Friday, March 2, 2007

The Law seen through the Gospel

An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the LORD, who strikes. (Ezekiel 7:6-9)

Passages like these can cause difficulties for believers and non-believers. What could be more frightening than an omnipotent being saying he will repay me, and pitilessly at that, for everything I have done? That this omnipotent being will strike at me, and do so because I deserve it? It is not a comforting thought to say the least. There has to be a way out!

There are three ways we may try to deal with this.

First is to deny what the words have to say. We may deny that this passage is applicale to us because our sins are not so bad, compared to the other guy's sins. We may also deny that these words are God's words, because God is love, and he is not actually wrathful against sinners, so this passage is not saying that he is really wrathful, that is contrary to his nature. Perhaps we may judge God, and ask why he would be pitiless, surely God has evolved enough to be beyond pity, and he always feels good and affirms others. Or we may say we would not deign to worship such a savage, tribal deity. Such a deity is not really worthy of our worship, so we will not worship him.

Second, we may realize that we deserve God's wrath, and redouble our efforts to obey him. Surely we can cleanse ourselves, surely we can obey what he commands, because he would not command anything we could not obey. And once we have cleansed ourselves, once we have removed the plank from our eye, we can go to our neighbor and teach him how to obey God as we do, because now we can see clearly. After all, our neighbor would not want to have an omnipotent being pitilessly pursuing him for his failures.

Third, we may simply despair. After all, if an omnipotent being is out to get us, where will we run? We may, as St. John said in Revelation, simply ask the hills to fall on us, because who can hide from God when the day of his wrath has come? (Revelation 6:15-17) This despair could also drive us away from even considering there is a God at all. Then in our unbelief, we will mock him and bring even more wrath upon us. Or we may simply go on sinning, as it doesn't make much difference, we are doomed anyway; eat drink and be merry!

The first is an attempt to explain the "difficult" passage away by changing their meaning. This is the path of "liberalism" and philosophy.

The second is an attempt to justify ourselves before God. When we try to justify ourselves and we tell ourselves we have attained a measure of righteousness often we turn this into legalism. This is the path of the Pharisee.

The third is an attempt to dull the pain by denying reality. We may simply throw our hands into the air, or grow angry at God because we cannot obey him. This leads to atheism, something Luther flirted with because he began to hate God.

These types of passages, being "law" in Lutheran parlance, do not need to be explained away, nor do we need to boot-strap ourselves to please God, nor do we need to see God as a monster because he is just and punishes sin and sinners. They stand as part of God's revelation, just like the passages we like, the ones which tell us God loves us, that he died for us, that he will forgive us for the sake Of Jesus Christ. The Gospel, or the forgiveness of sins for Jesus Christ's sake, does not change the meaning of a passage so much as change how we see it. Because of the promises God made, we see these judgements against us not so much as something we inevitably will suffer, but as something we rightly deserve which, for the sake of Jesus Christ, God will not apply to us. When we read of God ordering the extermination of the Canaanites, we do not see a viscous God, but think "Ah, if only they would have repented, then they would really know who the Lord is!" When we hear of our crucified Lord, we think "Ah, Lord, it was I who placed you there! Have mercy on me, forgive me so I might serve you as I ought!", not "Look what a cruel God he is!", "How can a good god do such a thing?" We should see the Scriptures as a testimony about Jesus Christ, which he himself said they were. That means we believe the law as well as the Gospel, neither one obliterating the other. God is indeed merciful, and his judgement against sinners is because of us and our open rebellion against him, not because of his cruelty. It is with the eyes of faith we see God's mercy in the sacrifice of his Son, and it is with they eyes of faith we see what God has revealed to us in the judgement passages of the Scriptures--not that he wants to punish us, but that he loves us so that he would stay his hand from this if only we would believe and repent.

We as Christians rejoice in God's unmerited mercy toward us, our God who dies for those who rebel against him, even while they rebel.

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