Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 2:1-11 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Romans 2:1–11 warns of judgment. What comes to mind when you think of God's judgment? One famous literary excerpt describes it like this:
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 so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
This is only a snippet from a famous sermon titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” which was first delivered on July 8, 1741, by a Puritan revivalist named Jonathan Edwards. In his book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (note the switch from "angry" to "loving"), Brian Zahnd points out that “most modern Americans become acquainted with [this sermon] in school where, for some strange reason, it is a standard example of descriptive writing” (p. 3).
I know many struggle with this picture of God—as an angry and vindictive deity waiting for us to make one mistake in order to stomp on us. Thankfully, I was spared this image. Growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, I have always viewed hell very differently. Yes, there is punishment (consequences) for sin—eternal separation from God—but it does not entail being tortured forever. Someone explained to me early on how God will destroy sin because it causes all the misery and sorrow in our world. If we refuse to give our sin to God, we will be destroyed with it. I’ve had this understanding since childhood.
My favorite Adventist doctrine has become “annihilationism." Perhaps one of our denomination’s founders, Ellen G. White, had the sermon by Jonathan Edwards in mind when she wrote:
“It is beyond the power of the human mind to estimate the evil which has been wrought by the heresy of eternal torment. The religion of the Bible, full of love and goodness, and abounding in compassion, is darkened by superstition and clothed with terror. When we consider in what false colors Satan has painted the character of God, can we wonder that our merciful Creator is feared, dreaded, and even hated? The appalling views of God which have spread over the world from the teachings of the pulpit have made thousands, yes, millions, of skeptics and infidels” (The Great Controversy, p. 536).
Recalibrate: Is God angry or loving? Can He be both at the same time?
Respond: Reread Romans 2:1-11through a “God is love” lens. Does it make a difference?
Research: Read Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd.
Remember: "For God judges all people in the same way" (Romans 2:11, ICB).
Sam Millen is an Australian whose self-imposed exile in North America started 20 years ago. He has been a school chaplain, Bible teacher, youth pastor, associate pastor, and district pastor in conferences across the United States and Canada. As the current pastor at Anacortes Adventist Fellowship, Sam is utilizing the Washington State Ferry system to commute between Orcas Island (where he lives with his wife, Angie, and their three kids) and Anacortes.
The Bible says that God judges all people the same way (Romans 2:11, ICB). Say this verse with your child. Hold your little one’s hands and tell them how much God loves them. Name all the people in your child’s world (God loves Aunty Bec, God loves Grandma, etc.). Remind your child that God loves us all.
The Bible says that God judges all people the same way (Romans 2:11, ICB). Have you ever gotten into trouble for something you didn’t do? Or did someone else get the blame for something you did? Sometimes we get away with stuff because what we are doing isn’t seen. God sees everything. Not only does God see everything, He knows why we did it. The best thing is He knows this stuff about everyone and still loves us. That is who God is.
Do you think you can tell when someone is judging you? Is there a look in their eyes that you can see? Maybe you know what your face looks like when you're judging someone else. In the beginning of the second chapter of Romans, Paul says that most of the time we judge other people for what we do ourselves! Has that ever happened to you? Maybe you made fun of someone for getting a bad grade, but you've also gotten a bad grade before. Or maybe you laughed at someone who made the same mistake you made a couple months ago. Next time you feel like you're judging others, think about the times when you needed grace—when you were thankful someone didn't point out your mistakes or make fun of you for them.