Is it a shock to learn that God also uses terror to accomplish his goals?
The human heart knows something: “If I can frighten you, I gain an advantage. Perhaps I’ll knock you off-stride long enough to take what I want from you.” Century after weary century, humans have been coming up with ideas to terrorize each other. Each of us has some sad experience with threat, fear, and extortion.
Enemies of democracy know something: violence gets attention. Car bombings! 9/11! Even we who have become used to bullets and bombs dropped from a mile above are aghast at a beheading. The intention is to demoralize, to intimidate, to make the heart sick.
Christ’s church knows something: the great enemy of the people of God, an angel who despises authority, is a killer. His weapon? He lies. His proper name, Satan, means the “Accuser.” He accuses us Christians day and night before God’s throne. Certainly terror is a well-worn volume on Satan’s shelf, a familiar tool in Satan’s bag.
Where is God during all this terror? His goals are well-known: “. . . not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Is it a shock to learn that God also uses terror to accomplish his goals? Listen:
Now repentance consists properly of these two parts: one is contrition, that is, terror smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin . . . and the other is faith, which is born of the gospel, and for Christ’s sake forgives our sin, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance. (Augsburg Confession, article 12)
God strikes my conscience with the self-awareness that sin has infected and contaminated me. Sin consigns its host to the devil. Surely to publish such a message seems a strange work for the God who loves me. And it is! It is an alien work, yet a work that needs to be done before the Holy Spirit can do his proper work. That proper work is to win me to faith with the good news of Jesus—forgiveness free and forgiveness full.
Here’s where the famous Lutheran distinction between God’s law and God’s gospel helps us. God’s law message, called “the knowledge of sin,” is meant for the person proud in his sin. God’s gospel, however, in which the spotlight shines on Jesus, is for the person alarmed by his sin. The Commandments (“Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not lie,” “Remember the Sabbath,” and the others) actually serve God’s saving purpose. They
- shake man’s certainties,
- demolish his self-defense, and
- leave him all alone before the Holy One.
“The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you” (Isaiah 28:19,20). God’s approach is “that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19).
God desires a change of mind in his sinful human creatures. God and Satan are at war—for glory and for citizens of their kingdoms.
God’s commandments are intended to bring terror. To weaken an enemy’s will is not necessarily a bad thing. For the boy or girl, man or woman who feels his sin and desires consolation, now comes a delightful surprise. God’s other message, the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, brings just the opposite: forgiveness, comfort, and deliverance from terror.
Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE