Today begins an occasional series of reflections based on assigned readings from the Daily Office. May God bless you in your reading and reflection of them.
3 How long, O Lord?
How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?
4 How long will they speak with arrogance?
How long will these evil people boast?
5 They crush your people, Lord,
hurting those you claim as your own.
6 They kill widows and foreigners
and murder orphans.
7 “The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
“and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.”
8 Think again, you fools!
When will you finally catch on?
9 Is he deaf—the one who made your ears?
Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes?
10 He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you?
He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing?
11 The Lord knows people’s thoughts;
he knows they are worthless!
20 Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side—
leaders whose decrees permit injustice?
21 They gang up against the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord is my fortress;
my God is the mighty rock where I hide.
23 God will turn the sins of evil people back on them.
He will destroy them for their sins.
The Lord our God will destroy them.
—Psalm 92.3-11, 20-23
Strong language from one of the psalms assigned for today. The psalmist sees massive injustices all around him and calls on the Lord God to do something about it. Doesn’t God see what’s going on? Doesn’t God care about his people? But how can that be? After all, God punishes the nations. God punishes evildoers. God knows human thinking on its own is worthless, leading to no good, and God will not let it stand. The psalmist finally concludes that God will act on behalf of God’s people. He will punish evildoers and actually destroy them. Strong words. Troubling words. Nobody likes to think about God punishing humans because in our heart of hearts (if we have not totally deluded ourselves or lost our minds completely) we all know we are candidates for God’s punishment. Every one of us has missed the mark of God’s moral perfection.
When I was growing up, I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with these words. Apparently many deep thinkers of the church had trouble with these words too because there was a lot of scrambling to rationalize them and to convince us God wasn’t really that way.
And their efforts trickled down into the pulpits and ministers who were supposed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ totally and faithfully. After all, look at Jesus. He never had strong words for evildoers. Gentle Jesus meek and mild and all that.
Apparently texts like St. Matthew 23 (and many more) held and hold no weight to these deep thinkers and those they influenced. Or maybe these texts are later insertions by the church.
This is why Christian denominations that have rejected strong words like these and drunk the culture’s Kool-aid in an attempt to fit into today’s bizarre new world are dying. They deny their own story in the name of relevance. Nobody likes or respects someone who denies or disrespects his or her own story.
At one point in my life I almost drank the Kool-aid. But by the grace of God as I grew older I came to realize with the help of God and some true deep Christian thinkers how beautiful, real and hopeful these troubling words actually are. If God is truly a good, just, and loving God, how can God have any other reaction to evil and evildoers, human or otherwise? Why would God not be angry at things that dehumanize and ultimately destroy humans, God’s image-bearing creatures? Why would God not act on our behalf to rescue us from real injustices and wrongs, not the made-up, distorted ones we humans love to devise in our worthless thinking?
Think about it. We see folks attempting to foist critical race theory—a hateful, distorted, and inherently racist viewpoint—and apparently succeeding. We see DAs who refuse to prosecute criminals or uphold the law and we hear all kinds of angry rhetoric aimed at dehumanizing and delegitimizing law enforcement. As a result crime is skyrocketing in our cities as lawlessness and chaos ensue. How can humans flourish in that kind of environment? We hear angry voices denouncing our nation’s cherished institutions like the Supreme Court because it had the audacity to do the right thing in overthrowing Roe v Wade and put the decision back on the states as to whether to legitimize the murder of innocents. Let us pray that by the grace of God the states are wiser and more courageous than the 1973 Supreme Court who gave us Roe v Wade. How can humans flourish, especially the unborn, if they aren’t?
I can’t speak for anyone else but all these things and others make me angry because all these movements at their very core advocate lawlessness, the very essence of sin, and I hate sin, both my own and the sin of others. Sin is evil, wicked, harmful, and it has our destruction as its goal. If broken and fallible people like me can get angry over sin and injustice, how much more will God—the only perfectly good and moral being, our Creator who created things to run according to his good and perfect will—get angry at such doing and thinking?
I hope and pray God will make all things right. I also hope and pray that all men and women, even the worst of us, even those who make me angry, will be saved by God’s grace, justice, and mercy. I can have such a hope, even as a sinful man deserving God’s just punishment, because I have put my whole hope and trust in Christ crucified, the God-man who bore the punishment I deserved out of love for me, a sinner and evildoer. That same God-man loves and died for you to spare you of God’s just punishment for your sins if you will only believe God’s promise in Christ (the gospel) contained in holy Scripture. This is God’s merciful, righteous, just, and surprising justice. It has the power to heal you, but it won’t if you do not accept the gift and live by it in faith. Without Christ I could not pray for all to be saved. Neither would I have any hope for myself because I am part of the human race. The same goes for you too. Without Christ and his Death and Resurrection no one has the basis for any real or legitimate hope.
So the next time you read or hear about hard things in holy Scripture like God’s punishment and anger toward evil and evildoers, stop and remind yourself about the end game, God’s promised new creation, the new heavens and earth, a creation utterly devoid of human sin and evil and the suffering and brokenness it all causes. Who in their right mind would not want to live in such a world forever? This is the unique hope (the sure and certain expectation) of the Christian faith, a hope and expectation made possible only by the terrible sacrifice of Christ himself, God become human, offered on our behalf to spare us from God’s anger and punishment for our sins by bearing that anger and punishment himself, not because we deserve it (we absolutely deserve nothing of the kind), but because of the astonishing and breathtaking love of God the Father for us his wayward and rebellious creatures. God did this for us because God loves us and wants us to have a real relationship with him so that we can live with him both in this world and in God’s promised new world. Try reading the whole of Scripture through that lens, the lens of God working to make all things right through his surprising love, grace, and power, the power of crucified and resurrected love. Resolve to make this love your own and start (or continue) to live accordingly. It has the power to heal you.