Monday, December 9, 2013

Wrestling with Grace and Judgment

From Pastor Charity

Psalm 145:20 The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

These words make us uncomfortable. In a day when Christian culture is trying to shed its judgmental reputation it is difficult to embrace scriptures like this from the Psalms that call for the destruction of the wicked.

Doesn't God want to redeem the wicked? 

The short answer to that question is "Absolutely!" The scriptures tell us that God does not desire for anyone to perish. They also say that God is compassionate and loving toward all he has made. God proclaims himself to Moses as one who forgives sins and maintains his love to the multitudes. 

With all that love and forgiveness and compassion, how could judgment and destruction enter into the equation?

The ideal, of course, would be that everyone responds to this love and grace and mercy with gratitude and a change in the way they interact with God and others (repentance). The reality is much more complex. Not everyone wants God's love. Some are happy to reject his grace and the offer of peace with God and healing from the wounds that come with the mistakes of the past. Others are delighting in reeking destruction in the lives of others. 

Does God still love them?


But he hates the pain that they cause others. 

When we talk about grace and mercy for those who do wrong, there is a whole group of people we leave out of the discussion. Those hurt by the sin of others. God loves them, too.

God's justice is good news for those who have been victimized by others reveling in evil. Hitler was God's creation, and God loved him, and God hated the evil that Hitler rejoiced in perpetrating. For the victims of that evil, the justice of God is good news. For others closer to home and our present reality--those who abuse their power to produce violence and death, rape and murder--God's justice is good news to their victims.

So, are you advocating unforgiveness and a revenge mentality?


God's justice allows us to let go of revenge and trust him to bring about what we could not. No matter what a victim does, the perpetrator never feels remorse. You can't make a murderer feel bad by pointing a gun at them. You can't change the mind of an evil doer by doing evil to them. You might wipe them out, but nothing changes. You are still hurting and they still have not paid for their sin.

I have heard forgiveness compared to cancelling a debt. For small things in our everyday lives this works like a charm. For larger debts that we cannot cancel, God gives us another avenue of release: transferring the debt to his care. We don't have to own the debt and seek repayment, instead we can give it to God and trust that he can bring justice to an impossible situation. He can carry the debt of childhood abuse, of violent assault, of any evil we have experienced that leaves a scar on our souls.

In this way, God's judgment and justice are good news to us as well.

But what if the perpetrator repents? Don't they get off scot-free?

Yes and no.

In order for repentance to occur, a person must agree with God about their sin. That is what confession actually means. It isn't some mundane recitation of actions, it is agreeing with God about the gravity and consequences of sin. For small things, we usually get a little taste of regret. Can you imagine the pain felt at the actual realization of all the consequences and destruction caused by practicing evil? This is really what most victims deeply desire: for the perpetrator to feel what they felt when they were victimized. 

In that scenario, they would receive forgiveness and grace, but the experience would be far from pleasant.

That former evil-doer would never look back on their actions as a joke. They would never laugh at their victim's pain. They would never relish the memories of harming another. 

Because true repentance brings about transformation. 

And that is true for both big and little offenses. Most of us will not murder or rape or abuse others. But we have our own transgressions. Some of those habits cause us distress. Some we joke about. Either way, to be rid of them, we must begin to agree with God about their seriousness. What we do does not only impact our lives. We must begin to agree with God about the impact on others. 

If we are not able to do that on our own, we can ask God to convict our hearts of sin. (He usually answers those prayers rather effectively, so pray only when you are earnest.) With a realization of the sorrow and pain caused by our actions, the tiny blip of pleasure we receive is obliterated. 

Judgment does not cancel grace, it gives it meaning. It would be cheap grace indeed that saved us from nothing, healed us from nothing, and denied the impact of our actions on those around us. Judgment walking hand in hand with grace is a result of God's love for all of his creation.

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