September 30, 2001

RAGING AGAINST GOD

A man’s own folly ruins his life,

yet his heart rages against the Lord. Proverbs 19:3

A man rapes and beats a woman. The police arrest him; the victim testifies against him; the jury convicts him; the judge sentences him to prison; and the criminal is furious. Every day in his cell, he curses those who put him there.

A few years later, a parole board lets the prisoner out early. And what does he do with his second chance? Does he use his new freedom to become a new person? No, he promptly goes out and rapes another woman. Once again he is arrested and convicted, and this time the judge sentences him to life without parole in an even harsher prison than before.

How does the rapist react this time? Is he sorry now? No, he rages even more furiously against those who imprisoned him. How dare those cops arrest him? How dare that woman testify against him? If she feels dirty and devastated, so what? How dare the jury convict him? How dare the judge sentence him? It’s not fair! The rapist wonders why should he have to spend years and years in a miserable prison, when the rape took only a few minutes? How can it be fair for a brief action to get such a long punishment?

We might shake our heads in disgust at a man like that, but how often don’t we have a similar attitude? Oh, our particular sin may not be rape, but all too often we do bad things and then get angry when we have to take the consequences. When our sins catch up with us and we become miserable, we tend to blame almost anybody but ourselves. And we don’t stop with blaming other people. No, we even blame God. As the Bible says, “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).

Do you ever do that? You go around doing things your own way, hardly thinking of God at all. But the moment disaster strikes, God is on your mind. How could God do this to you? How could he be so cruel? Like the unrepentant rapist, you’d rather blame the Judge than blame yourself. Your own folly ruins your life, yet your heart rages against the Lord.

Born Blamers

From the moment we’re born, we all have a tendency to shift blame. We’re born blamers. If a little girl touches a hot pan after being warned not to touch it, she may screech in pain and then say, “Naughty pan!” If a little boy defies his parents and does something bad and gets punished for it, he may howl, “You mean mommy!” or “You bad dad!” It’s all the parents’ fault! After the child calms down, he may realize that he caused his own problems and say he’s sorry; and his parents will forgive him and hug him and comfort him. But the fact remains that from an early age, we try to shift blame; we resent those who are above us; and we tell ourselves that we don’t really deserve punishment. We’d be just fine if pots and pans weren’t so naughty and if parents and other authority figures weren’t so mean and unfair!

Our tendency to shift blame goes back even further than our own childhood. We’re born blamers going all the way back to our first parents.

God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and put them in a lovely garden. They could eat fruit from any tree in the garden, said God, except one. If they ate of that forbidden tree, they would surely die. So what did Adam and Eve do? Instead of enjoying the wonderful variety of fruit that God so generously gave them, they ate from the one tree God had forbidden. Instead of believing and obeying God, they followed Satan’s suggestion that, by eating, they could make gods of themselves. They, and not God, would decide what was good for them.

The moment they ate the fruit, though, they knew something was wrong. They found out that it wasn’t good for them, that God had been right after all. Their happiness vanished. Now their first instinct was to cover up and hide. They couldn’t be open with each other or with God. When God asked Adam what happened, did Adam take responsibility? No, Adam blamed his wife for giving him the fruit, and he blamed God for giving him his wife in the first place. It wasn’t really Adam’s fault; it was God’s fault! “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

Ever since that time, people have been born blamers. Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, was told by God that Cain’s behavior and attitude were unacceptable, but did Cain change? No, he got angry at God and at his brother Abel (whom God did accept). God told Cain to change and warned him that sin was crouching at his door, ready to grab him. But Cain ignored the warning, and one day he murdered his godly brother.

God asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” but did Cain break down in God’s presence and confess? No, he sneered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God told Cain, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse… You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

At that point, did Cain at last give in and admit his evil? No, he just complained about the punishment and whined that it was more than he could bear. Poor Cain! He had just killed his brother in cold blood, and yet he thought it was too harsh a punishment to live on the run with the danger that someone might kill him! This murderer didn’t feel sorry for his sin; he felt sorry for himself. He thought he should be able to disobey God and destroy his brother, and if God didn’t let him go on with life as usual, then God was too cruel. “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

You can go through life without any thought of what your Creator might expect of you, without any concern to find out what he wants, without any desire to do what he says, without a word of thanks for all he gives you. Then, when something happens that makes your life unpleasant, you blame God. You’ve never tried to make God happy, but you expect God to make you happy. Then, when you find that actions have consequences, it makes you furious.

Is Our Folly God’s Fault?

I sometimes hear from people who never read the Bible, who never go to church, who never listen to a sermon, who never aim to obey God, but who blame God the moment they have troubles. If you’ve done that, have you ever thought that your troubles might have something to do with the fact that you don’t listen to God?

Some people make no effort to set aside one day in seven to rest and worship God, as the Bible commands. They don’t take time each day to pray, read the Bible, and get in tune with God. And yet, when they feel stressed out, empty, and unhappy, they wonder why, and they may blame God for not making them healthier and happier. Is their folly God’s fault? Did God tell them to run themselves ragged and never to refresh their souls? “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

Some people figure it’s fine to have sex before marriage or to live together without being married, in spite of what God says in the Bible. Then, when they’re mistreated or abandoned by their live-in lover, they ask, “How could God do this to me?” Is their folly God’s fault? Did God make them move in with someone who rejects the sacredness of marriage? “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

I remember hearing a leading homosexual activist complain that the government wasn’t advancing gay rights fast enough. This man was originally part of a group of 13 men who banded together in the cause of homosexual activism. Now he’s the only one left. His twelve colleagues have all died. Were they murdered by gay bashers? Were they executed by government opponents of gay rights? No, all twelve died of AIDS, which they got from fellow homosexuals. Does this man show anger at the behavior that led to such devastation and death? No, he aims his anger at those who say he should repent of his deadly lifestyle. He hates what the Bible says against homosexual behavior. “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

I hear from prisoners who complain about the conditions in their prison, but who says very little about the crime that put them there. Some are angry at God because they’re in prison. But is their folly God’s faulty? Is God the one who committed the crimes? “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.”

Who Deserves Hell?

Do you ever rage against God without asking whether you caused your own problems? Maybe so. Then again, maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Well, maybe some people do that, but I don’t. I can’t say I have any major problem right now, and I have no reason to rage against God.” But let me take all of this to the ultimate level and ask you: What would you think of God if he told you that if you go through life without Jesus Christ, you will end up in hell? Would you rage at God then?

You might say, “Oh, I don’t rage at God about hell. Why should I? I believe in God, but I’m not sure there’s any such thing as hell. And if there is, I’m sure God would never send me there. If there’s a hell, I’m sure it’s only for really bad people, and I’m basically a pretty good person. So why don’t you just change the subject? Either say something positive or else be quiet! It’s awful to upset people with talk of hell.”

Well, if that’s how you think, then you are raging at God, even if you think you’re not. If you rage at the statement that you will go to hell without Christ, then you aren’t just raging at me or at some fire-and-brimstone preacher. You are raging at Jesus. You are raging at God. Jesus preached that without him, people go to hell. Who deserves hell? Every sinner who remains apart from Christ. Jesus says so, and all of God’s Word, the Bible, confirms that fact.

If it infuriates you to hear the Bible’s teaching about hell, that’s the ultimate proof that “a man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” If it upsets you even to hear about hell, how will you feel if you end up in hell? Then you will indeed rage at God.

But you can’t say you haven’t been told. God tells you that your sins offend him terribly, but you don’t want to believe him. God provides a way of salvation in Jesus, but you don’t want to accept him. God warns of hell for all unrepentant sinners, but you plug your ears to such warnings or else get angry at God for saying such things.   My friend, if that’s what you’re doing, stop it! Don’t be like a criminal who blames a just judge for punishing crime. Don’t rage against God. It’s your own folly that ruins your life and lands you in hell.

So stop the folly. Stop putting your own opinions above the Word of God. If God says that all sin is an abomination to him, then don’t try to tell yourself that your sins are no big deal. If God says you deserve hell, then don’t try to tell yourself that you deserve to be happy and live forever. If God commands you to repent and urges you to seek his mercy in Christ, then don’t try to pretend you’re okay the way you are.

You see, God doesn’t tell you about hell because he’s cruel. He tells you about it because he’s kind. He wants you to have advance warning, and he wants you to know that he has provided a way out, at an awful cost to himself–the death of his Son. You need to stop blaming God and start taking responsibility for your sin and folly. That’s the first step to escaping ruin, both for this life and the life to come. Once you stop blaming God, you can start trusting him; and instead of ruining your own life, you can receive new life through Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). But God’s Word also says that the hands of the Lord were pierced for our sins. He suffered to save the lost. The cross of Jesus and his nail-pierced hands–this is the only hope for sinners in the hands of an angry God. We’ve been focusing on a statement in the Bible that says, “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” That happens in day to day life when we bring trouble on ourselves and then blame God for it, and it happens at the ultimate level when we try to blame hell on God’s cruelty rather than on our own sin.

Is God cruel? Is hell unfair? Well, think of it this way. Should unrepentant rapists go free and harm society? No! Then why, in the age to come, should unrepentant sinners go free and harm God’s new creation? God designed us to exist into eternity, so if we’re not fit for eternity in heaven, there’s just one other option. Just as prison is the only place for unrepentant rapists, so hell is the only place for unrepentant sinners.

Resenting Without Repenting

If you think of hell at all, maybe you picture it as a place where people are terribly sorry for their sins but it’s too late for them to escape the consequences. But is that true? Do people in hell repent of their sins, or do they merely resent their punishment. Hell is not a place where people forever wish they could be with God but aren’t allowed; it’s a place where people forever resent God and therefore have no place in his heaven.

In Revelation 16 the Bible offers a terrifying picture of the way sinful people will behave in the last days leading up to the final judgment. In this vision, God’s angels pour out terrible plagues on those who have rebelled against God and rejected Jesus Christ. But does their punishment move them to repentance? No, it just makes them rage against God all the more.

In the vision of Revelation 16, “The sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him… Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done” (Revelation 16:8-11).

In this vision, the worse their situation gets, the more the people hate God. They refuse to admit they are wrong. They don’t even think of asking for mercy. As the plagues become even more intense, God’s enemies gather for battle. And what happens? According to Revelation, “Out of the temple came a loud voice saying, ‘It is done!’ Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake… The cities of the nations collapsed… Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the hail, because the plague was so terrible” (Revelation 16:17-21).

Revelation shows that as sinners fight harder and harder against God’s judgments, the judgments get worse and worse. But do people blame themselves for rebelling against God and bringing these plagues on themselves? No, they blame the just Judge who sends the plagues. Do they consider admitting their evil or begging forgiveness? No, they get angrier and angrier at God.

That’s a vision of the judgments leading up to the last judgment and hell. That’s the supreme instance of how “a man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.” I pray that none of you listening to me will ever become so hard-hearted that nothing remains for you but God’s unending, ever-increasing wrath.

Repent and Live!

If you’re going through terrible times right now and you have not surrendered to God, confessed your sins, or accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then I pray that you will repent and believe before it is too late. Now is the time of God’s favor. God is calling you to come back to him right now. If you suffer painful consequences of your sin, if you tremble with terror at the Lord’s warnings about hell, don’t blame God and rage against him. Stop your folly. Repent. Trust in Jesus. Pray for mercy.

The Bible speaks of times when the Israelite people endured devastating judgments because of their sin, and they complained, “‘The way of the Lord is not just.'” How did God reply? He said, “Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? …Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:29-31).

Some Israelites listened to God. Their country was ruined and they were in exile, but instead of blaming God, they blamed their own sin. One of them put it this way: “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say, ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven'” (Lamentations 3:39-42). And once they admitted their sin, God did forgive them and restore them.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, he was hanging between two vicious criminals. One of the criminals insulted at Jesus and snarled, “Aren’t you supposed to be the Messiah? Then why don’t you save yourself and us?” The criminal was dying for his own folly, but he was raging against the Lord.

The other criminal rebuked him and said, “Don’t you fear God? We’re just getting what we deserve, while this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into our kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (See Luke 23:39-43.)

All of us, ultimately, will follow the path of one of those two criminals. Which path will it be for you? Will you admit you deserve punishment, ask Jesus to save you, and go to heaven? Or would you rather snarl at Jesus and go to hell, cursing and raging against him every step of the way?

The first step to salvation is admitting you deserve punishment. Prison chaplains deal with many inmates over the years. They see phony jailhouse religion, but they also see genuine conversions. How can they tell the difference? Well, if the prisoner avoids talking about his own crimes and speaks only of how poorly he’s being treated in prison, it’s a sign that he’s not really right with God. But when he takes the blame for what he’s done and feels truly sorry for it and turns his life over to Jesus, he’s well on his way to a new future.

That’s not just true of criminals; it’s true of us all. If you feel sorry for yourself but don’t feel sorry for your sins, then you’re still on the road to hell. But if, by God’s grace, you shoulder the blame for your own sinful character and conduct, and if you ask Jesus for a new heart and a place in his kingdom, he promises you forgiveness and eternal life in paradise.

You may still have to struggle with painful after-effects of your sin, even after you turn to the Lord, but you can be sure that better days are coming. With the biblical prophet Micah you can say,

Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness… Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:8-9,18-19).

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.