August 20, 2015

The merciful nature of God = a party!

Isaiah 41:1–42:9, Luke 15:1–32, Job 9:20–24

For most of my Christian life I’ve focused on the judgmental nature of God. He hates sin and so do I, so I’ve condemned myself continually and splashed that condemnation to other sinners. Over the past three years, the Lord has taken me through a difficult journey, but at the end of it He has graciously shifted my focus from His wrath to His incredible mercy. Now I more easily see and appreciated the grace of God and His forgiveness.

Today’s readings are filled with this perspective. In Isaiah, God promised, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” (Isaiah 41:9–13) He adds, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17)

In trials, most of us struggle with this. We might know that God is good, yet we begin to wonder when disaster comes. Job did. He wrestled with the idea that God did not seem merciful to him or to the wicked, that both were being treated alike. He said, “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges— if it is not he, who then is it?” (Job 9:22–24)

Yet later, God did restore Job’s losses. He was not being punished as a sinner, but tested as one deeply loved.

I can now say the same for myself about those three years. I was not being punished. Instead, God was testing me as one whom He loves, and also showing me the depth of that love.

Jesus tried to explain the depth of God’s love and mercy to the religious leaders of His days on earth, but they didn’t understand His parables. He described the love of God as a shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to go find the one lost sheep, and the woman who spent a great deal of time and energy looking for one lost coin. They didn’t understand.

Then He told them the story of the prodigal, the son who took his inheritance early and squandered it in loose living. When the son came to his senses, his father was waiting and welcomed him home, saying to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11–24)

God hates sin, just as that father must have grieved as his son threw away his life and wound up feeding pigs and eating their food. But when the son came home in repentance, there was not a hint of, “I told you so” nor any mention at all of the past, or the mess the son made, or the disappointment the father felt. Instead, that father like my Father threw a party, and I am only too happy to join the celebration.

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