Thursday, March 17, 2011

Devotional for the Ninth Day of Lent

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (John 3:19-21)

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Mark this, then, you who forget God . . . (Psalm 50:22a)

I wish the Bible didn’t speak of judgment, but it does. We don’t see God clicking his tongue at the evil of the world and saying, “Oh, those crazy kids. What will they do next?” God’s judgment is inevitable, so says the Bible, and it’s a serious thing.

Most of the divine judgment we see in the Bible is directed toward God’s own people rather than the rest of the world (there are exceptions—for example, Sodom and Gomorrah, Ninevah. But before anything disastrous happened, God sent Abraham and Jonah to give everyone a chance to change direction). God’s plan of rescue is for the whole world, and his people were always to serve as a light to all the nations, that the world would turn to God. It’s a bad deal when God’s own people forget about him.

In John chapter 3, Jesus is conversing with Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish leader. Their conversation is more about Israel in general than it is about Nicodemus in particular, and the judgment of which Jesus speaks is directly applicable to those known as the people of God. Forgetting about God has dire consequences. You can’t forget about God unless you have known God in the first place. Judgment lands first with God’s people.

I had a friend who very insightfully defined sin as “forgetting about God.” He didn’t consider himself to be a Christian—more of a seeker, really—but his words have stuck with me. Once you forget about God you have to find another way of orienting your life. Drop God out of the picture and terms like good and evil become defined by things we prefer or by cultural consensus. Adolf Hitler, the 20th century poster boy for evil, was an expert at that. He recast God in Hitler’s own image, absorbed the German church into his Nazi agenda, and made the persecution and mass murdering of people acts of righteousness. This from the same nation that gave the world the likes of Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach. Forgetting about God is costly.

The writer of the book of Hebrews, while offering the hope of entering into God’s rest by faith, also warns that there have been and will be those who fail to enter that rest because of disobedience. There is judgment in that warning, and it is again directed toward the people of God. If those who have been called to be God’s own people forget about God and recreate life by their own preferences, the consequences are dismal. A world without God is no place to live.

Hell might be the space God gives to the people who want to forget him for good. Imagine people who want a world where all goodness, all love, all healing, all mercy and grace, are extracted. It would be a dark place indeed. Imagine wanting such a place. Worse yet, imagine God giving people exactly what they want.

Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “. . . In this life and in the world to come, those who follow Jesus will receive everything they want, if what they want is to follow Jesus.”

Of all the things I want, not forgetting about God needs to be at the top of the list.

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