When I first started dating my wife Diann nearly 50 years ago we were on our best behavior with each other. Over the next few months, like many couples having newly fallen in love, we viewed each other through starry eyes, which distorted our perception, causing us to see little that annoyed us in each other.
Then we got to know each other better! We discovered aspects and facets of each other that were less than perfect. Then too, we not only had to deal with each other’s imperfection but the imperfection in our self that each of us pointed out to the other.
In any relationship experiencing the stern side of each other isn’t as much fun as experiencing the kind side. However it’s absolutely essential if there’s to be a developing, maturing, and deepening relationship. Of course, a relationship of all sternness is not healthy nor will it survive, it needs much kindness, but neither is a relationship healthy and maturing if it is all kindness but has no sternness.
Just as we need both kindness and sternness in healthy human relationships, so too we need both in a relationship with God. I’ve seen people who have focused on either the kindness of God or the sternness of God at pretty much the exclusion of the other. It makes for an unhealthy, twisted, and distant relationship with God.
Some, for instance, have been deeply wounded by a church or a religious authority figure (which may be a parent, relative, friend). The sternness of God is all they can think of or can picture. It’s all about sin and judgment. They feel they can do no right when it comes to God. There’s no joy.
Others focus only on the kindness of God. They may admit they’re not perfect (the socially acceptable thing to do), but they also don’t think they’ve done anything seriously wrong that would upset God. There’s little or no confronting the fact that God is not always pleased with them. They’re like the archer who shoots an arrow at a blank target, draws a bull’s eye around the arrow, then considers himself an accomplished archer.
A relationship with God needs to be balanced, like any healthy human relationship, with both a kind and stern facet to it. Those that have experienced primarily the sternness of God need to be actively and intentionally open to the fact that God is also kind! Those who have made God into their own comfortable image where He rarely, if ever, confronts them with their own sin need to be intentionally open to the fact that God is also stern!
In reality, most of us swing from one extreme to the other, maybe even several times a day. Sometimes we need to compensate by being more receptive to the kindness of God and sometimes by being more receptive to the sternness of God. A relationship with God, like that with another human being, is not static but always dynamic. This is good and as it should be. We just need to be open to that fact, to the two sides of a healthy relationship with God.
“Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.” Romans 11:22
Have a great week!