Several weeks ago, I began posting portions of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Theology course titled, “That Times of Refreshing May Come: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.” This is the tenth and final installment of a multi-post series. The previous parts can be found at the following: parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine.
The regular and repeated call for a wayward people to repent and return to God demonstrates several reflections about God and humans. When one considers the depth of mankind’s rebellion against their creator, it is a wonder that God would have been as patient with them as he is. The fact that God even makes an offer of forgiveness demonstrates his compassion and gracious character. God’s faithfulness to his covenant people and to all who are made in his image is evident in a repeated offer to welcome those who return to him. The call to repent reveals a God who is love:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exod 34:6–7a).
However, God is not going to allow rebellion against him forever. As can be seen with the kingdom of Judah being conquered and sent into exile and in the closing chapters of the New Testament, God
will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exod 34:7b).
It is important to note that there are several termini to God’s long-suffering in the biblical storyline. Although God’s “love endures forever” (Psalm 136), it is apparent that he does not endure wickedness and rebellion forever.
The balance of these attributes – his love, patience, and mercy along with his wrath, justice and judgment – are seen in several biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments. Passages like Exodus 34 (above) reveal this in the Old Testament, along with Numbers 14 and Deuteronomy 5. Likewise, the familiar verse of God’s love – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) – in the same context demonstrates his wrath for those who refuse to turn to him: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
The call for people to return to God shows several things about humanity. Mankind is created in God’s image. Yet mankind is set against their maker. The biblical story reveals a humanity that has charted a course of rebellion, wickedness, and forsaking of a gracious God. The fact that God will not endure rejection of him forever should cause everyone to recognize where they stand with the Almighty creator. God offers forgiveness for those who return. All people are now commanded, as Paul proclaimed in his message at Mars Hill in Athens, to repent and return to the one, true God:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30–31).
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