Posts tagged ‘Judgment’

Punishment and Patience

Credit: “Jonah foretells the destruction of Nineveh” by Jan Luyken (1712) / Public Domain

At the end of the book that bears his name, the prophet Jonah is seething. God has just spared city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which is the arch-enemy empire of Israel. Jonah had seen this coming. In fact, he was so concerned that God might allow Israel’s arch-enemy to stand after God called the prophet to go and try to help Nineveh that he tried to hop a ship sailing the opposite direction from Nineveh to Tarshish. Jonah was not interested in giving any opportunity to God to extend mercy to the Ninevites. And he says as much:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah wanted the Lord to be a judgment juggernaut – not a gracious God.

And yet, around 150 years later, God’s judgment does come for Nineveh, but through a different prophet – the prophet Nahum. This is what Nahum has to say:

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:14)

It turns out that the Ninevites repented of their sin during the time of Jonah, but then fell back into their sin after the time of Jonah. And now God’s judgment will come on them.

So often, like Jonah, we want God’s judgment to come in our way and on our schedule. We want to be judge, juror, and executioner of those who have sinned against us, or even of those who are morally opposed to us. But Jonah’s experience with Nineveh echoes the apostle Paul’s words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:18-19)

God will judge – but not always in our way and on our schedule. Indeed, as Nahum – the prophet who does announce of God’s judgment – says:

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1:3)

The Lord does have power and punishment for sinners, but only after the Lord practices patience – lots of patience – with sinners. And for this, we should be grateful. Because God is not only patient with them, but patient with us. So, let’s be patient with God and allow Him to carry out His mercy and His judgment in His way.

I have a feeling He might know what He’s doing.

August 15, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What makes God, God?

What makes God, God? Traditionally, God’s fundamental attributes have been described as omnipotence – that God has power over all – omniscience – that He knows all – and omnipresence – that He is with all. Certainly, these are all true and critical attributes of God. But as the prophet Micah closes His book, He sees something else foundational to God.

Micah begins with an announcement from God that He will rescue Israel in power. God says to Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

God’s power will overpower all the powers of the world, Micah says. This is God’s omnipotence at its most expansive. But it’s not just this traditional attribute of God that makes God, God. For Micah continues with a critical question:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

What is it, Micah muses, that makes God so unique? What is it that sets Him apart? His answer is as stunning as it is soothing:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

It is God’s mercy – and not only His power, knowledge, or even presence – that makes God, God. What makes God utterly unique is that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, He hurls our sins away and, by doing so, becomes our hope and stay.

Martin Luther spoke of two types of God’s work – His strange work and His proper work. God’s strange work is His work of judgment in power. It is a work that is meant to reprove and, if not heeded, condemn. But though God does this work, it is strange to Him. It is not His preferred mode of operation. His preferred mode of operation – His proper work – is that of mercy and grace. God’s desire is to redeem and not just to reprove – to commute the sentence of sin instead of condemning people in sin. This is what makes God, God. And for this, we can be thankful. Because it is God’s mercy that allows us to approach Him, to rely on Him, and to find our rest in Him.

In Hebrew, the name Micah means, “Who is like the Lord?” The answer is, of course, “No one.” But because of what the Lord is like, we can like the Lord. We can love the Lord. Because He loves us.

August 1, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Raising Up a Remnant

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The prophet Micah ministered during a dark period in the nation of Israel’s history. Externally, the Assyrians were menacing Israel, and internally, both the secular and spiritual leaders of Israel had become corrupt. The secular leaders were abusing their privilege to take advantage of the powerless:

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance. (Micah 2:2)

The spiritual leaders, in turn, were willing to overlook such gross misuses of power because they were being paid by the secular leaders to do so:

Her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3:11)

With depravity running rampant throughout the nation, it was tempting to feel as if no one righteous was left – as if evil had gotten its way and seized the day. And for a time, that looked to be the case. The Assyrians not only menaced Israel, but eventually routed Israel, followed by the Babylonians who did the same thing a little over 100 years later. Israel had fallen and righteousness had been extinguished.

But Micah knew better. Micah understood that, even amid much fallenness and darkness, God could preserve and raise up a remnant of people for Himself:

The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man. (Micah 5:7)

Micah declares that much will have been lost by the time Israel’s judgment is through, but God will nevertheless raise up a few.

It is especially important to note how Micah describes this small group. They are “like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man.” The key difference between those who fall in judgment and those who are raised up in a remnant is that those who are raised up in a remnant “do not…depend on man.” Their status as part of God’s remnant does not depend on any person, any treaty, any riches, any social status, or any act of human power, but on the righteousness of God. It depends not on human efforts, but on faith in God. Their status as God’s remnant is not their achievement, but God’s gift.

In a world where we can sometimes feel isolated because we see sin all around us or we struggle with sin within us, we can rest assured that we are part of God’s people – His remnant. As Jesus put it: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God’s flock may be little, but it is real. And by simple faith, anyone can be a part. May this be a promise we all take to heart.

July 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Day of the Lord

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One of the most prominent themes in Scripture is the Day of the Lord. This is the day God will reveal Himself in His power and glory. And what a day this will be. It will be a day of awe. It will be a day of fear. It will be a day of judgment. And it is a day that is near.

The prophet Obadiah describes this day thusly:

The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (Obadiah 15)

In Obadiah’s telling, the Day of the Lord will be one of recompense. What you have done – both good and evil – will boomerang back to you on this day.

For me, this sounds terrifying. I have done some good in my life – but I have also done plenty of bad. There are things I have done to others that I would not want done to me. A day of recompense, for me, would be a day of ruin.

And this is precisely what Obadiah wants his readers to worry about. He continues:

Just as you drank on My holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. (Obadiah 16)

God warns that the nations will “drink continually” – a metaphor for the pouring out of divine wrath. The wrath that God pours out on this day will be so intense and God’s destructive judgment so definitive, that it will be as if there had never been any nations.

But it does not have to be this way. In the middle of a day of inescapable divine judgment, there will be a refuge:

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. (Obadiah 17)

Zion will be a place of refuge from the judgment all around it. Jacob – that is, Israel – will receive an inheritance. But how?

A parent bequeaths an inheritance to a child for the simple reason that they are a child. It is not something that is earned – and often not even deserved, for many children are scoundrels – it is simply given out of love.

The apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Galatians 3:26)

This is how we are rescued from the recompense for sin that comes with the Day of Lord and, instead, given refuge in spite of our sin at the day of the Lord – through faith in Christ. Jesus is the One who turns a terrifying day into a triumphant day. He is the One who delivers us.

When the Day of the Lord comes, it will be either a day of wrath or a day of redemption in Christ. Which will it be for you?

June 27, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Did I Do Something to Deserve My Suffering?

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People who are struggling can sometimes wonder: Is God angry with me? Is He disciplining me because of some sin in my life? Did I do something to deserve this? These questions become particularly acute when people read biblical stories of God punishing places like Sodom and Gomorrah or Jericho or Babylon or even Israel because of their sin.

The prophet Amos lived during a time of spiritual depravity in Israel. This depravity was masked, however, by general political stability and economic prosperity. Because of these conditions, the Israelites were lured into believing they were experiencing God’s favor. But God called Amos to deliver a damning declaration:

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane My holy name.” (Amos 2:6-7)

God’s judgment was coming on Israel’s sin. But at the same time such a declaration may sound unsettling, it can also be comforting.

God regularly used the ancient prophets to remove ambiguity about His judgment. People did not need to guess whether God was punishing them because of their sin because the prophets clearly revealed whether God was punishing them because of their sin. In Amos’s case, God even reveals through this prophet the specific sins for which Israel was being punished.

God leaves no ambiguity when it comes to His punishment of sin. As Amos goes on to explains:

When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:6-7)

If God brings judgment, He will make known what He is doing. He renders no judgment without revealing whether it is, in fact, His judgment.

You never have to wonder, then, in the face of some struggle or suffering, whether God is angry at you. Or whether He is disciplining you. Or whether you have done something to deserve what you are experiencing. If you are left wondering, you already have your answer: He is not angry with you. He is not lobbing suffering at you out of His wrath toward you. God’s judgment is not meant to be secret or mysterious. Instead, it is designed to be clear so that it can unambiguously call people out of their sin and back to His righteousness.

If you are suffering, God is not judging you. You can know that. But you can also know this: He is with you. He does not remain aloof from you, but comes to you through Christ. If you are suffering, remember that Christ has also suffered. He knows what suffering feels like. And He knows – and cares – what you feel like. His response to your suffering is not judgment, but love.

June 13, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Grace. Period.

In Exodus 32, while Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, one of which is a prohibition against idolatry, the Israelites are committing idolatry at the base of the mountain by worshiping a golden calf that mimics the gods they once saw while they were slaves in Egypt. When God sees what is happening with the Israelites while He is meeting with Moses, He is furious. He says to Moses:

I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. (Exodus 32:9-10)

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His ambassadors to a world broken by sin. Now He wants to start over with a new ambassador in Moses. But Moses argues for a different plan:

LORD, why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on Your people. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:11-13)

Moses intercedes for Israel, and God responds and relents:

The LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened. (Exodus 32:14)

What is especially interesting is what Moses says to get God to relent. Moses argues two things: it will be bad for God’s international reputation to destroy Israel, and God will undo His prior promise to their forefathers about giving them many descendants. Moses does not, however, call on the grace of God, even though grace is what God ultimately shows. But what God shows in Exodus 32, He explicitly declares, two chapters later, in Exodus 34:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

There’s more to God than commands against sin. There is grace for sinners. And although commands are what we need for our own good, grace is how we can actually relate to God. Grace is when God says to us not, “I love you if…” “I love you if you keep My commandments.” “I love you if you keep yourselves from sin.” “I love you if you prove yourselves worthy of love.” Grace says none of these things. Instead, grace simply says, “I love you. Period.”

For those who have never heard that from anyone in your lives, this is the declaration of your Father in heaven. God may give commandments. But He lavishes grace. Strive to keep His commandments. But when you don’t, find your rest, remedy, and rescue in His grace.

September 20, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Slow in Anger and Full of Grace

When God appears in a burning bush to Moses and charges him to lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, Moses is fiercely skeptical of God’s rescue mission. He begins by expressing skepticism that the Israelites he is called to rescue won’t express some sort of skepticism:

What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The LORD did not appear to you”? (Exodus 4:1)

God responds by giving Moses the power to perform some miracles to back up his divinely mandated mantle – he can turn his staff into a snake, make his hand leprous and then heal it again, and turn water from the Nile into blood.

But Moses is still not so sure. He is not only skeptical that the Israelites won’t be skeptical; he is also skeptical that he will be able to deliver God’s message:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Exodus 4:10)

God insists that Moses will do just fine. After all, He created Moses’ mouth, and He will speak through Moses’ mouth.

But Moses’ problem, it turns out, is not one of Israelite skepticism or a fear of public speaking. Instead, it is simply an old-fashioned stubborn will:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. Please send someone else. (Exodus 4:13)

Moses simply does not want to be bothered with God’s mission. And God is not happy:

Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses. (Exodus 4:14)

Usually, when the Lord’s anger burns, He acts accordingly. When the Israelites build a false god in the form of a golden calf, God says to Moses, “Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Exodus 32:10). By the end of the chapter, we read: “The LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35). When the Israelites grumble against God immediately after He provides them with a superabundance of quail, we see that “while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and He struck them with a severe plague” (Numbers 11:33).

With the Lord’s anger burning against Moses in Exodus 14, we would expect God to take decisive discipline measures against Moses. What will God do? Strike Moses with a plague? Swallow him up into the earth? Turn the burning bush into a flaming inferno that consumes him?

God does none of these things. Instead:

He said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (Exodus 4:14-16)

God, instead of destroying Moses because of his lack of confidence in Him, gives Moses a companion in his brother. God’s anger may burn, but so does His grace.

When Moses is up on Mount Sinai meeting with God, God proclaims His character to Moses:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

It turns out that not only is God slow to anger, He is also slow in anger. Yes, sometimes His anger results in disciplinary action. But in Moses’ case in Exodus 4, God’s anger was subsumed by God’s grace. In place of judgment, God gave Moses his brother.

When we sin, God can – and, indeed, does – get angry. But as with Moses, God’s anger is ultimately subsumed by God’s grace. And in place of judgment, God gives us a brother:

Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.” “Who are My mother and My brothers?” He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mark 3:31-34)

God is slow in anger – even with us.

May 17, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Justice Anthony Kennedy Will Retire

Anthony Kennedy

In what was one of the biggest stories of this past week, after 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last Wednesday, effective July 31.  Justice Kennedy’s tenure as a Supreme Court justice was fraught with anticipation and tension when various landmark cases were being decided, with many referring to Kennedy as the court’s “swing vote.”  He voted with the more conservative branch of the court on issues such as gun control and campaign financing while siding with the more progressive branch on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and the death penalty.

Not surprisingly, the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement has set off a flurry of political activity, with conservatives delighted that President Trump appears poised to deliver another proponent of originalist jurisprudence to the nation’s highest court while those on the liberal flank of the political divide worry about what such a justice could mean not only for the current progressive agenda, but for some of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of the past half-century.

The fiery debate that is unfolding is a timely reminder for Christians that good judgment really does matter.  Over the past few decades, it has become fashionable to decry nearly any sort of judgment as self-righteous judgmentalism, and to respond to those who call for keen legal, moral, ethical, or theological discernment with a cry for tolerance and relativism – living and letting others live.  This is why an artist like Chris Brown can sing a song like “Don’t Judge Me,” where he asks his girlfriend to forgive his indiscretions.  This is why Justice Kennedy himself could write, in a 1992 majority opinion on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in support of abortion:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.  Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

This is a judgment that refuses to make a judgment on something as basic and fundamental as what constitutes life.  In this way, it is relativistic in the extreme.  Of course, by not making a judgment on what constitutes life, Justice Kennedy makes a de facto judgment:  either there is no human life in the womb, or there is no human life in the womb worth protecting.  Either one is a judgment that carries with it massive life-and-death implications.

A moment like Justice Kennedy’s retirement reveals that an unmoored relativism and an absolutist tolerance ultimately cannot stand.  Society needs and wants good judgment.  After all, judgment, both legal and personal, decides how money is spent, how people are treated, what relationships are desirable and permissible, and, as Planned Parenthood v. Casey demonstrates, even which lives endure.  The Supreme Court is called upon to render judgments on disputed issues according to the U.S. Constitution.  As Christians, we are called, first and foremost, to judge our own lives according to the law of the Lord and then, second, to lovingly and compassionately call others to appreciate the beauty, the value, and the wisdom of this divine law.

Our society is in desperate need of good judgment.  Sadly, we live in a time rife with poor judgment where standards, especially in the realm of politics, shift for the sake of expediency and, as the fight over a new nominee for the Supreme Court will surely reveal, power.  But, as Jesus warns, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).  We will not be able to elide consistent standards of judgment forever in order to suit our own fleeting fancies.  Our standards and principles may slide and glide around today’s political ice rink, but God’s standards will outlast our shifts and will, ultimately, judge our shifts.  Perhaps we would do well to consider His standards when making our judgments.

July 2, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Character and Civics

White_House_DC

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The economy is booming.  There is hearty hope for a diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and North Korea.  Pressure is mounting on Iran to come clean about its nuclear ambitions.  And the President of the United States is embroiled in a controversy over whether or not campaign finance laws were violated when his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, $130,000 during the closing days of the 2016 election to, ostensibly, keep her quiet about an affair she now claims to have had with Mr. Trump in 2006.

If the accusations against President Trump are true, this episode is morally disquieting – and not just because campaign finance laws were potentially broken.  Not only that, the responses to this episode are themselves morally disquieting.  Many who are opposed to the president see this episode as a convenient way to defeat a political enemy.  The moral turpitude of what has allegedly happened is merely a pretext for a political power grab.  Others, who are aligned with the president, are quick to cast the allegations against him as nothing more than a witch hunt.  Even if they suspect the charges might be true, they calculate that sexual immorality is a small – and, I would add, historical – price to pay for the power of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Whatever your political proclivities, these accusations present Christians with much to ponder.  On the one hand, it is important for us to remember that character still matters in our leaders.  All the way back in the sixteenth century, Niccolo Machiavelli famously argued that political leaders do not need actual virtue.  They simply need to project the appearance of virtue:

It’s seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, human, honest, and religious.[1]

This is nonsense.  Appearing to be virtuous while not actually being virtuous is, plainly and simply, hypocrisy – a sin that Jesus fiercely and consistently condemns.  Hypocrisy in virtue is not only immoral; it also is dangerous.  If a person cannot lead himself by cultivating in himself basic virtues, he will struggle to lead others as well as he could.  Self-leadership is a necessary prerequisite for other-leadership.

This is certainly not to say that our leaders need to be perfect – no leader is, has been, or ever will be.  But it is certainly preferable that our leaders be self-aware.  Self-awareness cultivates both humility and curiosity – humility over how one has fallen short and curiosity about how one can grow in competence and character.

At the same time it is necessary to encourage character in our leaders, it is also important demand character in ourselves.  A critical part of personal character development, according to Jesus, is to carefully consider our own shortcomings before we address the iniquity of others.  Jesus explains it like this:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5)

Notice that Jesus does not prohibit holding others accountable for their specks of sin, but He first wants us to hold ourselves accountable for our own planks of peccancy.  Understanding and addressing our own struggles with sin gives us both wisdom and empathy to help others in their tussles with transgression.

Over the years, as I have watched the dialogue that unfolds during scandals involving the character of our public officials, I have come to suspect that at least a segment of our population doesn’t care too much about helping the people involved.  Instead, it only cares about maximizing the power it has.  Depending on one’s political preferences, maintaining or overturning the power of this or that politician becomes the driving and deciding factor in how some people respond to any given moral crisis.  When this happens, we’re not really defending our politicians, even if we like them, or honoring them, as the Bible instructs.  We’re simply using them.  And that’s a character crisis in us that, though it may not make the headlines, should certainly serve as food for thought in our hearts.

______________________________

[1] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Tim Parks, trans. (New York:  Penguin Books, 2009).

May 7, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sharia Law and Biblical Grace

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  This is the apostle Paul’s sobering summary of the human condition.  And he’s right.  Not only is there is not a person alive who lives up to God’s standards of righteousness, there is also not a person alive who lives up to the standards of righteousness he sets for himself, as any person who has ever attempted – and failed at – a New Year’s resolution can tell you.  Sin is universal.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, two Christians were publicly whipped, according to the dictates of Sharia law, “for playing a game at a children’s entertainment complex in a way authorities say amounted to gambling.”  Aceh’s population is 98 percent Muslim, and people can face floggings for acts including “drinking alcohol, adultery, gay sex, gambling or having romantic relationships before marriage.”  Indeed, the province’s courts are imposing hundreds of whippings a year for acts like these.  Last January, a Christian was sentenced to 36 lashes for selling alcohol.

I do not believe that drinking or selling alcohol, in and of itself, is sinful, though I do believe that drunkenness is.  Likewise, I don’t believe that a good-natured raffle for a few laughs is inherently wicked, though I am also well aware and wary of the dangerous greed that gambling can stoke and how the gambling industry, especially in the form of state lotteries, cynically preys on the economically disadvantaged.  I do believe in a traditional sexual ethic. So, I would say, as do the courts in Aceh, that any sexual activity outside of the confines of marriage strays from what is appropriate.  In short, though I would qualify certain things, I find myself in broad agreement with Aceh’s moral concerns.  But I also find myself fundamentally at odds with Aceh’s response to these concerns.

The radicalized form of Islamic law that Aceh’s theocratically-minded courts seem to be bent on propagating addresses sin through judgment.  Each sin, in these courts’ minds, deserves a flogging.  Christianity, however, addresses sin in a whole different way.  Christianity acknowledges the reality and ubiquity of human sinfulness – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – but addresses such sinfulness not with judgment, but by grace: “All are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

In John 8, Jesus is famously confronted by some religious leaders who bring to Him a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery.  In a breathtaking display of theocratic virtue signaling, they crow: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say” (John 8:5)? In their recounting of Mosaic law, the religious leaders conveniently overlook the fact that it was both the adulteress and the adulterer who were to be punished by death, as, in this case, they bring to Jesus only the adulteress. They also needlessly restrict the method of execution to that of stoning, even though Moses makes no such specification.  Nevertheless, they are broadly correct that adultery was, according to Mosaic law, punishable by death.  Jesus, however, instead of debating the finer points of where the adulterer is and what method of execution should be used, simply responds:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:7, 9-11)

Here, Jesus brilliantly puts His finger on the problem with responding to sin with judgment instead of with grace.  If one responds to sin with only judgment, there will finally be no one left to mete out any judgment, because no one is without sin.  Everyone will have been stoned.  Only grace can address sin in a way that leaves anyone standing.

Christianity certainly understands and accepts the role governing authorities play to discourage wickedness by means of penalties.  But Christianity also knows that people need more than a penalty in the face of sin.  They need a Savior who does not condemn them, but forgives them.  And this is what a theocracy like Aceh’s, which plays the roles of both political and religious authorities, cannot provide.

Interestingly, the Bible does accept lashings as appropriate remuneration for sin.  But the lashes do not fall on us. They fall on God’s Son:

He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

The courts of Aceh, it turns out, are lashing out far too late for it to do any good.  The lashing that was really needed already happened 2,000 years ago.

It’s time to put the whips down.

March 5, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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