Are Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

Are Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

Joshua 6:20-21

Dr. Jim Denison

Arguably the most famous sermon in American history was preached at its infancy. On July 8, 1741, at Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards delivered the message for which he is best known, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Imagine yourself seated on a wooden pew in that colonial congregation, hearing these words with which Edwards closed:

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire this very moment….

“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”

Is this true? Are sinners in the hands of an angry God? I assume we each admit that we have committed sin. How does God feel about us now?

The simple fact is that some of us fear God’s judgment too little, while others fear it too much. Today let’s learn what to do when we fail ourselves and God.

Why don’t we fear God more?

Ours is no theoretical problem today.

The Bible is very clear: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Each of us—no exceptions.

When I stole a pack of gum at the age of five, I entered for the first time in my memory into the ranks of sinners. I’m just like you. As a child I melted crayons into the teacher’s hair, locked a girl in a coat closet during lunch, and shook eraser dust into the window air conditioner, thus coating the classroom with it. My mother earned every gray hair she owns.

We laugh at such transgressions, but sin is serious. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible warns us (Romans 6:23). Seven times the Bible commands us to “fear God.” Yet most people don’t. Why not? Several reasons come to mind.

One: scientific progress has made the power of God irrelevant.

Diseases which used to kill us are now cured by medicine without God’s help. How many parents today pray against polio, or tuberculosis, or bubonic plague?

Technology now controls weather which used to destroy and devastate us. We know hurricanes are coming and have remedies for drought. What only God could do, we think we can do.

And this scientific march has removed much of the mystery from life. The solar eclipse of June 21 didn’t frighten us as it used to ancient peoples. We don’t need to ask the gods to give us back the sun. We don’t need Baal to give us rain, or Zeus to explain lightning, or Neptune to understand the tides.

We think we have progressed beyond needing the power of God.

Two: naïve morality has made the fear of God irrelevant. We think we’re good, moral people, and that we’re all going to heaven.

God is a kindly grandfather who loves us all and will bring us all to heaven when we die. We’re better than the “bad” people—the Hitlers and the McVeighs. We all know someone worse than we are. And so only 2% of Americans are afraid of going to hell. We’re good people, we think.

Three: secular materialism has made the punishment of God irrelevant. We believe in what we can see, and we can’t see God.

We are more afraid that our friends will reject us than that God will judge us. We are more afraid of losing that business contract or that boyfriend or girlfriend than we are of displeasing God. After all, we can always confess our sins to God later and he’ll forgive us. It’s that simple, or so we think.

Why do some people fear God too much?

So many of us fear God too little. But some people fear God too much. They cannot believe that God has actually forgiven their sins, pardoned their failures, cleansed their souls.

A psychologist recently said he could dismiss 90% of his clients if they could heal their guilt over the past or fear about failing in the future. Why is this a problem for so many?

Some of us grew up with a God of anger and wrath, more like Zeus throwing thunderbolts than a Father sending his Son to die for us. We picture God with gigantic scales, hoping to send us to hell for our sins. If your father was judgmental and unloving, you’ll especially tend to see God in the same way.

Some of us practice “Baptist penance.” We’re self-made, and cannot accept grace. We must pay it back. If God won’t punish us, we’ll punish ourselves. We’ll hold onto our guilt, our pain, our failure, until we think we’ve paid our debt.


How Did “Sons of God” Marry “Daughters of Men”?

How Did “Sons of God” Marry “Daughters of Men”?

Genesis 6:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Mark Twain was a man of sage and incisive wisdom.

For instance, he counseled parents of teenagers, “When your child reaches thirteen, put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole. When he turns sixteen, plug the hole.”

He advised us, “Do good when you can, and charge when you think they will stand it.”

He was right to observe: “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

And his take on Scripture was equally wry: “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand which bother me—it’s the parts I do understand.”

Today I want to build a bridge from the former to the latter—from a part of the Bible which is very confusing to a part which is very clear. We’ll tackle one of the most perplexing texts in Scripture, and see that it is actually one of the most urgent, practical, and relevant passages in God’s word.

Our text applies to every human being on the planet, and in this worship service. My job today is simply to show you how it’s so.

From confusion . . .

Our Scripture today begins with one of the most confusing sentences in all the Bible: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (vs. 1-2).

I have never heard a sermon on this text—have you? I’ve never preached one, either. In fact, I’ve never studied this passage in any detail before this week. So I started as you do, wondering what on earth is going on here.

I’ve discovered several options as suggested by scholars.

Some say that these “sons of God” are angels, since Job 1:6 and Psalm 29:1 uses this title for them. But Jesus tells us that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25).

Some say these are kings, as people in the ancient Near East often associated their royal figures with divinity. But the Bible never does.

An interesting approach suggests that the “sons of God” are descendants of Seth, the godly child of Adam and Eve, and the “daughters of men” are descendants of the evil Cain. In this view, what is happening here is intermarriage across tribal and spiritual lines. But the author of Genesis could easily have made this clear, and didn’t.

I think the clues we need are found in the text immediately surrounding our passage. Scripture intends to be clear, and was very clear to its original audience. So we must ask ourselves, what did they understand these words to mean?

Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Later God made woman from man’s rib, and he says of her, “She shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (2:23).

So calling men the “sons of God” and women the “daughters of men” was simply repeating what the readers of Genesis already knew, and what the rest of the Bible teaches as well. I found nine places where the Bible refers to men as “sons of God” (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5, Psalm 73:15, Isaiah 43:6-7, Hosea 1:10, 11:1, Luke 3:38, 1 John 3:1-2, 10). The text here seems simply to refer to men and women.

And nothing in these verses ties these “sons of God and daughters of men” specifically to the flood which follows. They are simply populating the earth as God had commanded them to (1:28).

Now we come to another confusing reference: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (v. 4).

Their name means “to fall.” Some see them as evil figures and interpret their name as “fallen ones.” Others see them as heroic warriors and see their name as “falling on” others in strength and victory.

They are among the children produced by the “sons of God and daughters of men,” but nothing in the text ties them specifically to the coming Flood, either.

They are simply figures in history, of importance to the readers of Genesis but only interesting to us.

So we have “sons of God and daughters of men,” probably men and women who are marrying and having children. Among them are mighty warriors and heroes in the ancient Near East. And you’re wondering how any of this could be as urgent, practical, and relevant as I promised this passage would be, how it could apply to every human being on the planet and in this service.

Let’s read on.

… to clarity …

As our text proceeds, we move quickly from confusion to clarity, from ancient history to life experience today. Verse 5 comes home: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”

God reads our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows how sinful they can be. He knows that we don’t put our thoughts into action because of legal restraints and fear of being caught. But he knows what we would do if we could.

Think about your thoughts for a moment, and you’ll see what God sees every moment of every day.

Such sin “grieves” the Lord and fills his heart with pain (v. 6).

He is holy and cannot countenance or condone our sin. He must bring it to judgment, as he did with the Flood.

We’ll explore his justice and judgment much more fully in the message two weeks from today. For this morning, see how God sees our sins and is grieved by them.


Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Genesis 4:17-18

Dr. Jim Denison

Today we begin our summer preaching series, titled “Hard Questions in the Bible.” We’ll begin at Genesis and go through God’s word, asking such questions as What does God think of the Jews?, Did Jesus go to Hell?, and What is the unpardonable sin? We begin today with the issue of creation and evolution and the question, Where did Cain get his wife?

What do we know about God’s creation? And how does that knowledge apply to our lives, and to the country whose birthday we celebrate this week?

Thank God for you

The Bible starts at the start: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). So we learn that God existed before existence came to be. He made everything else that is. This is the bold and consistent claim of his word.

How did he do it?

Let’s get before us immediately the fact that Genesis does not intend to be a science book. In fact, science as a discipline is a recent invention; 90% of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive right now. Genesis is not speculative but practical. It does not tell us all we want to know about the world, but all we need to know about our place in it.

So Genesis says that God made the universe in six “days.” The word “day” translates “yom,” a Hebrew term for a defined period of time, not necessary a 24-hour day marked by sunrise and sunset. In fact, God didn’t create the sun and the moon until the fourth “day.” Some of the ancient rabbis thought Genesis meant that God did this in six days, others in six creative acts of undetermined time in between, still others in six “eons” or “ages.” We don’t know, because we don’t need to know.

When did he do it? Genesis doesn’t say, because the answer has no practical consequence in our lives. Some add up the biblical genealogies and say that God made the world in the year 4004 B.C., regardless of the evidence of geology and astrophysics. Others say the universe is billions of years old. Would it change your life to know? That’s why Genesis doesn’t say.

Did he use evolution to do it? Let’s define some terms.

Charles Darwin’s principles of evolution are really very simple: creatures procreate more offspring than can survive; the offspring possess enormous variety; there is a struggle for existence due to overpopulation; because of their variety, some of the offspring are more fit for survival than others; these capacities for survival become naturally selected and inherited.

As an example, a hundred years ago there were small-winged moths and large-winged moths in England. The small-winged moths couldn’t fly above the pollution generated by the factories of the day, and so died out. The large-winged moths could, and survived. Today there are only large-winged moths in England.

This is an example of what’s known as “microevolution”—adaptation within a biological set, genus, or species. People are taller and less hairy than they used to be. Horses are larger; most dogs are smaller. Nothing in the Bible teaches that God didn’t make the world so that it would adapt to its changing environment.

The difficulty arises when Darwin’s principles are applied across biblical categories—from apes to men, from fish to birds, and so on. This is called “macroevolution.” And it leads to problems, both with evidence and with Scripture.

The fossil record indicates no so-called “missing links” from one biblical category to another. The old Neanderthal Man, Piltdown Man, and so on are no longer representative of the best theories. Darwin said the fossil record would have to demonstrate increasingly simple organisms as we move backward in time, but it does not.

The paleontological record shows us adaptation within biblical categories, but not across them. Advocates for macroevolution now posit “spontaneous mutatory jumps” across the biblical categories, but without empirical evidence for their assumptions.

Such a theory is, of course, contrary to the clear record of Genesis. These chapters are not written as myths or legends or symbols, but as straight-forward narrative.

So it is clear that both macroevolution and biblical creationism are built on faith principles. I believe that both God’s revealed word and the best empirical research confirm the fact that God created us. And I rejoice in this fact.

Know this: you are here on purpose. You are not an accident, or the coincidence of random chaos. God made you, intentionally, for a reason.

Your body consists of 206 bones, wrapped with 650 muscles and seven miles of nerve fibers. Your eyes possess 100 million receptors, and your ears 24,000 fibers. Your heart beats 36,000,000 times every year and sends blood pumping through more than 60,000 miles of veins, arteries, and tubing.

Your brain contains 13,000,000,000 nerve cells. Picture the possible number of interconnections in your brain this way: the number of atoms in the universe is 1 followed by 100 zeroes. The number of different patterns possible in your brain is 1 followed by over 800 zeros. And your unconscious brain database, that which your unconscious brain knows and stores, outweighs your conscious brain on an order exceeding 10 million to one.

I liked what one brain and mind expert said: “If the human brain were simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand it.” But God does. And he made yours.

Thank God for your country

So rejoice today that God made you. And that he made everything else as well.

The first law of thermodynamics states that matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Except by God, we add.

So glance at the matter and energy God has made. The Wall Street Journal recently carried an article describing the complexity of this universe. Picture a wall with hundreds of dials, it said. Each must be at exactly the right setting for carbon-based life to emerge in a suburb of the Milky Way. If the cosmic expansion of the universe had first been a fraction less, for instance, it would have imploded billions of years ago; a fraction more intense, and galaxies would not have formed. The odds of our universe’s existence and design occurring by random chance would not be accepted by any gambler, anywhere on earth.


Why Did Abraham Sacrifice Isaac?

Why Did Abraham Sacrifice Isaac?

Genesis 22:1-19

Dr. Jim Denison

The current issue of Fortune magazine carries this cover story: “God and business: the surprising quest for spiritual renewal in the American workplace.”

In the article, Andre DelBecq, a management professor, says, “There were two things I thought I’d never see in my life, the fall of the Russian empire and God being spoken about at a business school.” It’s about time.

David Miller, former IBM executive and investment banker who now leads a faith-in-the-workplace group called Avodah (Hebrew for “work” and “worship”) Institute: “People often talk about the sacred-secular divide, but my faith tells me that God is found in earth and rocks and buildings and institutions, and, yes, in the business world.” He’s right.

The Princeton Religious Research Index reports a sharp increase in religious beliefs and practices since the 1990s. When the Gallup Poll asked Americans in 1999 if they felt a need to experience spiritual growth, 78% said yes, up from 20% in 1994, and nearly half said they’d had occasion to talk about their faith in the workplace in the past 24 hours.

Laura Nash, a senior research fellow at Harvard Business School, says, “Spirituality in the workplace is exploding.”

Soul and body, God and daily life are finally coming together for many people in our culture. We all need that intersection to happen for us every day. So I want to answer two questions today: why? and how?

Why trust God with your life?

This week I read James Maas’s book, Power Sleep. His research proves that at least 50 percent of America’s adult population is chronically sleep-deprived. An even greater percentage report trouble sleeping on any given night. And the number who report trouble sleeping has risen 33 percent in the last five years.

Why? Why are we so stressed and anxious?

We’re working more hours than ever before in our history. The technological revolution was supposed to free our time; instead it keeps us working all the time. Cell phones, pagers, and e-mail find us wherever we are in the world. It’s as though we never left the office, because we don’t. If we can just do more, we can have more and we can be more. Or so we think.

As a result, we’re achieving financial success on an unprecedented scale, but we’re discovering that it’s not enough. As one executive in the Fortune article said, “We get to the top of the ladder and find that maybe it’s leaning against the wrong building.”

For many of us, it is.

The problem started a long time ago.

Six centuries before Christ, a poet named Orpheus began teaching ancient Greece that our souls existed separate from our bodies, and were put into them as punishment for crimes they committed in the spiritual world. The point to life, he said, was to get our good souls out of our bad bodies. Keep the spiritual from the secular.

Orpheus influenced Pythagoras, who influenced Plato, who influenced Augustine, who influenced Martin Luther and his Reformation, who influences us today. And so the Western world, from ancient Greece to modern America, has bought into this division of soul and body, spirit and life, for 26 centuries.

In our culture the “spiritual” and the “secular” are segmented. God is for Sunday, but not for Monday. Souls are for saving, but not for living. We are not to talk about our religion in public, or let it affect our public lives. The two are separate.

So while we achieve success financially, vocationally, socially, academically, it’s enough spiritually that we are periodically religious. We trust God to save our souls, while we take care of everything else.

But we can’t. God didn’t make things this way. He created the heavens and the earth, he made our planet, and he is the only one who knows how we are to live on it. When we separate our work and lives from God, we pull the plug on the only power which enables us to live and work with joy, courage, and peace. Life won’t work this way.

And it doesn’t have to. George Gallup recently conducted a poll with results he calls “among the most exciting and significant that we have recorded in more than a half-century of polling.” I’d like to know what has Mr. Gallup so excited.

Here it is. He has discovered a sliver of the American population which he calls “highly spiritually committed.” People who let God run their lives, not just their religion. People who live for God all week, not just on Sunday. People who belong unconditionally to God.

What has he learned about them? “While representing only 13% of the populace, these persons are a ‘breed apart’ from the rest of society. We find that these people, who have what might be described as a ‘transforming faith,’ are more tolerant of others, more inclined to perform charitable acts, more concerned about the betterment of society, and far happier” (emphasis mine).

God is going to ask you to join their ranks today. Here’s how.

How to trust God with your life

Our text opens with a very confusing statement: “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied” (v. 1).

You need to know that the word “test” here does not mean to tempt to do wrong, but to test so that we can do right. The Hebrew word nawsaw means to test and prove something, to show that it is so. God is going to give Abraham a faith test. And he will pass it with flying colors.

Here it is: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (v. 2).

Abraham had waited 25 years for this son. When he was born God had promised his father, “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (Genesis 21:12). And now God tells this elderly man, more than 110 years old, to sacrifice him to God.