“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law is transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point he has become guilty of all of it…. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:8-10, 12-13)
The immigration issues in the United States are much on everyone’s mind, if for no other reason than Donald Trump and media are making a big to do about it. Most thinking and empathetic people, however, have watched with some angst as the treatment of families and children crossing the border has brought a moral crisis to our daily awareness.
What should we do with these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers? How should we be treating them and handling the situation? As the videos, photos, stories and reports stream in day after day, we can’t help but notice what is going on and to react to it. How does a Christian respond to the immigration issues that face our country?
I recall a sermon preached back in the 1980’s in the church I attended at the time in New Hampshire. I don’t remember the scriptural passage or references, but I remember the gist of the message, and it has stuck with me ever since.
The gist goes something like this: As God’s people, we need to be informed and take our direction primarily from God and God’s will as revealed to us in the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are in the world, but we are not of the world, and we should be careful not to be influenced by the world in our thinking.
The key point that I remember, however, is that we can focus so much on trying not to be influenced by the world that we become reactionary to it. If the world goes right, we go left. If the world goes left, we go right. If all we are doing is being reactionary to the world, we lose our focus on God. In the process of trying not to be like the world, we allow ourselves to be defined by the world nevertheless.
If our direction is dictated by nothing more than going in the opposite direction of the world, we are no more directed by God than if we are going in exactly the same direction of the world. Either way, we are focusing on the world and allowing the world to influence our direction.
I don’t see anywhere in the teachings of Jesus a statement that we will be judged by the degree to which we have achieved justice for the wrongs that have been done to us. God is just. In fact, he is perfectly just, but He didn’t leave us any instruction to that effect.
We may think of God’s justice in the context of an eye for an eye.[A] Where there is a wrong, perfect justice requires recompense. We don’t feel this any more keenly than when we have been wronged ourselves by others.
But there is a flip side to God’s justice. The flip side of God’s justice is God’s mercy, and God desires mercy more than God desires justice.[B] God desires to extend relationship to people rather than assign punishment. In fact, our own relationship to God can be measured by the extent of our relationship with others.
One of the nagging problems that people have with the Bible is the notion that God will judge people that we might consider good (as in better than me). That does not sit well with me, of course. Because we do not fully understand the issue, we fire off the accusatory question: if God is good and loving, how can He condemn good people to hell?
Goodness and badness are not really the point; moral standards, the Law, only expose the problem. A moral standard is completely incapable of accomplishing what we need; it only reveals that we need help.
Thus, when the Pharisees boasted of their good actions, Jesus raised the ante: He said that even thinking bad thoughts is sin! When the rich young ruler asked what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus told him to go sell everything – something Jesus knew he could (would not be willing) to do. The point of the Law is to bring us to the realization that we cannot measure up on our own.
If we are trying to measure up and “be good” in order to get to Heaven, we have failed to understand the problem. We cannot even begin to understand the solution if we fail to understand the problem.
The problem is that we are set against God in our sinfulness. Our nature is set against God’s nature. While everything else in the universe was created to be finely-tuned as God intended, by the choice God gave us, we deviated from plan. This choice gave us the possibility of having a relationship with God, our Creator, but it also set us up for corruption as we inevitably would go our own way, being imperfect creatures, and not gods (let alone God).
We wanted to be like God and, so, became opposed to Him. In this way, we introduced corruption (sin) into the world that resulted in death (and all that leads to death – decay, degeneration, disease, etc.)
Transformation is what we require to be able to have fellowship with God and to enter in to His Heaven. But, we cannot achieve that transformation ourselves. In fact, we are completely incapable of it on our own.
This is the fourth segment in the series, Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective.
We should never be afraid to confront the most difficult questions or statements. Truth is truth, and God and truth must necessarily be harmonious. Richard Dawkins says,
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
The angry God of the Old Testament problem is often a line of first defense (or is it offense?) for those who do not believe in God, or at least do not believe in “the God of the bible”. It is a problem that believers wrestle with too.
The sermon in church today was on the book of Ezra. Ezra 8:22 reads,
“The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”
This headline reads, Fiorina Was right. The article, then, goes into details regarding how Carly Fiorina, the rising GOP star, was right about the Planned Parenthood videos. The sanguine point is not that Carly Fiorina is right about those videos, but that so many people can be so wrong.
Yes, I said it, wrong! I know it is not poplar to believe in right and wrong, but morality never won a popularity contest. Morality often goes against the popular culture.
I heard some pundit say that the Planned Parenthood videos are “heavily edited” and that Planned Parenthood does none of the things they are accused of doing in those videos. Seriously?