Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Justice of God: Judging by Appearances

What happens when a theory is not supported by our observations? It looses credibility? What happens when our belief that the Bible is fully God-breathed is not supported by our modern values and observations? It becomes harder to maintain. This is what afflicts many Christians, especially today.

The challenges may take many forms and come from many directions – from the theory of evolution, multiculturalism, universalism… One theologian just wrote on his blog:

  • While most of the Bible exhibits a “God-breathed” quality, reflecting a magnificently beautiful God that is consistent with God’s definitive revelation on the cross, we must honestly acknowledge that some depictions of God in Scripture are simply horrific.
God’s justice doesn’t always coincide with what appears to be just. Another Christian blogger wrote:

  • It doesn’t seem fair that God would grant salvation to those who believe rather than those who are good. There are many good people who don’t believe in God. It just doesn’t seem right that God would condemn them to hell just because they don’t believe. 
I responded in this manner:

Failure to believe in God is not a matter of the insufficiency of the evidence. Instead it is a rejection of the evidence and a rejection of the One who has provided the evidence and to whom the evidence points:

  • The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20) 
The evidence is so compelling that disbelief is inexcusable. Besides, we are inescapably wired for God’s truth:

  • Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. (Rom. 2:14-15)
All of this leaves us without any excuse for not believing in God and acting accordingly. Why then do we run from this light? Jesus explained that, normally, we hate this light:

  • This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Here’s the rub. From our perspective, people seem to be good – lovers of the truth. Yet the Bible consistently denounces of humankind:

  • As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Rom. 3:10-12)
However, our observations and experiences with our neighbors do not line up with the indictments of the Bible. Instead, our neighbors seem to be nice people, often better people than ourselves. Should we then doubt our perceptions in favor of the Bible’s harsh judgments? How can I have an honest and consistent faith when, honestly, I simply don’t see things that way? And how can I tell others to believe in a faith that I am struggling to believe?

Such perplexity is not uncommon among God’s people. In fact, it’s a regular part of our diet. Our father Abraham had been promised that though his son Isaac, Abraham’s descendents would become more numerous than the stars in the sky. However, God asked Abraham to offer his promised son as a burnt offering. How could he believe any longer in a God who made belief an impossibility!

However, Abraham knew his God and also knew that He would provide a way of escape out of this dilemma (Hebrews 11:19), and he was right. But can He provide a way of escape out of our dilemmas? Can He make right what is so obviously wrong, at least to us? Can He be just, when it appears that He is unjust and simply mistaken about humanity?

The answer is not an easy one. Instead, it is painful and requires time. A lot of our perplexity is resolved as we come to realize, not necessarily the wisdom of God’s judgments, but the fallibility of our own.

We need to begin to question how we see – our assessments of humanity. God had sent the Prophet Samuel to the little town of Bethlehem, to the household of Jesse, to anoint the next King of Israel. But He didn't tell him which son to anoint among Jesse's many sons. These were impressive young men, at least from Samuel’s perspective. Therefore, God had to deflate Samuel’s faith in his own perceptions:

  • But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
Finally, God had Samuel select Jesse's most unlikely son - David - to be Israel's next king. We are only capable of seeing “the outward appearance.” Consequently, we are taken in by the fa├žade and the way humanity so carefully manages and manicures its image. We fail to see the real man and this skews our assessments.

Humanity lives, breaths, and feasts on denial. We deceive ourselves and we deceive others (Proverbs 21:2; 16:2). Perhaps all of Israel’s Prophets had a “seeing” problem. They thought that God’s judgments were too severe – too unreasonable - at least when they were directed against people like themselves. Jeremiah thought this way, but God would not allow his delusions to remain:

·             "Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city” (Jeremiah 5:1-2).

Jeremiah was convinced that God’s assessment of Israel was way off:

·             I thought, "These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God. So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God" (Jeremiah 5:4-5).

However, God soon disabused Jeremiah of his delusions. He provided some powerful object lessons and enabled Jeremiah to see what his own family had been plotting against him. As a result of this education, Jeremiah swung to the opposite extreme and prayed God’s judgment against them.

God has also provided for my education. I worked in a city bureaucracy for fifteen years. This was adequate to cure any residual idealism I might have had about humankind. However, He also revealed to me my own duplicity and denials through the process.

I thank Him for this precious education and can now pray with confidence, “Lord, your judgments and plans are entirely just…Come quickly Lord Jesus!” And I mean it!

As the Lord’s education has continued, the Bible appears more God-breathed than ever!

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