Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On mercy and wrath

I recently wrote a post entitled "What Does God Do When We Fail," pointing to God's ability to carry through with his plans regardless of our sins and failures. I didn't intend to downplay the seriousness of sin -- my premise is that those who are hid with Christ in God obey him in regular repentance and commitment to obey him -- but instead to remind us that without God we can do nothing, including derailing the sovereign purposes of God Almighty.

The thrust of that essay was the effect of our sin on the overarching purposes of God. But what about us as individuals?

A reflective friend says:
I would also add a word about His wrath and discipline. I recall the many that were slain on the day of the Golden Calf. And David and Bathsheba's first child was taken from them and the sword did not depart from David's house during his lifetime. The consequences of sin can be overwhelmingly crushing for our God is a consuming fire to be sure. But for those who are His children, His wrath has been diverted onto Christ - for us there is no longer any judgment but only the fatherly discipline of His love. And God's discipline, though dreadful to go through, is such a humbling, cleansing, healing and transforming work of His love and mercy to those who bow before Him. I give Him praise for this too!

My friend raises an interesting point about discipline. Forgiveness does not erase the temporal effects of sin and so does not rescue us from experiencing suffering resulting from our sinful acts. But the game has changed between the Old Testament and the New. The death of Jesus turned a corner, not in God's love for us or hatred for sin, but in the new availability of genuine reconciliation between the sinner and God.

I, frankly, am grateful for God's wrath. I look around at the awful realities of our world -- innocent people raped, slain and starved; hopelessness; lies and deception; verbal and physical cruelty; -- and I am glad that the Fountain of Mercy himself looks at such things with anger and hatred. But I would not be grateful for it if I were stuck with the unscrubbable stain of my sin marking me out as a worthy object for that anger. But for the gift of Jesus, that would be true. But the death of the Son of God has changed the game, and I will never stop thanking him.

God's mercy toward us extends to doing whatever it takes to free us from the things that block his outpouring of grace and our growing love relationship with Him. If my habitual sin is blocking the freedom of the Holy Spirit in my life, then I want him to bring it to my attention so I can hand it over to him to squash. Knowing, however, my own disinclination to launch uncomfortable change until it gets too painful not to do so, I shouldn't be surprised that the process of God getting my attention can be an arduous one.

God himself says in Ezekiel, "As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live."(13:11) We needed a way out. The Good News is that Jesus took care of it. The better news is that God didn't stop there. Not satisfied with getting us out of the criminal dock, he wants to anoint us with fragrant oils, give us beautiful clothes and take us to the altar and marry us. The process of being a Christian isn't the process of becoming acceptable. It's the process of becoming more and more who we were made to be -- God's Delight.




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"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009