Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
This is a quote from a much longer section of the passage in Romans 11 dealing with a much explored metaphor about grafting in and cutting off branches between ‘wild’ and ‘cultivated’ olive trees.
The word I am interested in today is the word ‘sternness’ or as the AV puts it ‘severity’. A word that perhaps many people don’t like as a concept but also, a word that seemingly brings joy to the hearts of some preachers and writers in my community. I have heard and read some fairly eloquent, enthusiastic discourses almost revelling in the time when God will be ‘severe’ to all those people that ‘got it wrong’.
That aside, lets look at the Greek word for ‘severity’. ‘Apotomia’ can also be translated as ‘roughness’, ‘rigour’, or maybe, tellingly ‘decisiveness’.
Just as an experiment, lets see how the meaning of the passage might be affected if we used the word ‘decisiveness’ (determining or having the power to determine an outcome) in place of ‘severity’.
Consider therefore the kindness and decisiveness of God: accurate treatment towards those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
Is it possible that in this passage, the writer to the Romans is not talking about ‘fire and brimstone’ punishment, as has been so delightfully embraced previously, but that the writer is reflecting on the ‘attention to detail’ that God expresses in his treatment of all people?
With the slightly different translation of ‘apotomia’, a different facet of the character of God is revealed. A God who carefully considers and weighs up each individual, a God that ‘compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving sin and rebellion, a God who relents from sending calamity, yet does not leave the guilty unpunished.
To me this speaks of a God that is meticulous in not only patiently waiting for people to turn to him but is also right in what he does, exhaustive in his generous, undeserving forgiveness and thorough in discerning the people that search for Him and His heart.
Verses 11&12 state:
Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!
Is the passage taking about a God who is tolerantly waiting for people to turn back to him so he can lavish his grace and forgiveness on undeserving sinners just like me?
Or, maybe it really is just speaking of a God who can’t wait to smash up all the evil people that got it wrong all this time?
Your thoughts please
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p.s. sorry about the hiatus in posts, I’ve been creating elsewhere (mostly for The Bethel’s Fellowship Weekend 2010) and not had time to put any thoughts down for a while.