Monday, February 06, 2012

120206- Matthew 11-12 - justifying the Judge at the expense of the judged

Monday SOAP: All the ways of God are judgment. (Deuteronomy 32:4) Jesus came right out and said the towns which witnessed the majority of His ministry were subject to the greatest judgment. What does that imply? Revelation - whether general, special, or miraculous implies judgment. How do we deal with the responsibility of specific men to those ways bringing them judgment which become the instrument of grace to all men?

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S: Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. (Mt 11:20-24).

O: I usually look at this passage at a basic level - it will be worse for some who are lost than for others; bad as eternal torment is, there are varying levels to it. It occurs to me that what Jesus said challenges my theology in at least a couple other ways:


1. God knew what it would have taken to bring Sodom (and Tyre and Sidon) to repentance - and did not bring that level of testimony to them. How does this fit with passages like 2 Peter 3:9 and Ezekiel 18:32?
2. God knew that Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin would not repent - and Jesus nevertheless brought more condemnation upon them by exposing them to the ministry of Christ.

A: It's easy to look at a problem like this with a simplistic eye and question. But what is at work here? Sovereignty, free will and election, judgment according to knowledge. The foreknowledge and broad purpose of God vs. His will for the individual.

I could look at all these situations with such a skewed, man-centered viewpoint that I would question God's fairness no matter what He did - in my own mind, effectively eliminating any possible way for God to judge anyone. Or I could maintain a certain amount of healthy skepticism of my own understanding and simply trust that God always does what is best. (This infuriates the atheist/agnostic/cultist, and I have to admit I can see why.)

The overarching principle is that God would be just to leave all mankind to our own devices and allow us to all experience His judgment and wrath: we inherit the sinful nature, and we also endorse that sinful nature each time we actually miss the mark and do what we know to be wrong. But God moved beyond cold justice to grace, by allowing our own sin to be the cause of His overtures to us through Christ and the Holy Spirit's testimony to Christ. The process of advance progressive revelation of this truth, generally speaking, seems designed to expose the fewest of the reprobate to ultimate judgment, yet to graciously make His power and grace known to the faithful. Specific exceptions of the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Exodus, etc., seem to form the "negative" side of that revelation: the assurance that God will judge justly, lest we be tempted by His very mercy to think that He will not. The generation of Christ, especially, was exposed to the concentrated personal testimony of God in the flesh. As anyone can see, in the Gospels, this is actually a great mercy, a wonderful blessing. The greatest event that has ever happened in history: "Emmanuel, God with us." But the very concentration of this overture of God to this generation (including healing, casting out evil Spirits, declaring the Word of the Lord and the gosel message to those who would listen) spelled judgment for the unrepentant who happened to be at "ground zero" of the Incarnation.

In short, Sodom, like the victims of the Flood and others, served unhappily as examples to the rest of us - this assurance of His will to judge was actually itself an overture of His mercy to mankind.

Contrariwise, Capernaum, like Pharoah, was exposed to great judgment simply because they maintained their unrepentant attitude even in the face of great blessing and mercy. "The same sun which hardens the clay melts the wax." This is an accurate analogy from the "God-ward" perspective - but I question its applicability from a "man-ward" perspective. We're all "clay" and don't start out predisposed toward God. We start out "children of wrath, even as others." (Ephesians 2:3)

I still believe that it is God's will that no one perish, but that all should come to repentance - but He is in no way obligated to subjugate His higher purposes in order to bring a group or an individual to repentance or to shield them from the full force of His wrath. He takes no pleasure in the death of an unrepentant individual, but perfect love does not require Him to bring each to the point of ultimate rejection or acceptance. This puts the believer in a position of great responsibility - we should try sincerely to have an accurate view of all of this and to convince with both sides of the argument - man's susceptibility to wrath and opportunity for love and hope. We've been deliberately "salted" into the world for the purpose of bringing light to it and becoming the means by which the overture to the world is extended.

P: Lord, each time I look at a difficult question like this one, I'm challenged, but blessed. Renew and transform my mind by exposure to your Word and meditation on the Christ it reveals.

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