God proposes to set right and to keep right all that has gone wrong in the universe. This requires first that He win us back to trust and a willingness to listen. Once that has happened, he can heal the damage done. Forgiveness alone would not repair all the damage that has been caused by this breakdown of trust and trustworthiness. It also would not secure the universe and keep it safe for all eternity. Heaven will not be peopled with pardoned criminals, but rather with trusting and trustworthy saints who have new hearts and right spirits (Psa 51:10; Ezek 36:26-27).
Granting all that, what if we are not willing to listen to God’s generous offer? What about those who have been so influenced by Satan’s lies that they have turned away to other gods, or to no gods at all? Or, much more seriously, what about those who seek to worship the true God, but worship Him as arbitrary, vengeful, and severe? And then how about all the people who live between those two extremes? How can God reach all of them?
It is no wonder that in the biblical record we see God in many and various ways (Heb 1:1) trying to reach us where we are in this emergency. He speaks a language that we can understand, leading us no faster than we are able to follow (John 16:12). He runs grave risks of being misunderstood as He has sought to gain our attention and hold it long enough to tell us the truth about Himself. When we have been hard of hearing, God has raised His voice, as on Sinai (Exod 19:16-21). When we were irreverent, He shook the ground beneath our feet (Exo 19:18) or even sent she-bears (1 Kgs 2:24), as in the days of Elisha. He also brought fire from heaven down on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 18:38-39).
So many of the stories in the Bible illustrate God’s willingness to be misunderstood, just to lead us to that reverence that is the beginning of wisdom. When Israel was tempted to take sin lightly, the One who sees the sparrow fall (based on Matt 6:26) instituted that whole system of sacrifices that required the death of thousands of His creatures. When we were tempted to accept Satan’s lie that sin does not lead to death (Gen 3:4), God sent His Son to die that death and so demonstrate the truth.
The whole Bible is full of these emergency measures. In fact, I find it difficult to decide which texts to use as illustrations of the lengths to which God is willing to go. Fortunately, we have included some already in previous chapters. In fact, one could say that the whole Bible is an emergency measure. Since there are so many of these emergency measures, I thought it might be best to consider two of the most important ones, ones that are often seriously misunderstood.