Saturday, 26 January 2013

Understanding biblical justice

“Do horses run upon rocks? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (Amos 6:12).

 When we think of justice we tend to think of it in a retributive sense, that is, you did this so now BAM! We tend to put this thinking on Gods character as well, separating love and justice in some sort of yin and yang type of understanding (God is this but he is also that). Yet the bible gives us a very different picture of justice, one that shows that justice emanates from Gods love and is meant to be restorative. The two in fact are not in tension but rather in harmony with one another.

Right here I want to add a little side note because as soon as you start talking about Gods love, some people think that you are trying to portray Him as some sort of giant marshmallow who hugs pink bunnies all day long and that you are flying the cheap grace banner by emphasizing His love. I do not believe that the cheap grace message supports a loving god but rather a neglectful one. While I believe God forgives, I also believe that He actively goes beyond that and wants to fix our brokenness. Therefore, I side with the historical view that the cross was about Christ overcoming death, sin and shame on our behalf (empowering the powerless), rather than the |Calvinist/puritan view of it being about God pouring his wrath on Jesus so that he could overcome his anger with you and I (more on penal substitution theory another day). Quite honestly, I am not sure how the innocent getting punished on the wickeds behalf would be considered a just act anyway.

In scripture, it's interesting how justice is often linked with concepts like love, compassion, kindness, peace and salvation. Micah said, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).  Hosea spoke similarly: “Return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (12:6).

I read a fantastic article here
that defines justice as "how love is expressed in the face of evil". So how has God dealt justly with the world? The gospel reveals that God, in Christ,  has reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19), it is important to note that in the next verse that Paul urges people to likewise "be reconciled to God". Just because He extends His hand to us doesn't mean that everyone will grab it. The message though reveals that He has sought to redeem us from our brokenness rather than simply act in a vengeful and retributive manner. Of course the bible clearly does speak of events like the coming day of the Lord when heads are indeed going to roll. It's important to understand these things in the context of what justice truly means though. Some will reject God and He will act because some refuse to be redeemed in Christ and the story goes way beyond restoring man anyway and runs into a new heaven (which suffered when Satan lead his rebellion) and a new earth where Christ Himself will reign  and rule . 

A shift in understanding of this one word has really wowed me, I hope that it hasn't stopped there and means something to you all as well.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Can God look on sin?

Psalm 90:8  "You have set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of your countenance."

For most of my life I grew up believing a lot of things simply because they were repeated to me on a weekly basis. Some of those things had no truth in them whatsoever, but other things were a bit more difficult to discern, being dressed up in biblical proof texts. The heading of this Blog entry is one of the latter. It was not until I took a step back and tried to read the bible with no preconceived ideas (which is difficult because we all have them ingrained in us) that certain doctrines started to crumble while others stood firm.

So can God look upon sin or should I say sinners? Did he have to turn his head while Jesus hung on the cross? This is what I was taught based on one tiny sentence Jesus spoke recorded in Matthew 27:46, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?". Yet the bible is filled from cover to cover with stories of God interacting with fallen man. We see God seeking out Adam and Eve in the garden, and once they left the garden, guess who went with them and later on with their children. There is even that strange event in Job chapter 1 of Satan presenting himself before God and the conversation that took place between them.

So what about that verse in Matthew 27 then? The context of that is Jesus quoting Psalm 22 which is one of the Messianic Psalms. Verse 1 opens up with, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?...", and if you keep on reading until verse 24 we get this beautiful verse, "for He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has He hid His face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard". While I do not claim to know what Jesus was thinking when he uttered those words, I am confident that he would have known the whole of that Psalm, including verse 24.

There is another verse in Habakkuk 1:13 which sometimes gets quoted as well, it says "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness." but once again the context reveals that there is more to this story. For the very next words in the same verse say "Why do You look on those who deal treacherously..." 

Those 2 scriptures in context are in perfect harmony with the rest of scripture. God can look upon sin and sinners. As already stated, the story within the bible is really one of God interacting with a fallen and sin filled world. The Gospel itself proclaims that God seeks to restore both man and the rest of creation from its brokenness. Culminating in a new heaven, a new earth, and mankind as new creations in Christ.

Romans 5:8  "But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. "