Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Grace, discipline, and wrath (from today's Quiet Time)

Here are my reflections on Revelation 16 from this morning's Quiet Time with God.
Look: “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Revelation 16:9)

“People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Revelation 16:10c-11)

“From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds,[a] fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.” (Revelation 16:21)

The people who have spurned God are cursing God because they’re experiencing the wrath their faithlessness has brought into their lives.

As I understand it, when the Bible talks about wrath, it’s not talking about an arbitrary God Who punishes from anger. Whenever God does punish, or better yet, disciplines us, it’s out of fatherly love. Citing Proverbs 3:11-12, the preacher of the New Testament book of Hebrews says: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:4-6)

Wrath is the consequence of a life turned away from God. It’s like the electricity that can come through a wall receptacle. It will in no way hurt you. But if you poke your finger into one of the holes or stick a piece of metal into one of them, the electricity conducted to your body will hurt you.

Wrath is the consequence of breaching the boundaries of the good life--the shalom life of peace, of love for God and for neighbor--that God has in mind for us.

We incur the wrath of God, eventually if not immediately, whenever we step outside the bounds of the good life. That is, whenever we sin. The recognition of God’s disapproval of sin--whenever we see that our behaviors violate the law of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments, should bring us to repentance.

Repentance is more that being sorry for our sin. It’s more too than asking for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. It’s characterized by the joyful recognition that because of God’s great grace--literally, God’s charity toward us--I’m not just forgiven. I’m also God’s friend. God and I are one.

Christians are called upon to repent daily, not out of fear for wrath, but from fear of disrupting or destroying the living, eternal relationship God gives to us through Jesus. No relationship is so important to the Christian than our relationship with God in Christ. Not just because of the promise of eternity or the promise of God’s presence in our everyday lives here and now, but also because we know how much God loves us and so, we want to love and please Him in return. First John 4:10 says: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Listen: In the passages from Revelation 16, the people experiencing the wrath of God are so certain that they have a right to live like gods, deciding what’s right and wrong for themselves with no consideration of the will of God, that they’re incensed at what they see as God’s effrontery in letting them experience the consequence of turning from Him. They’re offended that God would be upset or offended by their rebellion against His will that we obey the Ten Commandments, that we love God and love neighbor, and trust in Jesus for our lives. “Who is God to rain on my parade?” they think.

And so, they refuse to repent. They refuse to honor Him as God. They even curse God.

I know that in my own subtle ways*, I too have blamed God for the protective walls of wrath He has sometimes erected to protect me from my bad behavior and my bad judgments, to cause me to “come to my senses” (Luke 15:17), to repent and be reconciled to Him. These are times when I have--and I feel stupid that it’s something I must confess to be true--refused His grace and, instead, incurred the wrath of God by insisting on getting my own way. How dumb is that?

When I consider Your grace, Lord, I’m filled with sorrow for disappointing You and harming Your gracious plan for shalom by my insistence on being my own god. Lord, please forgive me.

Respond: Forgive me for blaming You, Lord, when things don’t go my way when often “my way” has nothing to do with Your way for human beings to live.

When You confront me with my sins, help not to make excuses or rationalizations. Help me to repent. Help me to return to You, be embraced by Your grace, my life built once more on You and not on the shaky ground of my faulty judgment. In Jesus’ name.

*Subtle to me, but not to God, Who can see right through me even better than I can see through my own smoke screens and rationalizations. "You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely." (Psalm 139:2-4)
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

No comments: