Paul directs this passage toward Gentiles as part of an admonition he wanted them to consider regarding their calling into the church. We, too, must seriously consider God's goodness and severity. God is not only what we commonly think of as love. His character is perfectly balanced by a sense of justice for all concerned and for His purpose too. To be just is to be fair, evenhanded, and impartial. God will always be fair because even His justice is executed in love and is an act of love.
God is not only supreme in power and authority, but He is also supreme in judgment. His mind pierces through all of the justifications we make to excuse our bad attitudes and conduct as measured against His righteous standard. So, if we desire to live by faith, we must seriously consider His sense of justice because what we may think is a small matter, an event of no great magnitude, may trigger God to react with terrible swiftness and severe consequences that leave us wondering why. Scripture records a number of these sudden, violent reactions.
We must begin by understanding that we do not see the entire picture as God does. The reality of God's justice helps us to perceive three important factors to living by faith: 1) The wages of sin is indeed death (Romans 6:23); 2) we are headed toward death and do not know its time; and 3) God means exactly what He says.
Jesus declares an important principle in Luke 12:48: "But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." We need to think about the seriousness of our calling, knowing that human nature contains a strong strain of self-deception. This verse should remind us that because we have been given so much, our judgment will be sterner.
God states in Romans 1:18-20 that mankind is without excuse regarding His existence, but it is easily seen in the immoral conduct committed throughout the world that people are paying little or no attention to their responsibilities to God. As people go about their daily activities, they ignore Him; a relationship with Him is not perceived as a vital, everyday necessity to life.
Some may talk of Him on occasion and even pray, but they are not seriously committed to true devotion to Him. They are neither learning more of His truth nor further broadening and deepening obedience to Him. Besides those folks, some are openly and aggressively antagonistic toward Him and His laws.
However, in the face of these attitudes, we cannot allow ourselves to disregard the fact that God is very serious about His intentions to fulfill His purposes for His creation and most especially in the lives of His children. His purpose has been revealed to us, and we are more responsible than others.
Though by our reckoning of time God's justice often seems long delayed, the prophecies will be fulfilled and His Kingdom established under Jesus Christ. God commands that we must live by faith, so we cannot let down. We must push on in faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice
Paul admonishes us to consider both God's goodness and severity. Both of these characteristics are part of what He is, and therefore we must respect both.
We can make the contrast between them very sharp: Until Adam and Eve sinned, they received all goodness from God. After their sin, it appears that His severity hit them immediately; they were ushered out of the Garden.
In Genesis 4, Cain sinned by killing Abel. At first, Cain received goodness from God in that he was permitted to live, but he also received severity in that he had to live as a marked vagabond.
In these two early examples, both sides of God's judgment appear, and a pattern has become especially clear: Severity results because of sin.
Whether we are immediately aware of it is not the issue. For instance, when Adam and Eve sinned, their decline into death began immediately, regardless of whether they were physically aware of any deterioration of their health. Cain immediately became a vagabond separated from his family roots. The only real difference between the carrying out of the death penalty between Adam and Eve and Nadab and Abihu is the effect God desired to create by His immediate, shocking display of severity.
We who draw near to God must know that the God we serve is to be served as a holy God—especially because He is a holy God. He permitted no opportunity for them to repent because they should have known better. The wages of sin is always death.
In the days of Noah, the goodness of God spared only eight souls, but His severity terrifyingly destroyed the remainder of humanity. In a matter of a few days, perhaps billions of people, even innocent unborn and newborn babies, died because of sin.
Following King Saul's paranoia-driven reign, God showed His goodness to Israel by raising up David, a man after His own heart, to rule over Israel. Yet, then David committed a disastrous double sin by entering into adultery with Bathsheba and deliberately bringing about the death of the loyal Uriah. God mercifully forgave the sins, but that does not mean there was no painful punishment laid on David and his family. God's severity against David and his family was hard and long. First, the son born of that illicit union died shortly after his birth. Later, David's firstborn son, Amnon, raped his own half-sister, Tamar. Tamar's brother, Absalom, seeking revenge, killed Amnon and fled from David, not seeing him for two years.
Then Absalom revolted against David in his desire to take over the throne. Absalom arrogantly proceeded to defile David's concubines in the sight of all Israel. Several thousand were killed in this revolt, and eventually, Absalom himself was killed by Joab. The family's pain did not stop even then, washing over into Solomon's reign when he put Adonijah to death because he sought political power by asking for Abishag's hand in marriage.
David was a man of blood, as God Himself mentions, but his children carried a moral cancer until death stopped them. Have we ever noticed how much deceit and illicit sex was involved in David's family's sins? God was not present in that family's life as He had once been. He could have stepped in at any time and stopped the holocaust ripping through David's family, but He did not. Living as they did, despite being the progeny of a man God greatly loved, they felt the severity of His judgments.
Deeply consider how long God's severity lasted! He did not simply let David off the hook. He had been chosen to draw near to God. Much was required of him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice
He minces no words in informing us that patient kindness and sternness are both aspects of God's character. Despite how we might feel at any given time during a trial, He has showered us with abundant kindness. This understanding, however, must be balanced with the knowledge that His demeanor toward us can be reversed if we waste so great an opportunity as the grace He so abundantly pours out on us. We, too—though His elect—can be objects of His sternness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Three)
Sometimes these concepts are tough mental nuts for us to crack and swallow because we emotionally recoil at thinking of God as doing the things Paul mentions. Nevertheless, the Bible's record is true. Clearly, the sovereign God, in working out His plan, purposely makes people for destruction, while at the same time giving abundant grace in His calling to others who are just as worthy of destruction as those destroyed! Were Pharaoh and the Egyptians any worse sinners than the Israelites? Hardly, but in God's purpose they died while the Israelites received grace.
As Paul says, there is no unrighteousness in God. He is free to exercise His powers as He wills. His actions are always done in love, and in the end, they will produce righteousness, love, and honor for Him. The Egyptians will be saved. When God gives them grace in the Great White Throne Judgment, they will come to know Him and glorify Him as their God too.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)
Is God fair in the way He allocates His goodness and His severity? Indeed, human nature, unable to grasp God's purposes, challenges the morality—if you will, the "political correctness"—of God's actions!
Our civilization's pundits—whether abolitionist, humanist, rightist, elitist, feminist, moralist, or whatever—would summon God before the bench to answer their questions. Their indictment of God would fill volumes. Dangerous business, that, for Paul carefully warns us that we dare not "find fault" with God (Romans 9:19). To accuse Him of being unfair or capricious in His dealings with mankind is to forget that He is not bound by the sensitivities of our times, not fettered by the Western world's humanistic self-absorption with human rights, equality, democracy.
God will not limit His field of options—in effect placing Himself in a straitjacket—to avoid offending a humanity that lacks His Spirit and is therefore wholly incapable of sharing His perspective. He is reproducing Himself! He will not constrain His activities in bringing that sublime purpose about by the "isms" of these times, or for that matter, of any historical milieu.
Servant of God, Act II: God's Gift of Faith
In his letter to the Christians residing at Rome, the apostle Paul is characteristically astute in his statement of dichotomies. To him, God's penchant to follow destruction quickly with restoration is summed up in the merism, “the goodness and severity of God.” He sees these traits, in essence polar opposites, as definitive of God's character, the operational definition of His interface with mankind. Not that God is bipolar, exhibiting radical mood swings. Rather, God is love, intrinsically so, unchangeably so, but He responds rigorously to sin because He understands how hurtful it is.
Furthermore, implicit in the merism, to Paul's way of thinking, is a stern warning not to abuse God's mercy, lest we incur His severity. The context is the mercy that God has shown some Gentiles by calling them into His church, and at the same time, His rejection of His (physical) people Israel—at least for a while:
If God didn't think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches [that is, physical Israel of old], why would He hesitate over you? He wouldn't give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don't presume on this gentleness. (Romans 11:21-22, The Message)
Here is the same dichotomy—punishment and restoration, stated in a New Testament context. Two translations of this same passage, quoted below, make it clear that God's severity and His goodness combine to make up two sides of a single personality. J.B. Phillips' paraphrase puts it this way:
You must try to appreciate both the kindness and the strict justice of God. Those who fell experienced His justice, while you are experiencing His kindness, and will continue to do so as long as you do not abuse that kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. . . .
The Voice is quite clear. Notice the translator's turn, “simultaneous balance”:
Witness the simultaneous balance of the kindness and severity of our God. Severity is directed at the fallen branches withering without faith. Yet kindness is directed at you. So live in the kindness of God or else prepare to be cut off yourselves.
It is fair to say that this merism—the opposites expressed in God's goodness and His severity—articulate a central, informing theme of God's Word—from its beginning to its end. We see these opposites in narrative after narrative in the Old Testament. Here are just four examples:
1. The goodness of God toward Noah and his family, His protection of them through the cataclysm that destroyed the world that then was (compare Genesis 8:1 and II Peter 3:5-6).
2. The goodness of God as He delivered “righteous Lot” from the cities of the plain, which He promptly burned to ashes (see II Peter 2:6-7).
3. The severity He displayed to Job in order to teach him an important lesson, and the goodness He showed as He ultimately “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).
4. The severity He exhibited toward Joseph, a bit of a cocky 17-year-old lad, who basked in his father's favor. He found himself a slave in Egypt. Psalm 105:18 (Common English Bible) tells us that his “feet hurt in his shackles; his neck was in an iron collar. . . .” Relatively soon, however, Joseph became Pharaoh's vizier.
The Goodness and Severity of God (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Romans 11:22: