Random Blog Clay Feet: December 29, 2008
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Vengeance or Lovingkindness

I have been observing for a number of months the sad saga of a dear friend who is the victim of a corrupt judicial system in another state. He has been held in prison much longer than permitted by law without a trial and has been subjected to abuse and deprivation under harsh conditions while one corrupt judge after another has manipulated the system to avoid allowing him the freedom he deserves. They have repeatedly ignored all of his requests for justice and accountability by the court and in the last report I received yesterday I heard they even laughed openly at the mention of God by my friend.

Their words echoed closely the sneering comments of Pharaoh in Egypt when Moses demanded freedom for God's people. When confronted with the authority of the God of heaven Pharaoh said, “Who is God that I should listen to Him?” This was almost the same comments heard during a very recent hearing for my friend. When my friend heard them say this he is said to have almost cried – but not for himself and the injustice he is enduring but for the people who are so hardened against God that they will sneer and laugh at Him openly and despise His authority.

But what alarmed me was a comment of the person relaying this information to me. They added that they were certain that God was going to be very angry with those people for scoffing at Him in this way and that they are in great danger because of their comments. I know that this long ordeal that has dragged on in one form or another for several years now has been a tremendous drain on this close friend and I feel great sympathy for everyone involved. But I also am aware of a deep reservoir of bitterness in the heart of the person who has been keeping me up to date on this situation. This comment about God being very angry with these godless, unjust abusers is reflective of the feelings of many people throughout the ages who have endured injustice at the hands of others. But what I am confronted with is this: what does it say about not only God and His attitude toward those who flaunt Him but about us when we so desperately want to believe in a God who gets very angry at people who make fun of Him or who are hurting us?

What I am starting to perceive is that many Christians may be using their belief in a sovereign God to be their vicarious agent of revenge for the injustices committed against them. Being a Christian, they may feel that it is inappropriate to seek revenge on their enemies directly, but the intensity of their anger and bitterness inside is unavoidable, so as an outlet of release for all their rage they use God as a secondary means of threatening those who clearly are demonstrating the characteristics of the enemy. They use talk of stern judgments and thrive on ideas of a very angry God thundering down punishments on those who are clearly in the wrong. This gives them a little bit of hope and comfort in their terrible situations in hopes that someday Someone all-powerful is going to step in and even the score and inflict the pain and suffering that we feel is due to all those who exploit us.

But again I ask, what does this say about the God that we claim to love and serve? How is it supposed to attract those who do not serve Him now to want to come to Him? What about those enemies who are so heartless and unjust – does our attitude of vicarious rage cause them to want to repent and seek God for healing?

It is nearly an unchallenged assumption on the part of many Christians that the main method of inducing God's enemies to repentance is to threaten them with severe judgments and eloquent descriptions of “the wrath to come” on them if they continue to follow their evil ways. And I am not suggesting for a moment that there is not terrible judgments and punishments in their future if they do not repent. But the real crux of this question is, do those judgments and punishments come directly from the hand of an angry, revenge-seeking, offended deity out to settle a score, or are those judgments and awful punishments part of the natural consequences of violated eternal principles that are unavoidable if we reject the protection of God's mercy and grace that have already long protected not only those who have openly despised Him but ourselves as well? Is it possible that all of us are just as deserving of damnation and vengeance as those who more openly live in violence and wickedness? Is our relative righteousness compared to theirs somehow an insulation for us against suffering the wages of sin like we sometimes wish upon them?

For the past few years I have grappled with this issue of a God who seems more reflective of our own evil cravings for revenge and a desire to inflict pain on our enemies than on some of the plainest statements of Scriptures showing God to be very different than what we like to imagine. Just a few days ago I discussed some of this with another friend who was very reluctant to listen to such ideas about God as I was sharing, preferring rather to stick with beliefs in a God who will someday commit His “strange act” as most theologians like to refer to it. It is commonly accepted that someday God will finally come around to apparently see things the way we see them and get even with all those who refuse to accept His forgiveness and love for them like we want Him to.

It is then added by some – to the great confusion of the whole idea – that He is going to do this while feeling great sadness and pain for what He is somehow forced to do to end the great controversy. But it is believed that there is no other option for Him, so to get rid of evil He is going to have to torture the rejectors of His mercy in flames of hell for some period of time. But the farther we get into these theories the stranger it becomes to our teachings of justice and mercy. Generally it is said that mercy simply is suspended or dispensed with at that point since it is no longer available to the lost. That somehow gives God license to kill and torture some of His children in revenge for all the evil that they have committed against Him and against those who have been saved.

But the more I have pondered this and studied this subject and prayed about it and listened to the Spirit of God, the more I find these doctrines and beliefs totally unacceptable and even blasphemous in my opinion. These are not just “strange acts” for the God that I have been coming to learn about over the past few years but are closer to the characteristics of the very enemy that He is seeking to defeat. For God to suddenly adopt some of the tactics and attitudes of Satan to finish off Satan would be an irony that could easily sow seeds for further questions about Him that could linger on throughout all eternity. Maybe it is a strange act for very different reasons than we suppose concerning that word.

I realize there is enormous pressure on people to embrace these kinds of ideas about God when they are suffering under oppression from evil men. But is this really the Christian's hope that we should be encouraging? And furthermore, is this the spirit that will attract those same enemies to want to repent and turn to God for salvation themselves? What kind of witness are we bearing for the God we claim to love and serve when we promote such emotionally charged ideas about Him? Are we really being faithful witnesses for God or might we be found guilty ourselves of violating the ninth commandment?

I think the quickest way to find answers to all of these questions about God and the way He feels toward those who violently oppose His will is to carefully consider the life and example of Jesus, particularly during the awful treatment He received from sinful men during His last hours at Calvary. What attitude did He display toward those who clearly were out of line with any notion of justice or mercy? How did He react when tortured and abused to death by the very ones that He had come to rescue? The primary mission of Jesus to this earth was to reveal to us just how God feels about us and the real truth about His heart. Jesus and the Father have absolutely no discrepancies in their attitudes towards sinners. So if we do not see Jesus condemning or craving revenge against those who mistreated Him, how can we justify our desires to use God as our agent of revenge against those who mistreat us?

This is a very hard teaching for Christians to accept or even consider most of the time. That is because it betrays into the light our fleshly desires for revenge and retaliation that are so unlike the real truth about God. Unfortunately, religion has too often sought to conform our ideas about God more into our own image than to seek to truly understand the revelations about God that have been somewhat obscured through the filters of human messengers. But the truth is still there to be seen by anyone who is willing to lay aside their preconceived prejudices and allow the Holy Spirit to warm their heart with the real truths about our heavenly Father that have been kept in mystery and darkness for long ages.

Imagine the chances of Saul of Tarsus becoming a Christian and challenging the whole world to take a serious look at God if the early believers had embraced these beliefs about God that are so commonly held today. If those believers had been more interested in revenge against all the horrors that Saul was putting them through than in obeying the instructions of Jesus to pray for and love their enemies, I don't think Saul would have had much of an attraction to joining with them after His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. But quite the opposite, I firmly believe that it was the intercessions of those very Christians that Saul was persecuting so violently and their Christ-like attitude in his face while he was trying to terrify and torture them that was the real source of the unavoidable pricks of conscience that Saul could never escape inside of his soul.

When Jesus exposed Himself to Saul on the road that day that turned his life totally around, it was not the first time that Saul had felt the strong persuasions and attractions of love and grace in his life. The constant witness of people who were choosing to act in the spirit of Jesus while he was abusing them was the most powerful weapon that could be used to disarm the lies that filled the mind of Saul. These repeated exposures to the presence of Jesus in the lives of His followers added to the convictions of the Holy Spirit reinforced by the prayers of Saul's enemies for Him, and this all became very painful for him as resisting them became a constant battle inside of his heart.

When Jesus showed up on that road, He was no stranger to Saul's mind by this point. Saul had long been hearing and resisting inwardly the sweet kindness and strange compassion of God in his soul that was so different than the stern, vengeful kind of God that Saul had grown up believing in. This idea of God as a merciful, forgiving, kind Father who treated people with infinite compassion and tenderness consistently was totally foreign to the religion that he had believed all his life. But it was the kindness of God that ultimately brought Saul to his knees in repentance, and nothing has changed in the years since that time.

I myself am just learning about this God and these truths are still seeping into my own thinking and perceptions. I too feel the pressure of wanting to endorse an angry, vengeful God when I am mistreated or witness horrible abuses of those I love. But I too must be reminded that the desires of my flesh will never bear truthful testimony about the true nature of God's feelings toward me or my enemies. God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. I want to be transformed into the perfect image of God and not slip into the mistake of trying to form Him into my image.

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. (1 Chronicles 16:34) When I looked up this verse on my computer I found that this phrase occurs 46 times in the Bible. I have come to see it as something of an anchor for my faith. God's lovingkindness really is everlasting.