The Loving Vengeance of God

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,

a year of recompense for the cause of Zion

Isaiah 34:8 (ESV)

God says “Vengeance is mine!” (Deut. 32:35) This means that the only one who is allowed to be vengeful is God Himself. It is His right and His only. And if He wills to exercise it, He does so in holy, moral justice (meaning He is not immoral to do so, nor is He unholy nor does He violate His character of love when He acts in vengeance). Therefore, applying our earthly condemnation of vengeance as immoral does not apply to God.

But why? Why is God’s vengeance still in the realm of love while man’s is not? Because, unlike man’s vengeance, God’s is not done out of self-gratification or vindictiveness, nor does it proceed out of a sense of injury or indignation. God’s vengeance comes out of or proceeds from, justice. In other words, God’s vengeance is about establishing an equilibrium where wrongs have been made right and aims to return humanity to a state of peace (or shalom). This equilibrium may come in the form of either punishing the oppressors or vindicating the oppressed.

Man, however, confuses this loving act of vengeance with his own acts of revenge, which are emotionally driven behaviors that seek to exact punishment for a wrongdoing out of anger or malice. It may feel like equilibrium has been achieved when we make someone hurt as bad as we have been hurt, but it does not have an eye on restoring peace between each other or between ourselves and God. But since man equates God’s vengeance with revenge, and since he knows that revenge is only interested in purposefully inflicting pain (which is evil), he concludes God’s vengeance is evil.

But it is not. It is lovingly just.

The consequences of God exercising His vengeance may cause pain, but this is to be expected when justice engages and overwhelmingly conquers evil. Evil will not go down without a fight. It will not be satisfied with relinquishing any power or position it has acquired in any mind, heart, soul, community, country, business, or endeavor. There will, therefore, be a war between what is right and what is evil. And in order for justice to prevail and good to be established in its rightful place, evil must be altogether eradicated. Not one stone can be left unturned. And because evil is manifested in the choices, beliefs, and actions of men and women and cultures, the cost for victory sometimes comes with the price of life itself. This was true in the Old Testament when God commanded Joshua to wipe out the Canaanites, and this was true at the cross, when Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), and in so doing, showed Himself as both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Him (Rom. 3:26). Both were acts of love for His people. Just as leaving a child unprotected is neglectful and evil, so, too, leaving sinful people to their own devices to resist evil and to do good is both unjust and unloving. But removing the dangers that lure them away from safety and providing the conditions that allow for them to continually stay out of harm’s way and learn to continuously practice good is altogether just and loving.

God is interested in and personally works to make His children perfect. Vengeance is necessary so that the war against evil within one’s own self ends only in the complete destruction of evil. Not just its surrender. When understood in this way, it makes sense for God to say, “Vengeance is mine.” Only He can and should do the work of restoring shalom within us. And only He can and should do the work of restoring justice, or shalom, outside of us. Vengeance belongs only to Him.

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What are You Bringing Forth?

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:34-37 (ESV)

Jesus asks how an evil person can speak good. The question is, of course, rhetorical for the answer is that he cannot. James 3:12 emphasizes this same point stating that what one is in his nature always correlates to what one is in his behavior. Fig trees, for instance, cannot bear olives nor can a salt pond produce fresh water. Similarly, an evil person cannot bring forth (or produce) good, for it would go against who he is in his nature. This does not mean that an evil man cannot do moral acts. To say such a thing would not only be naive, for every man makes choices that branch off the tree of his heart, but would also be foolish. But Jesus is not concerning Himself with the branches on the tree but with the fruit that dangles from them. Anyone can choose to be kind to their neighbor on occasion. But occasional watering or fertilizing of the heart does not change the nature of the heart itself. The evil person stores up evil in his heart and produces evil fruit, which is continuously displayed through his dispositions, habits, beliefs, and behaviors, regardless of the behavioral modification that he may do.

The terrifying thing about Jesus’ analogy is that fruit is never meant for the tree. It is produced for the consumption of others. “No man is an island,” said Donne, and of this, he could not be more right. We are social creatures by nature and the fruit we produce in our lives is presumably given to others for their betterment. But when what we produce is evil and our family and friends have glutted themselves on it, the more our fruit becomes a part of the sap in their tree. In this way, evil replicates itself until a cancerous orchard of pain, perversion, suffering, affliction, and death has infected all who take a bite. That is why the warning that Jesus gives us about storing up evil is not about us becoming evil. We have already accomplished that by ingesting evil continually. It is about how we bring forth evil into the world.

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I am the …

A long time ago, I wrote a post entitled “Two Question Christianity,” where I suggested that Christians need to explore scripture with two questions in mind: 1) What does this say about God? and 2) If this is who God says He is in His word, how should I respond to Him?

However, I did not explore or demonstrate what this would look like in practice. So, today I wanted to provide a devotional for you that helps you apply the principle in that article. Obviously, there are more than two questions below; however, the two questions in that article frame the rest of the questions here. They are intentionally broad questions to help encourage thinking and develop a closer relationship with God. If you would like space to write down your answers to these questions, you may download a copy to your computer as either a .docx file where you can enter your answers or as a .pdf file that you can print out to write down your answers.

If you find this helpful and would like more devotionals like this, please let me know in the comments.

Also, I welcome any insights you would like to share with me from your meditation on these questions.


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5 (ESV)

MEDITATION:

1. What does this passage say about who Jesus is? Who the Father is?

2. Taking these two things together what does this say about God?

3. Since this is who He is, how does the Bible instruct us to respond to Him?

4. The Greek word translated “abide” means “to stay, to be in a state that begins and continues, to remain as one, not to become different from one another.” How do you daily stay in Christ?

5. What evidence in your life points to the conclusion that, although you are your own self, you remain one with Him?

6. What evidence in your life shows you have drifted from Christ and have become different from Him?

7. What would you need to add or remove from your life so that you may continuously “abide” in Him?

8. Every life produces some type of result from their actions. What would you say is the result of your life’s actions so far?

9. Where do you receive the life for this fruit? The world? Social Media? Politics? Philosophy? Or Jesus? Take some time to identify the effects your life has produced and then identify the source that feeds these actions.

10. Jesus describes two types of branches: one does not bear fruit and is taken away, the other abides in Christ and suffers seasons of pruning that it may bear more fruit. Which one are you? Why do you think that?

11. When Jesus says “apart from me you can do nothing” is he referring to practical actions such as eating lunch, driving to work, or changing a diaper? Or is he referring to something more? What other characteristic of Himself could he be alluding to besides being the life-giving vine?

12. How does this passage, and especially verse 5, relate to 1st Corinthians 10:31, which says: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”?

PRAY:

Take time to reflect on who God has revealed Himself to be to you through this passage.

  • Start your prayer by addressing God with that characteristic. For example, “God, you are ____” or “I come to my holy ____”.
  • Praise Him for being this in general and in your own life.
  • Look back at question #6 and ask God to forgive you for the things you listed.
  • Ask Him, in accordance with who He is, to make you like Himself and to abide daily in Him.
  • Humble yourself and tell God why you want this and why you need this.
  • Commit to Him to stay in Him but also ask Him for the strength to do so.
  • Ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If My People…

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Heavenly Father, my heart is breaking for this country. Our nation has become a people who have embraced the rewards of wealth over the rewards of righteousness. We have elevated choice above truth and have found an infinite number of creative and clever ways to repeat the sin of pride so that we might justify our pleasures and redefine evil as good and good as evil.

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The Emergent Change

 My soul longs for your salvation;
    I hope in your word.
My eyes long for your promise;
    I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?[a]
    When will you judge those who persecute me?
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to your law.
All your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

Psalm 119:81-88

When suffering comes it is easy to lose sight of God. His timing often seems slow and His promises (though they are surely coming) seem far off. Meanwhile, our enemies continue to barrage us with blow after blow, making us cry out to God, “How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?”

It is in those darkest times that we forget that God is not only in the business of saving. He is also in the business of sanctifying. He does not just write the ending, changing us from unholy to holy. He also develops us into the heroes and heroines He wants us to be. Most people only focus on the last two or three dominos that fall at the end of a story so that they can understand if the story’s main conflict is decided for or against the protagonist. But God does not want to only create the three final causal changes within us. He desires to create systemic, or emergent, changes within us as well.

In His sovereignty, God orchestrates our life story so that a chain reaction of events, choices, and circumstances push us out of our normal world and into an adventure that contrasts God’s principles, promises, and precepts against the razor edges of life. This creates an emergent change within the whole system of ourselves. It does not change only one part of us. It changes multiple parts simultaneously until we reach a climactic moment where the deepest questions about ourselves are answered within the character of God:

Am I lovable, despite my trauma?

Can I let go of that addiction to porn?

Can I overcome my pride and be selfless?

Can I ignore those temptations at work and be faithful to my spouse? And if not, can I work diligently to restore my marriage?

In other words, it is not enough for God to just open the Red Sea and save us. To become His holy people we must walk through the wilderness too.

So, we keep moving forward.

Not because our willpower is stronger nor because our wisdom is brighter nor even because our therapy is better. Rather, we continue pressing onward because the God-ordained result of all our struggles is that “when he appears we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:2). This is the promise that we have been given and that God will see to the end: That “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php. 1:6) This is the emergent result of all of our experiences, all of our choices, and all of God’s sovereign will being exercised throughout our lives. Until then, even in the darkest moments of life, we continue to pray, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.”

The Interplay of Two Wills

Put false ways far from me

    and graciously teach me your law!

Psalm 119:29

Here is an interesting interplay between God’s sovereign will and man’s choice.

First, we see that David understands that without God he will always walk in false ways. His heart is desperately sick and deceitful above all things and though his ways may appear right to him, without God’s intervention the end of all his choices is the way of death. (Jer. 17:9; Pr. 14:12). Therefore, he begs God to act against the natural inclination of his will and put false ways “far from him.”

This is not something he could do on his own. He needs a new nature from God (2 Cor. 5:17) and a new law to follow, one that is not bound to sin and death (Rom. 8:2). Thus, he entreats the Lord to “graciously teach me your law!” David wants freedom from his wicked self and knows his only help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps. 121:2).

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An Invitation to Boldness

“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

“Follow me.” (Luke 5:27)

Earlier this year an acquaintance of mine introduced me to Jon Gordon’s “One Word Challenge.” The idea was simple. Instead of making resolutions every year that you abandon before the second week in January, pick one word that will define how you will live your life that year.

Obviously, a person cannot just open the dictionary to a random page, point at the first word he sees, and choose that as his word. Such an exercise might cause you to become unscrupulous, deceptive, or irredeemable for the year and that would be terrible! No, choosing such a crucial word must be accompanied with prayer, meditation, and precision. Sometimes the word may just pop into your head. Sometimes it may be the antonym of a characteristic you are trying to avoid. And sometimes it may require continually seeking and understanding what God is telling you in your heart until you have finally articulated the essence of His will for your life this year…in ONE word.

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Rewriting Rote Prayers

Rote prayers. We all have them. Sometimes they are the perfunctory words we use before eating a meal:

“Dear God, thank you for this food we are about to eat, and thank you for all that you have given to us. Help to go through each day knowing and doing your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Sometimes they are a meaningless combination of words or phrases that provide neither clarity nor intimacy in our communion with God:

“Lord, lead, guide, and direct us.” (if God is leading us, He is guiding us. If He is guiding us, He is directing us. Why do we need all three words, when one will do?)

And sometimes our rote prayers have emptied themselves of both potency and urgency due to years of repetition and an undercurrent of hopelessness.

“Save my friend.”

“Heal my child.”

“Bring us revival in this land.”

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Can Prayer Help?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:2-6 ESV

The wrapping paper flew off in a rush of anticipation that only childhood can provide and floated to the ground. The colorful box was about the size of my torso and balanced on my tiny lap. Two bright words beckoned me to a world of boyish adventure, implanting visions of secret experiments, startling discoveries, and minor explosions within the bowels of my house. And for weeks these visions fueled my persistent play with the tiny vials in my brand-new chemistry set.

But as the days continued, my enthusiasm waned. Most of the experiments in the manual seemed either too simple or too complicated and none of them taught me how to explode stuff, which, if I am honest, is what my 11-year-old self really wanted.

So, I did what any child would do. I kept the manual for reference but put it to the side and began to gradually mix a combination of the chemicals to see what I could make. Surely it couldn’t be that hard. I had seen science shows on TV and most seemed to easily result in at least some sort of harmless bang. But regardless of what chemicals I combined, I could not even produce a smidge of smoke. All my experiments resulted in either green or yellow solids, stuck stubbornly at the base of a limited supply of test tubes.

“This stuff doesn’t work,” I finally concluded.

Many of my chemicals were gone. No startling discoveries had been made. And all I could produce was ruined test tubes.

In despair I made sure all the vials were in their correctly labeled space, laid the unused manual on top, softly slid the box top over the bottom, and buried my chemistry set on a shelf, never to be touched again.

But failure is a bell that never rings only once. Its echoes hoard disappointment, sadness, and shame. These resounded so often throughout my schooling that a hard, stubborn bias formed at the base of my unguarded soul against science. It was too hard. I was less Louis Pasteur and more Larry, Mo, and Curly. And no matter how hard I tried it was always easier to blame the repeated failures on the science than it was to blame myself (the scientist).

The reality, of course, is that I struggled with science because there was something wrong with my assumptions, methodology, logic, or understanding that prevented me from being successful in this field. It was not the science that was flawed. It was me. To hold any other position would be irrational.

Interestingly, the experience I had with science often parallels the experience others have had with prayer.

The gift that God has given us to boldly “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16) and the promise of “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7) fill our uninitiated souls with visions of victories, blessings, and pain-free lives.

But then we are told, or we experience, that God is not our personal genie. We look at His manual, the Bible, for guidance and instruction in this incredible gift. Some of it seems relatively easy and straightforward. Other parts are hard and complicated. And if we are truly honest, what we want the most is an immediate alleviation or extinction of our pain, not a lesson in theology.

So, we put the manual aside and begin to experiment as best we can with the gift He has given. We include elements of other faiths or worldviews to help us understand how to use prayer effectively. We embrace concepts that are not taught in scripture, but because they sound like truth and are used by millions of people across the world, we mix them in our test tubes of prayers and hope to a harmless bang in our answers. Instead, all we receive is a hardened green or yellow rock as the result of our experiment. Nothing has changed. Anxieties and stressors and suffering seem to come and go of their own accord until one day we survey the landscape of our prayerful experiments and exclaim “This stuff doesn’t work!”

So, when Paul writes in Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” people who believe that prayer does not work dismiss the comment outright.

But is this being fair? Is it truly a problem with God or prayer? Or does the problem reside in the assumptions, methodology, logic, or understanding of the one who is praying?

The only rational position is that prayer works, but it is impeded in several ways. It does not work when we try to fulfill our selfish motives (James 4:3). And it is hindered through our preponderance of doubt (James 1:6-7) and pride (Job 35:12-13). Our unwillingness to obey God’s law (Pr. 28:9), to disenfranchise the poor (Pr. 21:13), to cover our hands with blood (Isa. 1:15), to fill the land with violence and to provoke God repeatedly (Eze. 8:17-18), to refuse to listen to God’s call and to ignore His hand of discipline (Pr. 1:24-25), to turn a stubborn shoulder and stop our ears from hearing; to make our hearts like flint so that we cannot hear His law or His words (Zech. 7:11-13)…these are the things that hinder our prayers.

It is not prayer that is flawed. It is us.

As a man whom Jesus healed from blindness once said:

 “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.”

John 9:31

Therefore, it is only right that our leaders and pastors call for and encourage prayer during a national crisis where stores are being looted and burned due to generations of unchecked racial injustice, and a pandemic has forced us to consider and protect our mortality.

God promises terrible things to His people if they will not obey Him, and we may be witnessing the bud of God’s justice beginning to open.

But God is not a god of judgment only. He is also a god of redemption and peace. A god of healing, not hatred. And ultimately a god of love, salvation and eternal life.

Therefore, God has promised that when He sends pestilence on the land or allows it to be devoured that “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

We must understand.

This is not a call to prayer only.

This is a call to repentance.

Isaiah 1:16-19 says:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The first step in this repentance is humility. God wants His people to humble themselves. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) We Christians must bow down, weep and intercede before our Lord on behalf of our country. We must boldly admit any implicit or explicit culpability we hold as individuals or as the corporate body of Christ for God’s judgment upon this nation and turn from our wicked ways. It is not enough to be outraged at injustice or depravity. We must be bold witnesses who engage the culture with the transforming power that the Gospel and discipleship in Jesus Christ can bring. Therefore, humble yourself.

Second, we must pray. But how?

  1. Center your prayer not around your will or your wants or your selfish desires. Center your prayer around God’s will both for us and for this nation. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 Jn. 5:14).
  2. Do not trust in your power or man’s ability or any earthly strength. But ask God to exercise His strength and to exhibit His power for the glorification of His name.
    • “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chron. 16:11)
    • “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Ps. 20:7)
    • “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)
  3. Pray in the Spirit, not in yourself. And make prayer a continuous practice, regardless of the occasion. You do not have to wait for a crisis to pray. But be alert. God’s people need continuous prayer. We can fall into sin just as easily as anyone else.
    • “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17)
    • “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Eph. 6:18 NIV)
    • “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15)
    • “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt. 26:41)
  4. Renew your mind every day with scripture. Let this be the filter through which you engage the world and discern God’s will, so that God is glorified among the unrighteous. The world looks at life through a competitive lens of “us vs. them,” which invariably leads to increased aggression, pain, and suffering. Do not fall into this trap.
    • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
    • “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Php. 1:27)
    •  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)
  5. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart.
    • “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
    • “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Third, “seek God’s face.” This is where one’s Christian life becomes less of a intermittent activity and more of a continual pursuit of His presence.

  • “Seek His face continually!” (Ps. 105:4)
  • “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8 NLT)

The fourth and final step in repentance is to turn from your wicked ways. Godly, humble, contrite, repentant prayer is not only a passive action one does on his knees; it is also an active public expression of faith he takes among his people.

  • In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
  • Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)
  • For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
  • Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Pr. 28:13)
  • Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:8-17)

Come, let us not be children, playing with prayer as if it some chemistry set. But may we get ourselves right with God. Then we can work together to lift our nation, our cities, our leaders and our enemies up to the Lord with prayers that conform to His will and cannot be hindered. Then we will see healing come to our land.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIV)

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

The Futility of Fairness

unjust-enrichment“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead…Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”

— Ecclesiastes 9:3,11 ESV

 

In these verses, Solomon is not accusing God of being evil. Rather, he is saying that the fairness we are all subjected to in this life is evil. That it doesn’t matter if one is righteous or unrighteous death, time, and chance “happen to them all.” Instinctively, our conscience screams, “That’s not fair!” and demands a just order to the world. But fairness is an evil consequence of the Fall. God wants us to live in a just world. It was this way in the beginning, and it will be this way again in the end. He will re-establish the correct order of creation one day where justice, not fairness, rules; where the same event does not happen to all. The unrighteous will be punished, and the righteous will be rewarded.

This is why, in His wisdom, God gave us the law: to provide a standard for just living, and to give a foretaste of what life within a just world could be like (if everyone obeyed). But sin takes the opportunity to arise in our hearts once the Law is given (Rom 7:8). To establish a just world, He can not only teach us and leave us to our own free will. He must also redeem us from the madness that is in our hearts by giving His life in place of ours. Therefore, first God establishes the standard of justice, then He exercises through Christ the first perfectly just act by any human being. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21).

Christ’s perfect obedience secures the promise that one day we will escape life in this fair world, where “the same event happens to all,” and enter into life within a just world. Here, the unrighteous will receive their punishment but the man no longer tainted with sin will discover that God will withhold no good thing from him (Ps. 84:11). In this just world, every good thing is an expression of God’s self and results in the righteous man’s exultation in the unblemished, holy character of God. It is a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining relationship dynamic wherein God continuously blesses, and man continuously rejoices. For man’s joy will no longer be in the gifts that he receives but in the goodness, and the justice, of the God who gives.