Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said tho them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them -- do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did!"
- Luke 13:1-5
God our Savior...desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
- 1 Timothy 2:3-4
We hear it in fiery evangelical messages, the warning of God's imminent judgment. It is Biblical, from the Old Testament prophets through John the Baptist. Repent! they say. Follow God's law. Turn away from idols. Or, as I heard on Ash Wednesday, Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.
God has established his will, so the argument goes; humans have disobeyed. God has established his law; humans have gone our own way. There must be consequences.
Isn't that how it works? I am not a god, but I am a parent, and there are similarities, if this argument holds. I bring these children into the world and expect them to adhere to my will and follow the laws I set down or face the consequences. It's true, and it works -- up to a point.
One of my challenges as a parent has always been that, when my children haven't followed my rules, set down in black and white, I see all the grey. Is it that they won't, or is it that they can't? As a friend recently said to me, "It sounds like you're more mercy than judgment." Exactly.
If that is true of me in any sense, it must be more true of the God whose character is kind and merciful. If I know of my children, of myself, that sometimes we cannot do the good we might will to do (cf. Romans 7), than God knows that all the more.
So what does Jesus -- Jesus! -- mean when he says that if we don't repent, we will perish in bloody conflict, buried under the rubble of fallen towers? Is he saying that God will smite us into hell? I don't think so.
In 1 Timothy, we're told that God "desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Everyone. That is God's will -- that we be saved and not come to destruction. It is not God's will that threatens my salvation; it is my will. What I know as a parent is that the rules I make for my children are for their good. I am trying to keep them safe physically, emotionally, spiritually. Don't run in the street. Don't hold a grudge. Don't forget to say your prayers. I'm trying to guide them in building lives that will lead them to the knowledge of truth.
Jesus knows the same thing about the God's will for us. Following the will of God is the way for us to be safe. It doesn't guarantee a carefree life. This we know. Tyrants will still attack. Towers will still fall. But our real life, the life that matters, the life that carries on into eternity, will endure.
For Entering In...
- Spend a few moments in silence becoming present to yourself and to God. What does it feel like to be alert and aware in God's present?
- Reflect on these questions:
- What have you believed about God's judgment? What were you taught as a child, if anything? What have you heard or thought about it as an adult?
- Have you been in a position to set limits and enforce consequences on someone you love? As a parent? Teacher? Pet owner? What has your experience been? How have you held the space between judgment and mercy?
- Psalm 111:10 says, "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." Spend a few minutes silently reflecting on this verse. What do you understand it to mean? What does God have to say to you in prayer about "the fear of God"?
- Have you had a specific experience where you had a strong sense of God's will for you? How did you know? What did you do? Did you say yes or no? What were the consequences?
- Again today, remember the word that you have fastened to your heart. Continue to use your word, day and night, to recall you to the truth that God is with you always.