The God of the Bible kills people. He sends people to hell. The Bible is replete with example after example. God flooded the earth in Genesis 6, killing millions. God killed hundreds or thousands when He rained fire on Sodom (Genesis 19). God killed Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, for making an impure offering before Him. And in Revelation 21, it says that God sends the cowardly and faithless to the "lake that burns with fire and sulphur." There are many, many more examples, but these will do.
This God is "harsh." He seems temperamental, capricious, and ready to snap -allowing certain things to go unpunished while killing someone for something as small as touching the Ark of the Covenant when it almost fell to the ground. Whoa. So unlike the Santa Clause-type god we like to imagine. "Harsh," seems like an appropriate word, but isn't calling God "harsh" a veiled way of saying He is overbearing, overly-sensitive, and ultimately unjust?
But is He unjust, or is it just that we don't understand Him? Is He really unjust, or is it that we are unwilling to see things differently?
God is not unjust. Turn it around for one minute and think to yourself that everything He does, even in killing people, is right. He has the right to do it, and He is right to do it -even when we don't get it. If you look at it this way, what does it mean? It means that God is holy, in a way unapproachable, and that He has the right to do with us as He pleases. We have personal rights when it comes to each other, because He endowed us with personal dignity as His image-bearers, but in comparison to Him we are like ants and His rights transcend all. He has the right to do with His creation as He sees fit. He has the right to take the life that He gave. And He has the right to act when His creatures act against and defy His character.
Yes, that is scary, but it is scary in a different way than saying He is tempermental or harsh like an abusive parent. It is scary because it means that you and I are powerless before Him. We have zero claim on Him, and He has all the claim on us. We have no ultimate say. We are clay in the Potter's hands. Our delusions of our goodness and our control and our "rights" fade quickly. We are creatures and God is God.
In a world where we are always demanding our rights be heard and complain and even get angry with God when our plans never don't out, this is worthy of pause and reflection.
And then it comes...
"I could never believe in and love a God like that," some of us protest, if we are honest with ourselves. My response to that is, "I know. That is my point." We don't like the idea of God having that much right over us. "What abour our rights?!" We are perpetually stuck on ourselves, even when it comes to God. It would be too much for us to humble ourselves, bend the knee, and admit with full agreement and no reluctance that God is holy and just and has the right to take the life He gave, to execute judgment on anything that defies His character and desires, and otherwise do whatever He pleases whenever He pleases.
God is God and God is holy, and this pride of ours -this demand to be treated as God's equal, to have our rights be equal with God's, and to be consulted when it comes to the affairs of our life- is our problem, not His. When we turn it around and see that God is God and we are not, that God is right to do whatever He pleases, our mirage of grandeur vanishes. But then something happens. We see an altogether different side of God, a side that is not just "righteous and just," not just transcendent, but something more.
That is what Isaiah experienced when he had his vision of God in Isaiah 6. I read from some commentaries that Isaiah was smart, intelligent, fairly confident, and capable. He was like the opposite of the timid Jeremiah. But when Isaiah saw YHWH God seated on His throne, all of that went away. He fell on his face and cried out, "Woe is me... I am a man of unclean lips!" How did God respond? Did He gloat and send bolts of lightning to terrorize Isaiah? No. He sent an angel with a hot coal to touch it to Isaiah's lips. He then pronounced, "You are clean."
It is God's holiness that makes His grace so profound. The God who sits exalted, from whom the earth and sky flee, who has the right to take the life He gave us when He sees fit, who has the right to execute perfect justice on the self-ruling heart of all of His human creatures, and who would still be perfectly righteous in doing so, is the same God who chose to come down from above, to humble Himself, to enter our creation as one of us, to walk among us, to be tempted as we are tempted, to know what it is like to be us, to fulfill all the obedience for us that we do not and could not fulfill, and then to die for our sins and rise from the grave in victory over the enemy of sin and death. It is the same God who took all of our sin and all the obstacles between Him and us on Himself so that we could return to Him and be His. It is the same God who calls the spiritually lost and "thirsty" to come to Him, who ate and drank at the table with sinners and tax collectors, and who built His Church on earth from broken, sin-sick people who know they need a Savior.
When we look at the cross of Christ, we can see both sides. We can see a God who hates sin so much and takes sin so seriously that He had His own perfect Son suffer horribly for it. But we can also see a God who is so full of love and grace that He took that sin on Himself for us, to bring us back completely by His grace. Sure, some people claim that they believe in Jesus and then live as if He doesn't even exist. But if you really see the whole picture of God, you can't do it. The only response is to be amazed and love Him. Even as I write this, I am amazed a bit.