People have wronged us and then denied it.
Perhaps worse, those who admitted their injustice minimized it or even mocked us over it. Remember when one of your siblings got out of their chores? I can’t do the dishes, I’ve got chess club! They left you with their responsibility, and snickered over the whole thing. Or you hid a bag of candy in your bedroom, but your snooping brother or sister found it and finished it. A sense of almost cosmic outrage came over you. You felt injustice so tangible you could have cut it (or that sibling) with a knife.
It only got worse later, as we got older. People seriously wronged us at school and in relationships, and at work, leading to a buildup of unresolved offense.
At another level, we began to feel social outrage when yet another video surfaced of police shooting a kid in the back while he was running away. Just as bad are the reports of doctors, politicians, sports figures, and religious authorities abusing their power for sexual gratification.
Our resultant feelings were not simply a guttural instinct for revenge. They were feelings of frustration that grasp for some kind of penalty that will right the wrong, make the perpetrator feel the damage of their own evil, understand it, own it, and regret it. We sentence some of these people to hundreds of years in prison, knowing they won’t serve the time, because no one lives that long. Such legal gestures, though necessary and right, never quite slake our thirst for justice.
Now take the sense of outrage you’ve identified inside yourself, and metaphorically roll it into a ball. Put it in God, and then multiply that outrage by 8 billion—the number of people on planet Earth—then multiply that amount by about 100 times a day times 7 days a week, times 52 weeks a year, times thousands of years.
Now you begin to get a vague idea of the moral outrage humanity has committed against God.
This is the sincerest kind of irony: While you’re annoyed beyond measure over things others have done, you are either oblivious or indifferent about the moral outrage you personally have helped to create before God. Theologically, we call it sin.
When the subject of sin comes up, you may quickly react to God with denial or minimizing—exactly how others have reacted to you, and as you well know, this response only serves to heighten the outrage. Sins are indelible blots on the universe that signal the need for judgment. They beckon God to come do something about them. Denying their existence does not remove them in the slightest.
If we could see in the future that there was a final judgment with final consequences, maybe we’d think the only people in trouble would be serial killers, and genocidal, bloodthirsty dictators. But let’s look at the actual situation. Revelation chapter 21 verse 8 says, “But as for the Cowardly the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, Sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
There seems to be some unlikely people in this place. For instance, the cowardly are there. Does this mean God picks on folks who are afraid of spiders, or need to sleep with a night-light? No, in this case, cowardice has to do with those who knew what was right or wrong, but were afraid to act appropriately. For instance, the Jewish leaders in John chapter 10 knew that Jesus was the Christ, but were too afraid to confess it because of repercussions. They “loved the glory of men rather than the glory of God” (John 12:42-43).
Then there are the faithless—those who have no saving faith in Christ, nor ever wanted any. Next to them are the detestable, a generic description of people who have made themselves somehow disgusting, abnormal. Then there are the murderers, those who take the life of others out of anger, or jealousy, convenience, profit, pleasure, or for ideology.
The sexually immoral are also there, a category that moderns have emptied of any meaning except pedophilia and rape. Liberal editing efforts cannot change the fact though, that the Bible considers any sexual activity outside of a married man and woman as immoral.
Sorcerers seem an especially odd addition to this list of the lost, simply because we have so little contact with sorcery outside of Harry Potter. And yet there are people who refuse to submit to God in the circumstances of their life, and try to harness the powers of the spirit world to control things. Next to them are the idolaters. At first idolatry sounds like an archaic sort of sin, until we realize it doesn’t need to involve little clay figurines. We could idolize anything by prioritizing it above God. Liars round out the list, people who don’t like truth. They deal with reality by trying to present an alternate one, and insisting the alternate one is the true one.
This conglomerate of people combines to create moral outrage that literally demands something be done, and so God finally does, with fire and sulphur. This judgment doesn’t conceal political agendas and the bias of public opinion. It only functions to satisfy the raw, pure righteousness of God.
That’s unsettling, because every human being generates a field, or aura of personal unrighteousness. It’s like the unfortunate PigPen character in the Peanuts comics. Wherever he goes, a mobile cloud goes with him.
Who is able to get through this life without being tainted with sexual sin, or detestable behavior of some sort? Who hasn’t lied? Who hasn’t elevated something above God?
What can we do? Simply put, nothing. You can’t undo what you’ve already done, nor can you make up for anything.
There is a solution to the problem, but it doesn’t lie in what we can do.
Speaking of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.” He accepted the responsibility for our evil deeds, bearing them in an intensely personal way, in his own body. Notice the Apostle Peter does not say Jesus bore them on the cross. He says “the tree.” He’s calling the reader of the Bible back to a verse in the book of Deuteronomy where it says a man hanged on a tree is cursed by God (21:22-23). Jesus bore the curse of Revelation 21:8 on the tree for the things you did. He got what you deserved.
So people now have a choice. Either they can bear their own sins in the Lake of Fire, or they can let Jesus bear them on the tree. Nor will it do them any good to say they don’t believe in heaven, hell, Jesus, or God. Claims of atheism are, in effect, a decision made. One way or the other, the outrage of injustice, the affront against God’s righteousness and Holiness, must be answered, either in the lake, or on the tree.
Whoever believes in Jesus Christ can now look at a point in time 2000 years ago, on a crooked little cross far away, and say, “That’s where my sins went.”
Occasionally you’ll have some garbage in your house so obnoxious it’s not even good enough for the kitchen trash can. Garbage pick-up doesn’t come until the end of the week. Meanwhile you’ve got to do something with that spoiled food or loaded diaper, so you move it outside to the big barrel. But then maggots develop. Animals keep trying to get into it.
By the time the garbage truck finally arrives, you’re never so glad to see it carry off that nasty horror. Much later, when you happen to drive past the city landfill, you can look out at it, and say to yourself, “That’s where all those gross things went that were in my house. I never need to see them or smell them again.” And this is precisely what believers in Jesus can say when they look at the cross.
Even more, as the verse points out, Jesus took away our sins, “that we might die to sin.” Considering our old way of life, we can say, “I’m dead to that! I am done with those evil things! I might fall into them from time to time, but my life is characterized by a new orientation. I ‘live to righteousness.’”
And you do, because the work of Jesus settles into you like medicine: “By his wounds you have been healed.”
Things are different now. “For you were straying like sheep” (v. 25), running from God, and falling into dark pits where you constantly injured yourself. “But you have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.” Jesus did more than get us off the hook. He enabled you to return to Him. The same love that bore your sins, received you.
We had created an outrage that thundered with “fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire” (Heb. 10:27), but one drop of blood quenched it all.
A silent peace.