“Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
Here and there at an antique store you will see one of those wooden paddles they used to have for corporal punishment in schools. Once one of my kids asked what it was for. My, how times have changed. They just assume that teachers have always been nice.
A similar shift has happened in attitudes toward God. As kids we were taught “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. A little fear in the mix was considered healthy. All that angry God stuff has fallen out of fashion. Figures from the emergent Church movement like Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr, Steve Chalke and Steve Bell have taken God to task. They did not approve of his track record and insisted that he had to become less judgemental. They preferred a god remade in their own image.
Nobody really liked the angry God anyway. It recalls moments from our own childhoods when we were made to squirm about our behaviour. The new God that most churches propose is our guy. He is without judgement whatsoever. When we do something wrong he just looks the other way and smiles. It means nobody will be held to account for anything. Judgement has fallen out of fashion.
It’s all good except that in this current picture of the world, evil has not been done away with. Some might say it has increased in the absence of judgement. Aggrieved victims of crime want more judgement, not less. They want evil taken to task. Those people have seen the results of sin up close and it is not pretty.
There is an interesting exchange in the TV series Breaking Bad, where Jesse Pinkman speaks up in a self-help circle. The group exists so that addicts can talk about the bad things they have done. In that circle, anything is allowed. You are there to air your “stuff”. You are supposed to accept yourself the way you are so that you can make peace with the world.
Group Leader: We’re not here to sit in judgement.
Jesse Pinkman: Why Not? The thing is… if you just do stuff and nothing happens, what’s it all mean? What’s the point?
Group Leader: This whole thing is about self acceptance. Kicking the hell out of yourself doesn’t give meaning to anything.
Jesse Pinkman: So I should stop judging and accept?
Group Leader: It’s a start.
Jesse Pinkman: So no matter what I do, Hooray for me because I’m a great guy? It’s all good? I just do an inventory and accept? What a load of crap.
Later on, when Walt poisons an innocent child who gets in the way of his cartel ambitions, Jesse become enraged. He cries out in despair. “He can’t keep getting away with it!”
It’s the cry of anybody who has suffered from evil. It’s why they have victim impact statements in court.
The cry for justice seems to be scribed on the human heart. SOMEBODY has to hold things to account if they are ever to improve. Justice without judgement is no mercy to anybody. Jesse has learned close-up that what we do matters. If we want a world that is just, evil has to be met head on.
The idea of justice is enjoying renewed popularity, in fact crowds the world over are crying out for it all over again. The added bonus is that you can loot, burn buildings, assault people, and destroy public property while the police stand by. Mercy and forgiveness are out of the picture however. This is not God’s justice. It’s a little meaner because there is no possibility for redemption, only revenge. Denouncing your guilt is the ticket to this group’s innocence. They escape the same kind of scrutiny when they point fingers.
The cry for justice is by nature a healthy thing. In fact, nobody cares about justice more than God. It’s all over our Bibles. But Biblical justice says that the world will not be a just place until everyone is just. It all comes down to the individual. At the final judgment, God is going to deal with what’s hidden in the human heart. No one is exempt.
What is now going on reminds me of a scenario that will be familiar if you have raised young kids. Hide and seek is a game that comes naturally. Nobody has to teach it. There will be a day however, when your three-year-old will put a bucket on his head and will believe in all sincerity that you cannot see him. It’s how things look from the ground level for him. You just have to shake your head and play along.
I think it’s like that for all those protesters out there. Justice from where they stand might look a lot different than how God sees it. Social justice warriors who assume they are on the right track should take note of the Bible verse which tells us:“…leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19)
It reminds me of the old joke: What do you get when you mix a theologian with a dyslexic? Someone who puts up a sign that says “Beware of God”. Maybe that is a bit of good advice the world needs right about now. It’s a good point in time for justice seekers to do a bit of soul-searching. Perhaps some healthy fear of the Lord IS the beginning of wisdom after all.