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Mere Christianity: God's justice - 4

Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1255 | October 3 2012

If we want God to treat us or the people He interacts with justly or fairly, as we reckon those values, the Old Testament has bad news for us. But the good news is that God has something better than justice—just desserts—for any, even in the Old Testament, who make an effort to know Him and put themselves in His hands. The good news is mercy, which is always better than "justice," and mercy is grace, God's gracious gift to all who put their trust in Him.

Last time, I recapped the story of Job as one example of a person who put his trust in God totally and permanently, without wavering over years, decades, most of his lifetime, when everything seemed to be going wrong in his life. And though he couldn't see what God was up to, Job knew that come what may, he was going to fare better with God than without him, and in the end Job was rewarded for his faithfulness. Something very similar is illustrated in the life of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph had a vibrant relationship with his Father, God, and nothing, even being sold into slavery, even being falsely accused of raping his slave-master's wife and then being thrown in jail, caused him to take his eyes off the prize.

The prize is being united with God now and for eternity. If his brothers threw Joseph into a well to die in the desert, God had a plan for him and all he had to do was trust him and wait to see it unfold. If his master's wife tried to seduce him and then accused him of assaulting her when he fended off her advances, and his master threw him into jail on a rape charge, God had a plan. It might take years to unfold, but Joseph knew God well enough to wait without wavering. Wait he did, and he became an unparalleled icon of Christ's good news in the first book of the Old Testament, as he went from slave to top minister in Pharaoh's cabinet. His dreams and the prophesies he got through those dreams saved Egypt and even the fledgling nation of Israel from destruction. When, a lifetime later, his brothers repented of throwing him in the well and then selling him into Egyptian slavery and begged his forgiveness, Joseph's reply was a sincere and cheerful assurance that no apologies were needed because "you may have meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, even the saving of Egypt and of all of us."

Many passages in the New Testament, similar to the ones in the Old Testament already discussed, also show that God is not about justice as we understand that concept. I cited several of these last time. But the New Testament context is much more "cushioned" by even more passages about the grace and mercy that God bestows on those who seek Him moment by moment, so that the church emphasizes these teachings as the main content of the New Testament, as they are. Many ignore or forget the many instances in which Jesus warns of "the wrath to come." We are amazed to read, in C.S. Lewis, for example, that Jesus is the one who, almost exclusively, warns again and again of the dangers of hell-fire in the New Testament, but it's a fact that a quick survey of the passages about hell readily confirms.

We must always remember when reading any section of the Bible who it is who is telling the story, and what kind of story or passage it is. Is the writer a prophet or the "secretary" of a prophet (as in Ezekiel). If so, we must remember that prophesies are generally hyperbolic; their language is intended to instill fear. But a non-prophet—a historian, for example—might tell the story in much less over-the-top words and images. God's wrath is always severe, but the way it is spoken about affects our reaction to it. Jesus' prophesies about the destruction of Jerusalem (taken by the church from earliest times as having taken place about 40 years after Jesus' time, in 70 A.D.) are a case in point. We read His words and think nothing could be worse, and for those in the midst of it, nothing could. But to those who happened to be out of Jerusalem at the time and stayed away until the hostilities had been all forgotten, the destruction had a much more human and natural scale.

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