At a sad moment early in human history, God lamented the condition of human hearts and proclaimed a catastrophic judgment against mankind:
“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. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…” (Genesis 6:5-7).
We might be tempted to question why God created humanity in the first place. Didn’t He know how things would end up? But this is to impose on to the account one’s theology of God’s omniscience and sovereignty in a way that disrespects the personal nature of God and the culpability of humans. There is mystery in this that is both beyond us and intimately accessible to us.
The divine assessment of humanity is not pleasant to hear- “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” I say this is a standing view because directly after God completed His catastrophic judgment, He repeated the reality of the condition of the human heart.
“‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’” (Gen. 8:21b-22, NIV).
After hosing down the earth, God didn’t say, “That takes care of the problem of human sinfulness!” Instead, God conceded that He is still dealing with pervasively fallen creatures. This is part of the reason behind the immediate provision of an ordinance of capital punishment (Genesis 9:6). The concession to future violence and a need to punish it is heard. How sad to read these words: “even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.”
The “even though” implies that God knew He would continue to face the same condition that brought Him grief and filled his heart with pain prior to His judgment. God mercifully chose to endure, to live with the grief and heart-filled pain despite our corrupt condition. This means that God has looked down at this world with profound sadness for a very long time.
It’s significant that the OT days are summarized as times when God “let all nations go their own way” (Acts 14:15); times “when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past ” (Romans 3:25-26); times when He “endured with much patience vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22-23) and times when He “overlooked such ignorance” (Acts 17:30-31).
So much of this world and of our lives does not reflect God’s original plan and perfect will.
Consider seven applications from this difficult truth:
1. Reflect on the grief God has endured since His concession in Genesis 8:21b-22?
“Then when they are exiled among the nations, they will remember me. They will recognize how hurt I am by their unfaithful hearts and lustful eyes that long for their idols. Then at last they will hate themselves for all their detestable sins.” (Ezekiel 6:9, NLT); What does it mean that people “resist” (Acts 7:51), “grieve” (Ephesians 4:30) and “quench” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) the Holy Spirit? Genesis 6:1 opened with the divine declaration: “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever” (6:2).
“‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God, Therefore, repent and live’” (Ez. 18:32), “‘As I live,’ declares the Lord, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ez. 33:11), “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4cf. cf. II Pe. 3:9); 1 John 2:2: Christ died for the sins of “the whole world” —the same “whole world” that “is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19) and that Satan will lead astray (Rev. 12:9).
2. Recite this truth to yourself everyday
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve… As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:9, 13-14).
3. Be realistic about a world filled with the kind of people described in Genesis 8:21b-22
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Timothy 3:1-4).
4. Don’t take God’s patience lightly
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5).
5. Rehearse the narrative of the gospel often. God solved our main problem:
“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26; cf. II Corinthians 5:17-21).
6. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36) and “love your enemies (Matt. 5:44-45).
James 2:13 tells us that, “… judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Romans 12:19-21- “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
7. Don’t lose sight of the hope of the day when God makes all things new
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:3-5)