6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.7(For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.
The Apostle Paul, Letter to the Romans: Chapter 5, Verses 6-11
I was an enemy of God.
The idea of being God’s enemy is not far-fetched for me. When I was a kid, I believed that there was some sort of omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient being who enjoyed making my life hell. As someone who did not know God, it was easy for me to conceive of him in the worst light possible. Reading the stories of others who grew up similarly, I see that I am not alone in my feelings toward my conception of God.
I was gladly an enemy of my conception of God.
I guess it is this conception that has always made the Old Testament hard to stomach in some parts. For my perspective, there are many places in the story where God is throwing his authority around like an athlete throws a javelin. People die in the Old Testament, sometimes for things as simple as steadying the Ark of the Covenant, sometimes as complex as being the people whose practices God cannot stand so much that he raised up his own people to deal with them. In the Old Testament, it is really easy so it seems to get on God’s bad side.
It seems almost impossible to stay on his good side.
Now to be fair, we are a species that likes to use the gift of God’s image and prostitute it out for something more to our liking. Even God’s people have been notorious for their ungrateful, wicked, adulterous, and idolatrous hearts. Solomon built God the most glorious house he has had on this side of eternity, but then he built his own palace to be larger. The three prohibitions for Israelite kings: a huge army, a large surplus of wealth, and multiple marriages, Solomon broke with wanton pleasure. In the end, it doomed his faith and his kingdom. The man who was once admonished for his wisdom was mocked by the writer of the book of Kings for his shameless idolatry.
And stories like Solomon’s riddle the pages of my sacred scriptures.
So, we are not innocent in this struggle; if God made us and made the rules of our existence, then we have a responsibility to submit to them. But we don’t, do we? Instead, we have rebelled and we have decided where to set the boundaries. Where God says we are to be satisfied with what we are given, we want more and we want someone else’s as well. Where God says we are to love him and love our neighbor as ourselves, we want to love ourselves and love our neighbor when it pleases us. Where God says do not eat this fruit because when you do you will die, we grab the fruit because it is beautiful and will make us as wise as God…without having to depend on God for the wisdom.
We hear God, we run away, and then we do whatever we can to keep him off our backs, while still doing whatever it is we want to do.
But God is greater than us, and unfortunately, sin is too. God is love, but he is holy love. What this means is that God’s holiness comes before his love. This is the first principle of how God deals with us: holiness will never be tossed out because of love. The levitical sacrifices and rituals demonstrated this flawlessly. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of God’s love for his people, but they had abandoned the heart behind the ritual. He loved his people and any from the outside who joined his people, but their sins made it absolutely impossible for God to remain with them. The prophet Ezekiel actually watches as the glory of God rises from the Ark of the Covenant, heads out the gates of the Temple, and ascends into the heavenly realms. If God had stayed there would have been nothing left of Israel, his people would have been utterly destroyed.
God’s holiness leads to wrath against sin, but I don’t think that wrath is an explosive unleashing of emotion, though God does fight for his people both as a nation and individually in the Old Testament. When I speak of God’s wrath toward sin, I see it more as a disinfectant or an extreme reaction toward a pathogen. God’s holiness demands that sin not remain in his presence; when we are born into sin (the sin nature), God’s holiness demands that we are purged along with the sin because that nature has contaminated us. The holiness of God attacks sin, and he will do so regardless of how much he loves the individual or people being attacked.
But that leads to the second principle of how God deals with us: God loves us enough to put as many barriers between us to spare us for a time from his wrath. In the Old Testament, the levitical sacrifices were not permanent solutions. The writer of Hebrews mentions that the blood of animals could never take away sin. What these blood sacrifices were was a cover: when God looked at the worshiper he saw the blood of the sacrifice and not the worshiper…at least for a time. This delay allowed God to dwell in the midst of his people, but not destroy them. Now, there were a few cases where the people’s offenses were so egregious that glimpses of wrath broke out and destroyed them. This served to remind the people that they were living with a God who is holy and that disrespecting him could be fatal and permanent.
Today, God does not immediately bring the lost world to judgment. He does not condemn the religious or the hedonist as he could. God patiently waits, desiring that all should come to repentance and knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ. That’s why when we start using Old Testament terminology to talk about the judgment or wrath of God, we miss the point of what God is now doing in the New Testament.
Which brings us to the final principle of how God deals with us: God has provided a permanent covering in the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ; therefore, God’s mercy in Christ will always come before God’s holy judgment. This mercy is the reason we call today Good Friday. We can argue all we want to about the system, the nature of God, or how we want reality to be…but at the end of the day, if God is who the scriptures say he is, then we will ultimately have no excuse or defense.
You see, we are born with a sin nature; we are not good people. There is no one who is innocent among us because we are helplessly enslaved and contaminated by sin. Even the good we do that reflects the broken image of God in us is tainted by the sin that drives our core. Sin is greater than us, it will slay, defeat, and ultimately damn us to be objects of God’s wrath. God will judge sin and sin will take us down with it, if we let it do so. We live in a world like in the movie The Matrix, where the hidden realities all around us are concealed by our obsession with the world in front of us. From birth we are lied to, we are led into rebellion, and then we are left to suffer the consequences.
We may doubt that God loves us, but make no mistake: Sin and its servant Satan hate us more than anything else. We, even in our fallen, broken state, reflect Him; we reflect the glory of our Creator, even in shards of the broken glass of our souls.
That’s why the “good news” is so good. Christ died for us; God loved us so much he gave up a crucial part of himself, took responsibility for my sin, and was crucified in shame and disgrace in front of the watching world. His death made his and our resurrection possible. Christ is the mercy of God that triumphs over judgment; Christ is the righteousness of God given to the unrighteous. Christ is God restoring to us evil, twisted sinners what it means to be good and whole. There is hope for this broken world and its broken inhabitants in Christ; all of the scriptures pointed to eventually God satisfying his own holiness and being able to love his people unconditionally in Christ.
So, on this Good Friday I challenge you to see God as he truly is: holy, patient, and graciously merciful. His holiness must be satisfied in wrath or in salvation in Christ, but his love is what wins, what endures forever. May you be reconciled with God today because God has made a way to be reconciled with you.
Grace and Peace