Sunday, December 28, 2014

God's Judgments: A Source of Embarrassment or a Cultural Response

We are embarrassed by God’s harsh judgments – for example, the destruction of the Canaanites, the Amalekites, and others.

I had long been troubled about the account of Ananias and Sapphira. As had many of the brethren, they sold their property and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for the church. However, this couple only gave half of the proceeds – no sin in itself – but they lied that they had given the church everything.  Peter’s response was absolutely chilling:

  • “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, did it not remain thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thy power? How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart? Thou has not lied unto men, but unto God.” And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the ghost: and great fear came upon all that heard it. (Acts 5:3-5) 
I was troubled by this. Such a harsh judgment from God and absolutely no expression of remorse by Peter! After all, Ananias did donate half of the proceeds, and his was just a little white lie, wasn’t it?

Not only that, but Peter then spoke to Ananias’ wife Sapphira in a seemingly callous manner, especially in view of her great loss:

  • “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yea, for so much.” But Peter said unto her, “How is it that ye have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them that have buried thy husband are at the door, and they shall carry thee out.” And she fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up the ghost. (Acts 5:8-10) 
Peter gave her only the briefest opportunity to repent and then pronounced judgment on this unfortunate woman.

After each of these “exterminations,” Scripture records:

  • And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all that heard these things. (Acts 5:11) 
Well, no wonder! No one was above sin. If it happened to Ananias and Sapphira, perhaps it could happen to anyone! Who then could serve such a wrathful God? Who could continue to rejoice in Him and regard Him as their Savior, if He might snuff them out at any moment? Well, it seems that some distanced themselves from the church because of this (Acts 5:13). Who could blame them, right?

Is it any surprise then that we, as members of Western culture, should not be embarrassed by such a God? Didn’t these two judgments sour people to the Gospel message? Consequently, when we evangelize, we tend to soften these harsh aspects of our God, but should we? Perhaps not! Right afterwards:

  • The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them.  Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women.  As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought… and they were all healed. (Acts 5:12-16; NLT)
Oddly, rather than discrediting the church, God’s judgments built the church!

We often wonder, “To what extent has the church been taken captive by the culture and the ideas of the culture?” Has judgment and justice gone out of style in Western culture? Atheist Richard Dawkins, speaking for many of the educated in the West, famously claimed:

  • The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. 
Although church-goers wouldn’t go so far, we still find Dawkins’ words stinging and embarrassing. We therefore tend to want to make excuses for His judgments, even to the point of proclaiming that God will save everyone, or that He has repented of His harsh ways. We would also like to be able to say that Ananias and Sapphira died because of a stricken conscience and not the judgments of God, but this would misrepresent God.

Understandably, we want others to be attracted to our God, and so we give Him a face-life. However, what represents an improved image in our eyes, is unacceptable to Him. Instead, His blessings accompany our faithful disclosure of who He really is.

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