“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Exodus 34, 6-7.
Some days, I want God’s mercy to go on for ever.
I like the New Testament concept of a ‘period of grace’ or ‘holding back’ of God’s judgement, even if at times it feels like we are living in a ‘bubble’ or a microclimate of permissiveness quite unlike anything which has gone before. A little experiment, if you will, in human freedom and responsibility, where God is only interested in one outcome: how and if humans will use their freedom to respond to Jesus. The trial period has lasted over two thousand years.
“God sent His son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that all mankind through him might be saved.”
The ‘bubble’ we are living in is not at all claustrophobic. God’s presence is real but only for those who look for it. Human freedom brings endless choice and possibilities and it can seem a little counterintuitive to surrender that freedom, that sense of ‘me at the helm of me’ for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus. Inside me an argument often rages about who is in charge, me or Jesus.
If I wanted, I could create my own echo chamber within this ‘bubble’ in which I could easily persuade myself that it is perfectly possible to keep my own freedom and serve God. All I would need to do would be to tune into sources which reinforced this view, and there are plenty.
But Jesus says differently:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
There are days (quite a few recently) when I, like our Prime Minister, have said (out loud) ‘enough is enough’ to terrorism, extremism, war and hatred. I’ve prayed for peace like most other people in our country while knowing in my heart that true world peace will only be when Jesus’ Kingdom comes.
These are days where evil crouches close, where personal choice and freedom seem a sad irony to those whom life no longer offers time or opportunity; where children are killed by terrorist bombs too close to home; where the threat to humanity’s freedom hovers menacingly over the good and kind.
On days like these, I need to know that God will judge evil, that he will not hold back forever.
When people ask me about Jesus, and why I’m a Jesus follower, I tell them about forgiveness (usually without mentioning the sin word), and about purpose and meaning in life. I talk about my “relationship’ with Jesus and the beautiful world of prayer. I just don’t often tell people that the God I believe in, the one who sent Jesus to save us, is also a God of judgement and that the Holy Scriptures also speak of a future judgement of our world and all its inhabitants.
It is legitimate for anyone to reject Jesus’ claim on their life and it is acceptable to tightly hold onto personal freedom. But it costs. God’s judgement is for all evil, but evil (in some form) and rebellion lie deep in all of our hearts. I really don’t like telling people that. I think that they can just figure all this out for themselves.
I distance myself from those who loudly yell on street corners about God’s judgement and from those who think it is acceptable to coerce the young and the vulnerable into making false commitments to Jesus, but deep in my conscious, I know that without knowing the whole story about Jesus, Christianity is just another viewpoint, another way of life and maybe a rather dull one at that.
Jesus challenges traditional worldviews. He has His own. God’s son enters our thinking as a lion, as one who ‘divides asunder’ the thoughts and feelings of our hearts.
When I started re-reading the ‘Old Testament’ recently, I was worried about how I’d deal with all those battles, killings and more.
I’ve now reached 2 Kings. Here the whole family of King Ahab (the evil one with the especially evil wife, Jezebel) is annihilated in glorious and gory detail. I feel nauseated as I imagine the protracted and brutal scenes, but I don’t doubt God’s reputation for promise keeping, or power to deal with evil. And, strangely, this view of God as the all-powerful, holy and just one is more than a little reassuring.
His Kingdom is not of this world (nor do his servants fight). [John 18,36]
Jesus offers hope. Hope that transcends our faltering human freedoms, hope that brings forgiveness for our personal sins, hope that one-day justice will be done in this world. All He asks in return is our commitment.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.