“Dad, Ethan spit in my cereal!”
The words blasted through the bathroom door yesterday morning as I attempted to shower. So a few seconds later I stumbled into the living room, a half-naked & half-soapy detective ready to crack the case of the frosted flake loogie.
Long story short: My sweet 10-year-old daughter, in an attempt to pick on and manipulate her younger brother, told him that she had spit in his yogurt. And much to her dismay, he returned the favor into her cereal. So an hour before school began, my kids had to sit down and get a lesson in the fallacy of redemptive violence from their towel-clad father.
But there is a powerful truth lurking in that (now) funny picture: There are very real consequences that our bad actions and attitudes bring into the world. Even when we feel justified, these things always end up biting us back. Things escalate. Pain births more pain. When we hurt others, hurt always finds its way back to us.
Sin is its own punishment.
Which brings me to the idea of judgement. I wonder if we get the idea of God’s judgement twisted somehow. Trevor mentioned yesterday about how we can look into Scripture and see God described as angry. We see that God’s wrath plays some part in how the mess of our world will somehow get worked out. We read about a Judgement Day when it will all come to a head.
So we assume that God is angry with us. Because we’re the ones messing this up, right? God made this perfect place and we’ve gone around wrecking everything, so he’s mad. And one day we’ll have to face the music. There’s a reason why Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is still popular to this day — we’re afraid of God’s judgement because we think it’s punishment for messing up his perfect creation.
And while God will certainly judge, I’m wondering if we’ve missed the point.
Think of the cross — that pivotal moment in history where God dealt with the problem of sin. It is there where his anger and rage would be most evident, right? Jesus, hanging there in our stead, would be the target of God’s wrath. But in that moment we do not see God unloading punishment.
Instead we see God stepping back.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus wasn’t asking why God was unloading all his wrath upon him. Instead he was asking where God had gone. It’s as if God stepped back and said, “See? This is the natural end to sin. This is what it looks like when we do it your way. The ways you have acted in this world? This is the end result.” And in that moment we see not a God dispensing punishment, but God in human form bearing the natural consequence for our sin.
When my kids were fighting and spitting yesterday, I was angry. Sure, I was frustrated with their actions (which in hindsight are actually pretty funny now). I want them to treat each other better. But what makes me mad is that the things they do and say can really hurt one another. Our home becomes something we don’t want it to be.
So sometimes I have to step in and say “That’s enough!” and put an end to it.
This is what God’s judgement is like. Is God angry? Of course he is. He sees the same pain and brokenness in the world as we do. We are selfish and violent and dishonest. The results can be gross and it breaks God’s heart. The Bible is filled with his warnings of the end result of our bad choices.
But God’s judgement is not about him squashing us for our sins. We’ve done a good enough job of that already. We know we’re guilty. It’s pretty obvious.
The pain and brokenness we cause is punishment enough on its own.
God’s judgment is about him stepping in and saying “Enough!”. Enough with the pain and sorrow. Enough of the hurt and ugliness. He’s bore the weight of all of it. He will stand in judgment of it. And he’ll offer us the way out to restore the peace and beauty of the life he intended for us.
Or he’ll step back and let us choose the natural consequences of our own way.
This is not a God who rages against us for sin. He is a God who weeps when he sees the pain we’ve caused.
And he is a God who judges, just maybe not the way we normally think.