In the parable of the talents, Christ suggests that God is austere, hard (Mt 25:24), severe, stern, harsh and rigid. The wicked servant makes this accusation (Lk 19:21), and his master evidently agrees with him. (22) The Greek is austeros, from which we get austere. What do we make of this?
If we happen to think of God as a doting old grandpa, a Santa figure who never gets stern or angry, who’s extremely lenient, primarily interested in our happiness, finding out that God is austere might be troublesome. The fact is, He’s not at all like a gentle old grandpa, and this turns many of us off.
It’s actually a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (He 10:31) He’s extremely strict (Ps 119:4); He won’t by any means acquit a guilty person. (Ex 34:7) We’re to serve Jehovah with fear, rejoice with trembling (Ps 2:11), and work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) He scourges all his children (He 12:6); it’s incredibly painful and grievous. (11)
Even when we’re trying our best, and doing quite well following Him, God may choose great affliction for us for a season, offering us no explanation, comfort or ease, and for no other reason than to teach us a little more about Himself and His ways, and to glorify Himself through our response. He even tells us to rejoice in this (Ja 1:2-3), and to count it a privilege to suffer for Him. (Php 1:29)
This is, in fact, exactly what God did to Job, and He didn’t apologize for it. When Job complained and challenged God, He answered Job quite roughly … out of a tornado! (Job 38:1-3) Even after Job apologized, stunned into silence (Job 40:4-5), God continued to challenge Job in the most stern, confrontational and intimidating manner. (7-8)
Christ Himself rebukes churches, even those working diligently for Him, threatening to remove them unless they repent of their coldness and return to the love they initially had for Him. (Re 2:4-5) He ordains sickness, and sometimes even death, for partaking unworthily of The Lord’s Supper (1Co 11:29-30), and commands the church to excommunicate us if we don’t peaceably and fully resolve our offences. (Mt 18:16-18)
And if one of His elect ever chooses to sin, deliberately and willfully, God becomes very angry, and sees to it that we deeply regret defying Him (He 10:26-27); He arranges punishments far worse than death. (28-29)
I’ve actually heard people say that if God’s like this, demanding obedience, rigid, stern, not primarily concerned with our happiness, austere, they don’t want anything to do with Him. This is wicked, arrogant presumption, and it’s also extremely unwise: there are no good options once we turn away from God.
We must learn to worship God both in His goodness and also in His severity (Ro 11:22), meditating on and rejoicing in all His ways. We’re either seeking God as He is, to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24), or fashioning idols for ourselves. Either way, we’ll all eventually face Him exactly as He is: a consuming fire. (He 12:29)