Just God

Just God

by Erin Bird

Today we conclude our God’s Bio series from Exodus 34:6-7. We’ve spent 7 weeks (with a 6-week “generosity-inspired” break) looking at the “bio” God provides about Himself to Moses. We’ve heard Him mention His name, His patience, His love, His grace, His faithfulness, and more. We’ve seen SO much about His character.

But there is one last vital part of God’s character He includes that can’t be ignored. It is a very important part of His character. But I will be honest – part of it will be a bit uncomfortable. To understand why I say this, let’s look at these two verses one last time:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.(Exodus 34:6-7 ESV)

That’s Justice?

Before we can get to the uncomfortable part, let’s look at the first portion: “who will by no means clear the guilty.” This is God unveiling the righteous and “just” portion of His character.

As we’ve seen repeatedly through His “bio,” God is very, very loving and merciful. But He doesn’t want us to make the mistake of believing we can get away with anything. Truth and justice matter deeply to Him.

“But Erin, if He is so ‘just,’ then why does He punish the children ‘to the third and fourth generation’ for the sins of the parents? They haven’t done anything wrong!”

Yeah… I get it… that’s the uncomfortable part.

Or is it?

Just God

First, let’s recognize that God is a just God – and that is a good thing! Trust me, you don’t want a God who lets everything go. Imagine your loved one was murdered in cold-calculated blood, or a trusted individual sexually abused your child. You would want justice! So God being a just God is a very good thing.

However, it doesn’t feel “just” to hear that God carries the “iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children.”

To wrestle with this awkwardness, let’s put things back into perspective.

First, the punishment is for those who are guilty. Remember the first phrase – He doesn’t “clear the guilty.” So this “generational punishment” begins with the guilty.

Along with this, remember that over and over throughout His “bio,” God has been sharing about His immense patience, amazing grace, steadfast love, and forgiving heart. So God does not delight in punishing the guilty. That means He is only meting out justice upon the unrepentant.

Likewise, the disciplinary action only travels through the family generationally when the children hold to the same unrepentant attitude of the parent. Ezekiel 18 makes it clear that God holds the sin of a person only against that person – not the parent of the sinner nor the child of the sinner. Verses 19-20 sum up Ezekiel 18 like this:

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:19-20 ESV)

So God is not unjustly making the grandkids suffer for the sins of Grandpa Joe, regardless of their hearts and actions. As the NET Bible Study Note puts it: “As in the ten commandments of Exodus 20:5-6, this expression shows that the iniquity and its punishment will continue in the family if left unchecked.”

Still Gracious

Lastly, I want to point out that this “uncomfortable” portion of Exodus 34:6-7 actually shows God’s mercy, grace, and love just as much as the “happier” portions which came prior in the “bio.” What God wants you to see is that even when meting out “justice,” He only “visits the iniquity” to the third or fourth generation, yet when it comes to meting out grace, He visits that upon thousands of generations!

And how can God be so gracious? Because of what He has done for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus! Our sin has been paid, Jesus absorbed the “iniquity of the fathers” (and of us), receiving the blow that we and our generations should have suffered, so that we might see and experience the overwhelming grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of our patient Heavenly Father.

So may you see that God is a Just God, perfectly righteous, not letting sin go unpunished. But may you also see that through His perfect mercy, He took our sin for us so that we might be part of the thousands of generations that enjoy and bask in His goodness and grace.

A Forgiving God

A Forgiving God

by Erin Bird

As I type this on the morning of Tuesday, Nov 9, it is a beautiful sunny day outside. But I suspect when you are reading this, the weather outside is a bit different! (It’s a good thing they hold the high school playoff football games at the UNI Dome. (Good Luck, Go-Hawks, in the semifinals!))

Veterans Day

Before we jump into this week’s Notes,  I want to point out today is Veterans Day (if you are reading this on Thursday, Nov 11). I know we don’t get very political or super patriotic at Riverwood, but I would like to encourage you to stop and say a prayer on this day. First, thank God for allowing you to live in a nation where you have the freedom to worship God through Christ without the government storming in to mute our microphones and arrest our leaders. Then, thank God for the veterans who have served in our Armed Forces to protect this freedom. And finally, pray our veterans would find their identity in Christ, experiencing a peace that surpasses understanding because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

And if you are a veteran – thank you for your service!!!

He is a Forgiving God

Today, we continue our God’s Bio series from Exodus 34:6-7. Here’s that passage to refresh your memory:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV)

You may have noticed the phrase “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” in bold above. That is this week’s topic.

I don’t know about you, but I found it interesting that this phrase lists iniquity AND transgression AND sin. I have so often seen all three words simply as synonyms for the same thing.

On one hand, they are all the same: they are all sin. But just as the word “mankind” captures both males and females, “sin” captures all the different types of wrongdoing and wrongness.

But on the other hand, these three words bring variety to what we just typically call “sin.” So let’s take a moment to look at each word and understand why God gives such nuance by listing all three.

1. Iniquity

The language tools in the NET Bible study environment identify the Hebrew word for “iniquity” as also meaning, “perversity, depravity… and guilt.”

Two chapters prior to God giving His “bio” to Moses here in Exodus 34, we read how the Israelites sinned against God by erecting a calf made of gold and worshiping it as the god who brought them out of Egypt. This was a “perversity.” To take credit away from the One True God for the miracles performed to bring the people of Israel out of slavery and give that credit to a hunk of metal that looked like a baby cow… THAT’S twisted! Such an act might be called depraved, or (to use the word from Exodus 34:7) we might say it was an “iniquity.”

When you and I take the good things God has given us and use them in ways that do not honor Him, we are guilty of “iniquity.” Whether it is accidentally drinking one too many, or allowing your eyes to lustfully linger too long on someone who is not your spouse, or reveling in violence, or using your words to inflict emotional harm in a moment of anger, we have done something perverse… we have committed an “iniquity.”

2. Transgression

The next thing God says He forgives is “transgression.” I see this as a step beyond iniquity. Whereas iniquity is twisting the good things God has given us for our own enjoyment or benefit (whether unconsciously or consciously), transgression is outright rebelling against God.

When you intentionally lie about where you were last night, or when you deliberately go looking for pornography to watch, or when you purposefully use your money in ways that you know does not honor God, these aren’t just “accidental” sins – these are rebellious “transgressions.”

3. Sin

A Forgiving GodAnd finally, to cover all the bases, the third word given is the general word “sin.” I think God included this word to capture the idea that we don’t just sin unintentionally (as could be the case with iniquity) or willfully (as is the case with transgression), but rather to point out that sin is our default state.

Much of Romans 3 shares the uncomfortable truth that all humans have sinned. It is what we are born with, or rather, born into. We can’t escape our sin. Even when we try to clean up our act and eliminate our deliberate transgressions or accidental iniquities, we are still sinners. As Isaiah 64:6 so bluntly states, even our best efforts are like “polluted garments” (or “filthy rags” or “menstrual rags” depending on your Bible translation). In other words, you cannot clean up your own messy sin because sin is your default spiritual state from birth.

The First Word

While all of that is quite a bit of a downer, don’t forget the word that preceded those three words: “forgiving.”

According to the IVP Bible Background Commentary, it was somewhat common in ancient literature for a list to be given of a deity’s attributes. However, the list given by God Himself in Exodus 34 is quite different from those other lists of false gods. While the lists of false deities focused on power, God focused upon His grace and mercy in His bio.

And we see it so vividly in this single word: “forgiving!”

But that’s where a “twist” comes in. For inside this word which reveals God’s grace and mercy also lies power. For you may not have the power to cleanse yourself of your iniquities, transgressions, and sins – but God does! He is like a huge ocean wave completely washing away the footprints of sin in your life, giving you a clean new start with Him.

And the best news? He performed this powerful act of forgiveness permanently through the work of Jesus on the cross and through the empty tomb!

So let this downer-of-a phrase which describes our sins with three words encourage you by reminding you that God is so loving, so merciful, and so powerful, He is capable of forgiving you of ALL your wrongdoings and wrongness.

Abounding Faithfulness

Abounding Faithfulness

by Erin Bird

This post continues our God’s Bio series from Exodus 34:6-7 which says,

The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

This week, we pick up the second half of the phrase we looked at last week, and that is the concept of God’s faithfulness.

The New Oxford American Dictionary on my MacBook defines faithful as “remaining loyal and steadfast.” We use this word when talking about sexual fidelity or perhaps when describing someone’s adherence to a sports team or political party.

But God is far more faithful than the most committed husband, Republican, or Green Bay Packers fan you know. Why do I say that? Because in the very next phrase, God conveys the expanse of his faithfulness by saying He shows “steadfast love for thousands.” And the “thousands” mentioned doesn’t mean throngs of people, it means “thousands of generations.”

Think about that! If a generation is roughly 20-30 years, God is loyal and steadfast for generation after generation for 20,000-30,000 years! This is a poetical way of saying God is so loyal you can’t count it. His faithfulness is so vast, so committed, so loyal, it remains far after a hundred generations have passed away.

Abounding Faithfulness
He is more faithful than the sun, which rises each day. He is more sure than the mountains that sit in their place year after year. And He is more consistent than the ocean’s tide. God is and always will be faithful to you, for His image is in you, and He will not abandon creation.

We see this most vividly through Jesus. His willing sacrifice through the cross and His miraculous resurrection from the tomb reverberates through all of time. It was not a one-off event simply for the history books. It was a one-time event that changed history, revealing God’s passionate love for us. And just as He had been promising this surprising sacrifice from the aftershocks of Adam & Eve’s sin, the ramifications of that event two thousand years ago continue to impact humanity today.

Hopefully, this concept of God’s abounding faithfulness is comforting and reassuring to you. When life seems chaotic, overwhelming, and out of control, God is with you, faithfully working. So may you find rest today and this weekend, knowing God has faithfully displayed His heart for you through Jesus. And may something as simple as tomorrow’s sunrise remind you of his abounding faithfulness.

Loving Steadfastly

Loving Steadfastly

by Erin Bird

Thanks for reading this week’s blog. If you read our generosity campaign posts as well, I hope you gained something from the How to Be Rich series from 1 Timothy 6:17-19. As I taught this past Sunday, even though our generosity campaign is done, may our generosity never end. May we continually overflow with generosity, opening our FISTs (Finances, Influence, Skills, & Time) toward those around us because of what Jesus has done for us.

Now I’d like to return to the series we were doing before we entered our generosity campaign. Before the generosity campaign, we were doing a series from Exodus 34:6-7 entitled God’s Bio. (If you want to catch up on previous installments, head over to the blog and navigate back to August 19.) To help us get back to the series, let’s do a quick recap by re-reading our key passage:

The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV)

We are ready for the final phrase in verse 6 – “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” We will tackle “faithfulness” next week, so let’s consider God’s abundant, steadfast love.

The Problem of Pain & Suffering

This past week, I ran into an acquaintance who has been going through a battle with cancer. I naturally asked how his health and energy have been. Somehow, that introductory question led into a half-hour theological discussion.

The gentleman I was talking with would probably be considered a deist. A deist believes there most likely is a God, but once He created everything, He stepped out of the way and left humans to be responsible for themselves and creation. But this man’s health battle has been causing him to consider multiple spiritual possibilities. Because he knows I am a pastor, he asked me the age-old question: “If God is good, why does He allow suffering?”

I won’t try to recap our entire thirty-minute conversation (besides, Tim Keller does a far better job handling this topic than I), but I did share this thought with my friend: While I may not fully understand why God allows what He allows (cancer, abuse, kidnappings, wars, etc.), if we are going to place the blame for the bad in life on Him, then we also have to give Him credit for the good.

In my opinion, the fact God allows the sun to rise each day, supplies air for our lungs, gives us friends and family, provides food for our stomachs, and ultimately sent Jesus to die in our place on the cross shows us an immense good that overwhelms the deeply horrific evil that exists in our world today. I know it is very difficult to see all of this in the face of deep struggle and pain, but whether we feel it or not, the truth of His steadfast love remains.

The Problem of Me

But to only focus on God’s allowance of evil ignores the evil done by us. While you may not have murdered anyone or embezzled any money, you’ve most likely lied, cut corners, gossiped, unfairly judged another person, had impure thoughts, given your primary affections to anything other than God, or said cruel things to another person. As Romans 3:23 makes clear, all of us have sinned.

Yet, despite our sin against Him and other humans, God still loves us. He may not approve of our actions or thoughts, but He is still passionately in love with us. This means His love isn’t earned; He freely gives it. Romans 5:6-10 teaches us that God loved us while we were weak, sinful enemies of His.

Love that Conquers All

Loving Steadfastly

This is why, when He is giving us His “bio” in Exodus 34:6-7, God describes Himself as “abounding in steadfast love.” Through all the evil and difficulties we face in life, as well as through the sins committed by us, His love doesn’t diminish or fail. I can’t tell you why He allowed you to not get the job or allowed your loved one to pass away. Nor can I tell you why He didn’t stop you from that stupid sin you committed. But I can tell you He loves you deeply, passionately, and consistently.

After all, the cross shows us God is not unacquainted with our pain, nor does He ignore our sins. And the resurrection of Jesus shows us that suffering is not the end, therefore we can have hope. (God teaches elsewhere in Scripture that our suffering can still be used for our good – see Romans 5:3-5 and 8:28-30.)

To help us see just how steadfast His love is, God tells us in verse 7 that He “keeps steadfast love for thousands” of generations. Think about that: God’s love extends to generation after generation after generation. THAT’S steadfast! (We’ll look at this idea more in three weeks.)

So no matter…

  • what you might be going through right now,
  • what sins you might have committed last week or last year or last decade,
  • or what evil may have been done to you…

…may you find solace in the reality of God’s steadfast love for you.

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