Wednesday Guest Post by Webster Hunt: “Fred Phelps and the Pleasure of God”

[“Wednesday Guest Posts” is a new feature here at the 4thDaveBlog–I guess since it’s been two weeks, we can almost call it a “regular” feature. This week, we again hear from my friend Webster Hunt. Follow Web at @livingheart on Twitter.]

Give me a few moments to tell you about how I was caught off guard last week, upon reading of the death of Fred Phelps, having my attention brought to Ezekiel 18:23 – where God rhetorically asks, “Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?” – , and understanding a glimpse of the riches of His mercy in Jesus Christ, who fully “exegeted” the Father to us, to borrow a phrase.

If you’re reading this blog post, I’m assuming you have the internet, so I’m assuming you know who Fred Phelps is (if you don’t, open up a new tab a Google him – you can hate me later for it). One of the things he seemed to center on was this idea that the highest thing God desired was to condemn the wicked, which seemed to be everyone but the small group of followers he had. It’s ironic, really.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Fred Phelps was right – that God’s highest joy and priority is to bring His enemies into rightful condemnation.  (And I hope you do understand that it is rightful. I mean, God gives life and breath and movement to his creation, just to name some very basic things, so 1) What does man do with every moment of each of those? Also 2) So who exactly IS God’s enemy?  Even, if you’re a Christian, there was a season in actual time where you were a child of wrath, where you relished in your inherited sin nature and did whatever your heart desired; and even if you weren’t as bad as you could be, you weren’t holy as God is holy, and that presents a problem.)

So if God’s highest joy is pouring out His wrath on His enemies, how are you reading this right now? How in the world is there an elect people, a church, a people which He calls His own peculiar treasure, His prized possession? Why did He even let Adam out of the garden?

Ok, we can stop pretending, because what Fred Phelps believes is a lie. We know this because if it were true, then all of mankind would be immediately condemned, immediately subjected to the wrath we deserve as God-hating sinners from birth. We know this because of God’s own revelation of Himself.

What do we see in God’s self-revelation in scripture? We see Holy and Just God clothing His newly banished man to cover their shame. We see Him forbearing with Cain and his improper sacrifice. We see Him giving the Amorites time to “fill up” their sin. We see God forbearing with the question of Abraham of whether He would kill the righteous with the wicked. We see Him choose a people who would be stiff-necked and despise every good thing He would give to them, as a whole. We see Him sparing, and sending prophets, and deposing and rescuing Israel, and saving a remnant, and then, oh then, we see the culmination of His character in Jesus – the One who made the invisible God visible. The One who is the Only Begotten Son of God and the Son of Man. We see the second Adam doing what the first Adam would not. We see the Second Man doing what the first man could not. We see Him always loving, always obeying, always pleasing God the Father who, as a pastor pointed out recently, only spoke of His Son in superlatives – “Here is my BELOVED Son, with whom I am WELL pleased”.  We see Him stooping, giving up the prerogatives to His glory, being found in the form of a servant, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We see Him not being worshiped by every man that walked his way, and sparing that man.

The God who has made Himself known in the revelation of Scripture and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ, second person of the Triune God, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so that He may save for Himself a peculiar people, a treasured possession–the Scriptures say the Father was pleased to crush His Only Begotten Son. Do you see that? The joy of God to take sinful men and make them in the image of His Holy Son is so infinitely high, that the only contrast to make it plain is to ask, “Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?” Because I’ve also got to reckon this: that the death and eternal punishment of the wicked, unrepentant man, who with every breath was only ever always pleased to indulge his sin, however moral he may be (and even the vilest criminal has some sliver of “morality” which it abhors him to see violated) is good and right and holy, and in that fashion pleases God – because what does God do that does NOT please Him? Everything He does is good because He IS good; He is what defines what “good” is. But higher than that, saving a people for Himself by laying the iniquity of them on His own Son who willingly, and to the glory of God His Father, bore their penalty and their wrath and propitiated for them, and then showing that Son’s perfection by His resurrection, and giving the righteousness, the resurrection, the love, and the privilege of being His sons is so much more infinitely better that a negative description of the other is the only way to properly communicate to us His joy.

Now, considering that, I had to ask myself: How can I take pleasure in sin, when it pleased God to crush Him with Whom sin is no friend?

And I hope you take that away with you today as well, to God’s glory in Christ Jesus.

Grace to you all, and thanks again, Dave, for letting me guest-blog today.

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3 thoughts on “Wednesday Guest Post by Webster Hunt: “Fred Phelps and the Pleasure of God”

  1. “Now, considering that, I had to ask myself: How can I take pleasure in sin, when it pleased God to crush Him with Whom sin is no friend?”

    Oh isn’t that our cry and Paul’s cry in Romans 7 and every Christian’s cry until we are delivered from this body of death.

  2. You know, our buddy Frank Turk helped me think through this some years ago. I wish I could remember the blog, but in it he admitted that there were some remaining sins that he loved sometimes – and he hated that he loved it. Since reading that, and knowing that’s centered in Paul’s cry in Romans 7, I have learned, by God’s mercy, that there are sins that I love sometimes – pet sins I think Spurgeon called them. And I don’t know if blasphemy is the right word to describe it, but that’s what it feels like when there is a sin that I love, and yet I claim to love Christ too.

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