God describes himself as patient, kind, gracious, and merciful nine times in the Old Testament. He also describes himself as one who, “relents from doing harm.” How many times have you and I imagined God as this cosmic stepfather who is just waiting for us to screw up so he can smite us down? Fundamental conservatives love to draw attention to the wrath of God, particularly in these “last days” that they love to talk about among themselves. From my experience, it seems like it excites them to think that their God is going to wipe out all the people who dare to think for themselves and believe differently than they do. Those who vote Democrat. Those who vote Republican. Those who are Catholic. Those who are Protestant. Those who believe in universal grace. Those who believe in limited atonement. If we choose to believe in this wrathful, vengeful God, none of us have a chance, do we?
Laura and I attended an Easter service at a friend’s church a few years ago. They had a “Praise Band,” but no one smiled or even looked happy to be up there, to be honest. The pastor was a young man who had recently graduated from the same conservative seminary I attended years ago. The focus of the Easter message was simple: “You are all screw ups, and Jesus had to die because of you.” Now it makes sense why the praise team looked as if they had all been baptized in vinegar and just lost their puppy. That kind of arrogant and condemning preaching is why so many have left the church and refuse to go back. The “Good News” has somehow morphed into the “Not-So-Good News.” God’s wrath is coming, and if you want to miss being on the receiving end, you’d better believe what we tell you and act like we show you. What pains me the most is that once upon a time, I was that young preacher, fresh from seminary, believing I knew everything. Thank God for his grace!
The word translated “relent” in verse 13 is literally, “repent.” God “repents” from doing harm. He chooses not to swat us like fruit flies on an empty banana peel of sin and shame. Why won’t he harm us? Because he adores us, chooses not to destroy us, and for no other reason. He is an unconditionally loving parent!