The Happiness and the Horror

Depending on one’s vantage point, justice is either a precious gift, or the worst thing, ever. 

I’ve adapted this post from a message given by Seth Evans, 
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly.

While exiting a school building in Cleveland,  I sensed someone behind me. As always, I held the door open for them.  Then I got chewed out. The college girl who was following me, told me I was sexist and chauvinistic to believe that she, as a woman, was incapable of opening the door for herself. She further let me know I was the epitome of all that was wrong in the world.  After I got over the shock of it, I then made the mistake of trying to explain myself—that my holding the door was a reflexive act of kindness for human beings, not just for women, and that I had been raised to be polite. The explanation didn’t help. When she heard I would have held the door for anyone, she then claimed I was trying to be superior to everyone. 

Sadly, faced with the truth that my motives were actually non-assuming, she had refused to admit she was wrong, instead choosing to reinforce her offense.  

In my own college immaturity I told her that if it really mattered that much, we could both both go back inside the building, so we could reenact the whole thing, this time with my shutting the door behind me and thus allowing her the empowerment of opening it for herself.  

That remark didn’t help.  

Later on, that girl started attended my church.  I don’t know if she remembered me, but I noticed right away the same attitude she’d had toward me, she also harbored toward God—certain presumptive opinions that He had no right to judge the world, and for Him to do so wasn’t loving, or fair.  Ironically, this person was involved in justice movements (which involves judgment). Even more paradoxical, she was passing sentences on God and everyone else according to her limited, human understanding.  

When the omniscient God judges, He does it knowing every motive behind every behavior, and with perfect understanding.   It’s beautiful when He judges—truly a sight to behold. Think of the alternative. For God to know the depth of worldly sin, and the misery it has inflicted, and yet do nothing, would be outrageous to us.  The Bible shows us, however, that the justice He measures out will be perfect.  

It is a judgment awe-inspiring to the saved, but horrifying to the unsaved.  

Revelation 15 shows us these two responses.  

1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

Wrath is simply the punitive righteousness of God revealed upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (c.f. Rom. 1:18).  To a saved person like John, it is “great and amazing.” To the hordes of the unsaved, however, it registers only as “plagues.”    

2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb

This sea appeared earlier in the book and will again later, when it is called the Lake of Fire in Revelation chapter 20.  It symbolizes God’s eternal judgement. The saved people standing next to it have suffered persecution on the Earth.  They were persecuted for their faith by the Antichrist and his followers.  They’ve overcome it all, and now sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.  

The celebration harkens back to the Old Testament, where the children of Israel marched out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb, then crossed the Red Sea.  When Pharaoh’s armies, representing the world, the devil, and the Antichrist, tries to pursue them, God swallowed them up under the sea in his judgment. In response, Israel began singing (Ex. 15).  

We too, should enter into this experience because we’ve marched out by the blood of the Lamb of God, Christ, and have crossed through the Sea of judgment.  We don’t waste our time lamenting and complaining.  Instead, we lift our eyes to the cross of Christ where justice has been served against sin.  With our eyes fully set upon His wounds, we can find ourselves also saying, 

“…Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!  Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come   and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This is a celebratory song.  Eventually, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  The redeemed will do it in praise, and the unredeemed will do it in horror—the horror of having been wrong, willfully wrong, fatally wrong.  

This is the bold message we bear to the rest of the world, that Jesus bore the wrath of God, so that we don’t have to bear it.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).     

“…After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 

The seven angels are clothed like priests, similar to what the Son of Man wore in Revelation chapter one.  They are about to administer a priestly service upon the Earth. How is the dispensing of wrath priestly? It is the fitting end of a gospel rejected, a foretaste of eternal judgment.  God is saying “You did not respond to my love and grace. How about my wrath?”    

8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

This glory fills the heavens to the extent there is no room for anything else.  For those who haven’t received Jesus Christ, it is indeed a horrifying prospect. On the other hand, for the redeemed who have been hurt by injustice, it furnishes great comfort.    

Too often we respond to unrighteousness with our own bitterness, unforgiveness, and hate.  Our resultant brand of “justice” may rectify a few things, but not with any real ultimate satisfaction.  In the wake of punishing the perpetrators of world atrocities, we’ve historically found ourselves dissatisfied.  Is even the death penalty adequate to compensate for thousands of victims?

Usually not.      

The bowls of wrath, though, confirm that God moves to make all things right.  It is an empowering realization for us, one that brings a certain peace to the anxious heart.  We can be at rest and even forgive just as Christ forgave us, because justice will be done. Besides, unforgiveness eats away at the soul, like cancer.   As the old cliche goes, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. But with God’s trustworthiness in view, and His commitment to His own righteousness, we can afford to forgive our persecutors.   

During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid Jews behind a fake wall in their home.  That is, until one of her neighbors reported it to the Gestapo. The entire Ten Boom family was then arrested and sent to a death camp.  Only Corrie survived.  After the war, she went around speaking to other survivors, and also spoke to former Nazi collaborators, including the individual who informed on her family.  In each case, she preached to them the gospel of forgiveness. Corrie even went face-to-face with one of the SS guards who had personally abused her and her sister.  She offered him forgiveness as well. 

She was able to do this because her eyes were set not on revenge, nor the justice of lower courts, but upon the glory of Jesus Christ and the coming Judgment of God. She felt she could afford to extend the grace of God to those who wronged her.  True justice would either come through the death of Christ for the repentant, or directly through the wrath of God for the unrepentant.  

Think about the hurts you’ve received, and the bitterness you may have stuffed inside. Rather than ignoring it, feeding it, or allowing it to eat up your soul, fix your attention upon the perfect righteousness of God.  His work on the cross, and His judgments to come arm us with the confidence to say, God, I forgive them according to your power. 

Then celebrate the precious gift of freedom that always follows.

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