Content & Images © 2008-2014 - Rachel Miller, Ink Road Originals LLC, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Justice Tempered with Mercy

Yom Kippur starts tonight at sundown (as I mentioned in my last post). It's a Jewish festival centered around God's justice. Jewish people traditionally believe that for the first ten days after the start of the year (on the Jewish calendar), God reviews His records about every individual and all the nations, and on Yom Kippur He passes judgement on each individual for the coming year.

Now, since this is not written in the Bible, I am reluctant to fully accept this tradition, but I do think it is a good starting point to reflect on the nature of justice today. If God was passing a ruling on the nations right now, what would He say? More importantly, what kind of justice can the world expect from God?

Justice: The Foundation of God's Throne

If I had to answer the first question, I would say God's assessment would be pretty sobering. I, in my humanity, have seen a lot of things in the news this week that offend my sense of justice, but I'm pretty sure that I am still blind to little injustices all around me.  I also know that not every injustice that is done in a day will ever make it to the news. If I in my weakness and limited knowledge can see injustice and be grieved by it, then I can only imagine what God sees, and records, in a given day, week, month, or year, and how much it grieves Him.

All the time that God is watching all of this, He is waiting for us to straighten up so He doesn't have to give us a whipping--pleading with us in the Bible, demanding our attention through nature. To Him, obedience is better than sacrifice and punishment (Hosea 6:6).  He loves not punishing people, because it distresses Him (Isaiah 63: 9), but for the sake of all the victims out there, He will continue to punish, and He won't forget even one punishment that is deserved. God does this because justice is the foundation of His very throne (Psalm 89: 14), one of the basic principles of His nature, and He will not change. He will not pervert justice, for any reason, and we can count on that...but is this the whole picture?

Justice Tempered with Mercy

 I think everyone says they love justice, but when it comes down to it,what they mean to say is that they love benefiting from justice, not reaping it. When we were kids, we liked to see our siblings get punished when they were cruel to us, but we hated being the kid who got the spanking.  Now that we're adults, we see that being the one meting out punishment is hard, too. As a parent, boss, or jury member, we want punishment to be severe enough to fit the crime, but at the same time, we worry about being too extreme in our punishment.

So, honestly, what we all want is justice (for injustice done to ourselves) tempered with mercy (when we are on the receiving end). Even God wants that for us.

This is why God, who has the power to bring justice with such fierceness that no one could stand before Him, chooses to wait and be patient, only dealing out punishment when it has the maximum effect and the most benefit for all.  This quality of God's nature and will is what Micah was describing in chapter 7, verse 18:
 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (NIV)
This quality of God's nature led Him to send His son, Jesus Christ, to die in our places. Jesus made our punishment His own, so that everyone who calls on Him can avoid the full measure of God's punishment, which is eternal spiritual death. It was a creative way to uphold justice while still being kind and merciful, and it illustrated, once and for all, God's brand of justice: unbiased and uniform, but also endlessly merciful.

That, my friends, is the kind of justice we should imitate, because God practiced it first, and He proved to us that it is good.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rosh Hashanah: God's Lordship and His Coming

Today marks the first of the "High Holy Days" on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year's day.  I'm talking about it today, because it bears greater symbolic significance today for the world than it has, perhaps, in previous decades.
Image from this site

This holiday is traditionally celebrated by blowing the shofar horn (which gets its significance from Numbers 10: 1-7, and Exodus 19: 16-19) and eating symbolic foods like honey and apples. The horn signifies God's leadership and lordship over mankind, and is also blown in praise of the Lord.  The honey and apples represent a blessing for a "sweet new year."

The Jewish people believe that on Rosh Hashanah the Lord opens His records on every person to review the sins and pass judgement at the beginning of the new year. His judgment is "sealed" 10 days later, on Yom Kippur (the "Day of Atonement").  This means that from today until Yom Kippur, Jewish people all over the world will be contemplating their deeds over the past year, and seeking to make atonement for the wrongs they've done, so that God will "seal" them in the Book of Life for the next year.

Significance for the World

While Christians do not have to observe this particular traditional holiday, they should at least contemplate the spiritual and symbolic meanings it has to the Jewish audience. The day also means something to Christians and Muslims (but I'll get to that).

First of all, in these troubled times, it would do us good to stop on a day like this and think about the lordship of God, and His authority, which gives Him the right to pronounce absolute judgment over our sins.  As my parents put it often enough to me, "If the Lord was to come back right now, what would He think about what you're doing?"  We talk a lot about the blessings of God or the salvation of Christ, but we ought to remember to consecrate our daily lives to God's service, as well.  God has been abundantly merciful and generous, "not wanting anyone to perish," (2 Peter 3:9 NIV), but He desires our obedience, and deserves honor from us!  I believe God is always watching, throughout the year and not just today, and that the standards He has shared with us in the Bible are boundaries He holds us to, as people who know Him and seek Him.  If sin was grave enough that Jesus had to die to atone for it, it should not be treated more lightly by those He has redeemed!

Secondly, the shofar of Rosh Hashanah has significance to those who are waiting for Christ's return. The Bible says that Christ's second coming will be heralded by horns, just as in the days of Moses (Exodus 19: 16; 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).  This has prompted many Biblical scholars to suggest that the Second Coming could very well happen on Rosh Hashanah or some time during the 10 days before Yom Kippur.  I don't know--Jesus Himself didn't tell us when He will come back--but it certainly is possible, and the perfect symbolism of this timing would make sense, since Christ's death and resurrection, as well as the day of Pentecost, were timed according to Jewish festivals.  If Jesus came back this week, it would be wonderful, but I suggest being prepared for His coming, whenever it could happen. It would be best for the Lord to find our hearts ready and watching for Him throughout the year (Luke 12: 35-37). 

Finally, the day is significant in light of world events this week. I would be insulting the intelligence of everyone in the Middle East if I failed to point out that the widespread violence there is occurring during the holiest week in the Jewish calendar, with rather significant timing. The anti-American and anti-Jewish speech I've already been hearing for a week seems perfectly timed to blot out this Jewish holiday, and to show aggression toward the Jewish race. It might be important to point out that the New Year of the Islamic calendar starts at sundown on November 14th this year, but it draws its name Ras as-Sanah from Rosh Hashanah, as well as some of its traditions.  In light of all of this, I now better understand what Israel's Prime Minister meant in a tv interview I saw yesterday, in which he said that in the Muslim's eyes "We are the same [the U.S. and Israel]."

I choose to accept this cheerfully (Matthew 5: 11-12)!  This is just another reason why Christians should pray for peace throughout the Middle East (Luke 6: 28), for the "sweetness" of the coming year, and for the salvation for many souls!

So, in summary, this week is significant because of the cultural meanings to the Jewish people and the world.  It is also an important reminder for Christians to contemplate their lives in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.  He could very well come today!

P.S. As an interesting note, although I am not Jewish, this holiday has personal significance to me, aside from all that I just discussed, because I accidentally timed the completion of the first draft of my novel for September 26th (Yom Kippur this year). The novel just happens to cover a lot of the topics significant to this holiday! Ironic, huh?

See you here next week!  As my Jewish friends would say it, Shana Tova (A good year)!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jesus' Message Still Goes Out

These days, we rely so heavily on the internet for everything, from shopping to deciding what's for dinner, and a little bit of everything in between.  I know that I do! When I logged my computer on today and began to discover that pieces of the internet had stopped working due to a massive webhosting problem, I was  upset.  However, I'm not despairing. The most important things in my life are not really in cyberspace, and they don't crumble under technical failure or bad health, human error or any other problem.

The very most important thing is my life is my relationship with Jesus Christ. It's so important to me that others hear about Him and get to find out how awesome it is to know Jesus.  I also want to make a contribution, no matter how small, to the defense of faith when it's under attack. That's my main motivation for this blog. Today, I'm reminded again that this message, God's message, will still go out, even if a problem rises up to block it.  God just can't be stopped!  He's too big, too powerful.

Even when He's being ignored over the airwaves, He has messengers on the ground.  When even they cannot speak, God speaks through Creation itself, or object lessons in our lives. What Daniel prophesied about God and His power is still true today:
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. 
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.  (Daniel 2: 20-22 NIV)

You know, reaching God is pretty low tech, because He designed it that way. You can talk to Him, anytime, anywhere, and you don't need a special device or specialized skills.  He can answer all of your questions, and no one can silence Him.  He can comfort you in the middle of a rotten day, and no one can interrupt Him when He's speaking. God is unstoppable, not merely because of the weakness of His enemies but rather due to the power of His righteousness. I know of no other who could truthfully be described this way: Accessible yet powerful, kind yet a conqueror, gentle yet unshakeable.  Do you know Him?
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. (Psalm 65: 5-7 NIV)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Prophesying Peace

 From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms.  But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true. --Jeremiah to Hananiah in Jeremiah 28: 8-9 NIV
This past week has been pretty heavily filled with troubling news of the state of the US and world economy, the changing (or vanishing) moral values of my country and others in the world, social unrest, wars and rumors of wars, various natural disasters, and even cruelty to animals. Just turn on the television and watch, and "The sights you see will drive you mad" (Deuteronomy 28: 34 NIV).

I cannot point you to a political savior, or some educational program that will stem the tide of broken homes. I cannot think of a way to stop hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires, nor can I prevent diseases such as cancer from touching you (or a family close to you).  I'd love to tell you, "this wound is not serious" (Jeremiah 6:14), but it is.

I have something even worse to tell you--it's getting worse, and it's going to keep getting worse, unless this nation and this world turn back to God in humility and repentance and begin to obey Him.  I'm simply citing what the prophets wrote down, centuries ago.

Prophesying Peace

Deuteronomy chapter 28, for instance, seems to accurately describe all the things we are beginning to encounter today.  It can be summarized in two parts: (1) If you bless and honor God and His laws individually and as a nation, He will bless and prosper every facet of your life (even preventing disease and natural disasters), both individually and collectively; (2) If you turn away from God and do not obey His laws, both individually and collectively, He will curse you in every aspect of life (even bringing diseases and natural disasters), and eventually hand you over to a conqueror. Don't just take my word for this. Follow the link and read it for yourself.

When I see this distressing news all around me, I recognize it as a symptom of a spiritual decline, while it seems that many people around me dismiss God and are still looking for a physical, earthly solution.  What solutions do we have? Some people say the results of this upcoming US election will decide the fate of many nations.  Some people are looking for a scientific breakthrough. Some keep saying that if we just "believe in ourselves" and "spread a little love" that the chaos around us will go away.

I've heard these ideas often enough that they seem like prophecies to me; however, they have never come true.  They've been coming for decades, and yet things keep getting worse.  So, I'm ruling them out as false.  There must be another path to peace!

The Prophet Truly Sent by the Lord

It seems to me that there are only two ways to achieve peace on a large scale: (1) Take away the crowd's power and ability to resist (i.e. an enforced peace), (2) Change people's hearts until they no longer want the things that cause unrest.  I don't want the first choice. This is what God predicted (even promised) for those who reject Him.  In the past, this was accomplished by the Babylonians and the Romans, to name two.  Someday, it will be accomplished by a great political world leader, who the Bible calls the Antichrist, who will come with a bow (but no arrows) and will conquer (Revelation 6:2).

The second choice is Christ, who now proclaims peace in the hearts of those who know Him (Zechariah 9: 9-10; Luke 4: 16-21), and who has promised (read: prophesied) He will someday bring peace to the earth as well (see Matthew 23: 37-39; Jerusalem ironically means "City of Peace").  This first peace, which He has already brought, is a peace in our hearts. It is a freedom from the entrapment, shame, and punishment of sin.  It changes us (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because it is so disconnected from our circumstances, it is a peace that lasts when there is no peace around.
So what Jesus Christ prophesied has come true--from His death to His resurrection, from His message to His mission. What He promised, He did. Shouldn't we recognize that He has "truly [been] sent by the Lord" to bring us the "solution" to all our problems?  Since He fulfilled His promises, can't we trust Him that He will fulfill the last one (upon His return)?

Since some people have said that blog posts of this sort are "too depressing," I want to end this post with a clear message of hope, which is the entirety of my intent.  Although circumstances are bad (and if we linger on them, we can get depressed), there is a clear path to peace, a clear lasting joy, and an enduring hope.  They are all found in a personal relationship with Christ.  Seek Him. Know Him. Follow Him. Obey Him.  Christ has spoken peace into a troubled world, so believe what He said!