “Bad things happen to good people,” is that’s not fair! And the problem with, “Good things happen to bad people,” is that’s not fair. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to say, “Okay, life doesn’t seem very fair. Now, who created life?” God. And if God created life, then the real question is, is God fair? Is God just? Does He judge rightly?
People have a very, very, very difficult time – believers and unbelievers – but one of the things you have going for you is you have the best explanation to this problem, because you have what is called a biblical worldview. You don’t have some sort of wacky dualism of there is a good God and a bad God and they are in competition and there is the dark side of the Force and the white side of the Force and all this jazz of trying to figure out who is going to win.
Your biblical worldview definitely helps you understand. Because let me give you your biblical worldview. I want you to imagine, this is a timeline right here. Beginning right here is eternity past and there is an arrow and this arrow goes right to here for eternity future.
And what your worldview and what my worldview tells you is this, is that before time began, we have Genesis chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 2. We are right here. And God creates a perfect, fair, just environment where He loves His people that He has created. He gives them all the world, He says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” He has intimate communion with them, and it is a perfect paradise or environment.
And that is the first two chapters of human existence. Then there is a parenthesis. There is a parenthesis that started right here and in Genesis chapter 3 there is a coup, there is a rebellion, there is an entrance of sin into the world and with that comes a judgment. Sin is judged. Mankind is taken out of the garden. The Tree of Life is now guarded by cherubim so that this death or separation will not be permanent.
And what we have in the Bible and what we have in our experience, it’s called, “The fall,” you live in a fallen world. What we know is the world that we live in is not the world God intended. The world that we live in is a fallen world. We live in a world that has cancer. We live in a world that has a disease. We live in a world that does not reflect the goodness and the purity and the holiness of God!
But it was allowed by Him for reasons we talked about earlier. So in this parenthesis, the whole story of mankind’s history is Genesis chapter 3. You’re inside of a parentheses and you have the story of the Old and the New Testament and you get all the way in the entire rest of the Bible, all the way up to Revelation chapter 20, is God working with people in light of a fallen world, and His redemptive plan.
And at chapter 20, you have another judgment. And it’s called The Great White Throne Judgment, were God takes all the injustice and all the pain and all the bad things done to good people and all the good things done to bad people and He takes all the scales and He says a day will come when He will make everything right and He will judge all men of all time, according to their works.
And then the parentheses ends and we are in chapter 21, and there is a new heaven and there is a new earth and it’s a perfect environment and there is no pain and there are no tears and everything will be as it should be again.
But here is what you need to remember is that you live inside the parentheses. See, God is just, God is fair, but you live in a fallen world where His justice is not meted out in space-time history in a way that is corollary to what we think ought to be when it actually happens.
And so there are injustices. Life is not fair. If you haven’t figured that one out, life is not fair in a world where sin dominates. But it raises a very, very important question: How can we trust God in a world that is fallen?
How can you depend on a God where life doesn’t seem fair? How can we learn to think soberly and clearly about what it means inside the parentheses of Genesis 3 to Revelation 20? How do we live this life and worship God who is just in the midst of a fallen world? And that is what I want to talk about today.
Let’s begin by defining the justice of God. What do we mean when we say justice? The first preview I see in the Scriptures is with Abraham in Genesis 18, verse 25. You probably know the story.
Abraham is a man of God, he is called by God, God is going to make a great nation out of him. He and his nephew Lot have both grown in their livestock and so uh, Lot goes this direction and chooses this area because it looks good and Abraham continues where he was and God says, “Here’s all the promises I am going to fulfill,” and Lot ends up in Sodom and Gomorrah, right?
And it’s called Sodom and Gomorrah for a reason. And it is sinful and it is evil. And that iniquity rises up to God and so the Triune God determines that they are going to judge it. And He says, “Can I keep this from My servant, Abraham?” And as you know the story, what you find is that there is this very special meeting where God appears to Abraham and He lets him in on His plan.
And what you have in Genesis 18 verse 25 is He quickly does the math and remember the story? If there were fifty righteous, if there were forty-five righteous, if there were forty. And he literally negotiates with the God of heaven.
And the basis of his negotiation is verse 25. He says, “Far be it from You to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from You! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Now, remember, Abraham does not have the Old Testament written. He certainly doesn’t have the New Testament written. He has no written revelation. He has had experiences with God. God has spoken to him. But here is what he knows intrinsically about the character of God: He is fair! He is just!
And he is saying to Him, “Wait a second! I know You! I know what You are like. Okay, I know there is all this evil in this city but there is this pocket of people that I love. They are righteous! It would be unfair and unjust and wrong for You to kill the wicked with the righteous. And on the basis of Your just character, I am going to appeal to You.”
And then he goes through the negotiation until he gets it down to the number of people of Lot and his family and his life. But what I want you to hear is Abraham, even in a fallen world, appealed to God’s justice as the basis for dealing with the thing that was best on his heart.
Notice what it says in Psalm 97:2, it says, “Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” You could do a little study: Job 8:3, Job 40 verse 6, Psalm 11:7, Psalm 45:6, Isaiah 51:6, Isaiah 30:18, Zephaniah 3:5. I could go on and on and on. Here is what I want you to hear: Old and New Testament proclaim, proclaim, proclaim, proclaim: God is just, God is righteous, God is just, God is righteous, God is fair.
The foundation of His throne, the basis of how God deals with everything, God will never give anyone a raw deal. It’s what His justice is all about. Tozer writes, “Justice embodies the idea of moral equity, and iniquity is the exact opposite; it is the in-equity, the absence of equality from human thoughts and acts. Judgment is the application of equity to moral situations and may be favorable or unfavorable according to whether the one under examination has been equitable or inequitable in heart and conduct.”
Justice is not something God possesses. Justice is not an external standard that says, “This is right, this is wrong, this is fair.” It is in the very essence and the nature of His character. He is justice and all moral law, all commands are merely a reflection of the justice and the character of God.
There is something interesting that you need to know about justice and Packer, I think, describes it well. J.I. Packer in Knowing God writes, “It becomes clear that the Bible’s proclamation of God’s work as Judge is part of His witness to His character…It shows us also that the heart of justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution.” Will you circle that word in your notes?
“The heart of justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution.” You know what retribution is? You do this, therefore, you get this for doing it. Now, he goes on to explain, “The rendering to men what they have deserved; for this is the essence of a judge’s task.
To reward good with good, and evil with evil, is natural to God. So when the New Testament speaks of the final judgment, it always represents it in terms of retribution. God will judge all men, it says, according to their works.”
At the heart of this concept of justice is this: everyone gets what they really deserve. Everyone! Everyone gets what they really deserve. No one will ever get a raw deal. Now, inside this parenthesis, in a fallen world, everyone is not going to get what they really deserve inside the parenthesis at the time, in a one-to-one correlation with how events occur.
But even though we live in a fallen world where sin mars our concept and the timing of justice, God wants you to know that He is just, that He is fair, that as you trust Him, in the big picture of this all-knowing, sovereign, all-wise God, you will never, ever be treated unfairly. And that means that you can trust Him.
Now, how has God revealed His justice to us? In what ways has God revealed it in a fallen world so that we can trust Him? You always have to remember you’re in the parenthesis. You never get one-to-one justice, one hundred percent, unless it’s before the world begins or until there is a new heaven and a new earth. But inside the fallen world there are about three or four different ways that God has revealed to us that He is just so you can trust Him, even when it seems like, in our experience, it is very hard to do.
The first way He reveals His justice is through the natural order. Romans chapter 1 verses 18 to 20. Let me read it. It says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities,” that means His attributes, “His eternal power and His divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
He is saying that the creation and how God has made creation, His invisible attributes, not just His goodness and beauty in creation, not just His otherness and holiness and purity, but God’s justice, as you look at creation, you will see – what? There is some cause and effect relationship.
You will see that God is just, that we have intrinsically, in nature, revealed that people know, This is right, this is wrong. You can study anthropology and look at every tribe, any place in all the world, and they will have a list of rules. It is wrong to kill, it’s wrong to take another man’s wife, the rules will change, but people have this internal sense of ought that they get that, This is right and this is wrong.
The only way you have an internal sense of ought, of what is right and what’s wrong is that the world that you live in is communicating to you that there is a sense of accountability, there is a sense that when you do things wrong, we’re going to see in just a second, there is a conscience.
And even observing the world order, even in pop culture, what is the old saying? When I grew up, when you would diss someone or do something to hurt them, someone would come up and says, “Hey, you know what? Everything that goes around comes around.” What is that? That is justice, isn’t it?
You know what? You do that to him, this is going to happen to you. You do that over here, this is going to happen to you.
Or even multiple Eastern religions who are looking at the world and trying to figure out and they watch the cycles of the earth, the whole concept of karma, is – what? What is behind the sense of karma? Justice!
In other words, if you jack around with people and you hurt people and if you are cruel and you’re this, man, you’re going to come back as a grasshopper! You know? Right? And if you’re a really good person, you’re going to come back as a cow. I’m not sure you gain a whole lot on that thing to tell you the truth.
But you have people living their lives with a mindset that they have seen from the created order, based on – what? There is a sense of justice, there is a sense of, You will pay for what you do. It comes around; it goes around. Cause, cause, effect, effect. God has revealed His justice through the created order.
Second, God has revealed it through the human heart. Romans chapter 2, verses 15 and 16. “Since they show that the requirements of the Law,” this idea of a standard, this sense of ought, the sense that there is a moral right and a moral wrong, “since they showed that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as My gospel declares.”
God has put on the human heart, totally apart from Scripture, a sense of ought or should, of right or wrong, of a conscience that bears witness. Long before I became a Christian and long before the Spirit of God was living in my life, I clearly knew certain things were right and certain things were wrong and when I either thought or did the things that were wrong, what happened to my conscience? It condemned me and said, “Chip, that’s bad. That’s wrong.” That’s how it works.
Why? God placed that in me like He placed it in you. Even people without any revelation, people that don’t know about Christ, this is in the human heart. It’s one of the reasons we are without excuse.
Everybody knows, by what they see, that there is a day of judgment. And everyone knows, by what God has placed inside your heart, there is going to be a day of judgment.
The only point I’m trying to make is there is something in our hearts, there is something in our hearts, even apart from revelation that tells us that there is justice and if there is justice, what C.S. Lewis’ point will be in Mere Christianity, is there must be a Judge. You cannot have a sense of justice without a Judge.