You Want a God of Judgment (TGC)

gavelWill not a righteous God visit for these things?

Frederick Douglass asks this question in his autobiography after recounting the tragedy of his grandmother’s death. After a lifetime of bondage and servitude to her masters, when she was too old to be of use to them, they callously sent her off to die alone, apart from her family.

Douglass could’ve asked the question, though, at nearly any point in his harrowing story of hope and fortitude amid inhumanity and cruelty. The beatings. The murders. The calculated theft of time, family, and dignity. Since I read his story, that question has been reverberating in my mind.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

It continues to echo, though, for more than just the past injustices of American slavery. The crimes and atrocities reported by the 24-hour news cycle—the cycle that threatens to churn up our souls most days—lead me to turn this question over and over again in my mind.

Every headline I read about yet another sexual abuse victim coming forward, testifying to abuse by a major Hollywood mogul. Or worse, by the victim’s famous youth pastor and the church who covered it up.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Every victim of political injustice who makes the nightly news, both abroad and at home.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Every report of a child who has been abused and traumatized in an immigration detention center for the last few years (despite the fact most of us are only hearing about it now).

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

Every day abortion mills are open in America, legally ending the lives of thousands of unborn children—children never held, never loved, never even given the dignity of a name. Children we never think about because their lives are snuffed out behind closed doors in sterilized rooms with white-gloved hands. Children known only to the all-seeing God.

Will not a righteous God visit for these things?

You know I could go on because you know the crimes, the depredations you can’t think on too long without shutting down for the day. One person captured this feeling well when he tweeted, “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry feels morally irresponsible.”

But while the strain of our anger-inducing media culture affects us all, there is at least one small benefit. We’re finally in a place where we can see the goodness of David’s praise: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11).

You can read the rest of my post at The Gospel Coalition.

Soli Deo Gloria

Leveraging the Attributes *for* Salvation (Edwards on the Glory of God in Salvation–Again)

chess 2Yes, this is another post on salvation, the attributes, and Jonathan Edwards in The Wisdom of God, Displayed in the Way of Salvation. He’s already demonstrated the way that each, or at least a good many, of the attributes are glorified and displayed the work of redemption, as well as the particular persons of the Trinity. But Edwards doesn’t stop there. From another angle, Edwards makes the argument that it is the wisdom of God in salvation to act in such a way that the very attributes which would seem to most make us his enemy, put us in peril of damnation, separation, and the annihilation, are actually the foundation of our redemption and hope. In this way, “God’s greatest dishonor is made an occasion of his greatest glory.”

What do I mean by that? Well, Edwards reminds us of the basic reality of sin: it is a denial of God, a rebellious refusal to give God glory and honor, and set ourselves up as his enemies. We attempt to dethrone the God of the universe in our vanity. In light of this reality, all of God’s attributes seem to demand vindication. His truth demands the public demonstration that he keeps his word to curse disobedience. His holiness demands the eradication of impurity. His justice seems to demand the punishment of sin, lest God be an unjust judge. And yet, “so has God contrived, that those very attributes not only allow of man’s redemption, and are not inconsistent with it, but they are glorified in it.”

Indeed, the Triune one has so arranged the work of salvation such that his attributes now demand the salvation of sinners: “it is so ordered now that the glory of these attributes requires the salvation of those that believe.”

This argument taps into the logic of the apostle, John. John writes to the church in Ephesus that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God is faithful and just to forgive sins? Why is it a matter of justice to forgive sins? Well, because in verses 2:1-2, John continues on: “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

In this section, Edwards explains:

The justice of God that required man’s damnation, and seemed inconsistent with his salvation, now as much requires the salvation of those that believe in Christ, as ever before it required their damnation. Salvation is an absolute debt to the believer from God, so that he may in justice demand it, on account of what his surety has done. For Christ has satisfied justice fully for his sin. It is but a piece of justice, that the creditor should release the debtor, when he has fully paid the debt. And again, the believer may demand eternal life, because it has been merited by Christ, by a merit of condignity. So is it contrived, that justice that seemed to require man’s destruction, now requires his salvation.

He then moves on to show how the same movement is at work in God’s attributes of truth and holiness. Where it seemed they demand our total rejection, God orders things so that, upon faith in Christ, these things “require” our acceptance.

Not only that, it’s not just that redemption displays God’s attributes better than any other act. Nor is it only that God wisely arranges things so that his attributes require man’s salvation. In this way, we see God’s attributes more magnificently displayed in a way than we ever could have otherwise. “Those very attributes which seemed to require man’s destruction are more glorious in his salvation than they would have been in his destruction.”

How so? Simply damning sinners for eternity cannot compare to the utter vindication of God’s justice seen in his taking the consequences of sin upon himself in the Son all at once, in public, on the cross. The public trial in history of God’s unchangeable justice reveals God’s willingness to do justice in a way that simply leaving sinners to their fate ever could.

This is one more reason to marvel at the wisdom of God:

Such is the wisdom of salvation, that the more any of the elect have dishonored God, the more is God glorified in this redemption. Such wonders as these are accomplished by the wisdom of this way of salvation.

Not only does this give us reason to praise and glorify God, but it also is the foundation of unspeakable comfort. Many of us might look to God’s goodness, his holiness, his righteous justice, or purity, and only see reasons for guilt, rejection, shame, and despair. Edwards will not have. To think in such a way underestimated the glorious wisdom of God:

So sufficient is this way of salvation, that it is not inconsistent with any of God’s attributes to save the chief of sinners. However great a sinner any one has been, yet God can, if he pleased, save without any injury to the glory of any one attribute. And not only so, but the more sinful any one has been, the more does God glorify himself in his salvation. The more does he glorify his power, that he can redeem one in whom sin so abounds, and of whom Satan has such strong possession. — The greater triumph has Christ over his grand adversary, in redeeming and setting at liberty from his bondage those that were his greatest vassals. The more does the sufficiency of Christ appear, in that it is sufficient for such vile wretches.

This is not an excuse to sin that grace might abound, but an invitation to worship the wise grace of God, the sufficiency of Christ, which alone can give us the love for God that drives out all desire to sin.

Such is the wisdom of God. All things work for his glory and for our ultimate good.

Now think on his works, his attributes, worship, and sin no more.

Soli Deo Gloria

A Political Non-Pacifist Reading of The Sermon on the Mount

constantineIt’s often alleged that any reading of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that doesn’t result in a pacifist ethic is a depoliticized and de-historicized one. Jesus’ commands against retaliation and of neighbor-love, (Matthew 5:38-48) set in a context of Roman oppression and violence must lead obviously one of non-violence lest the politics of Jesus be lost. Leithart notes that for John Howard Yoder without pacifism Jesus’ ethic loses its political force because Yoder believes that Jesus’ teaching offered no instruction for his disciples in political power because his followers were never to have that sort of power.

In a striking passage Leithart moves to counter that contention by offering a brief, non-pacifist, “political” reading of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus’ words for his disciples can shape the governance of those disciples who happen to hold political authority; for a way in which the “Eucharistic city” of the Church can offer guidance to the City of Man based on the teachings of her King:

  1. “Turn the other cheek” gives instruction not about self-defence but about honor and shame. To slap someone on the right cheek, you have to slap back-handed, and back-handed slap expresses contempt, not threat. Is this relevant to political ethics? Of course. The Roman Empire was built on a system of honor, insult and retaliation. Before Rome, Thycidides knew that wars arose from “fear, honor, and interest.” Remove retaliation and defense of honor from international politics, and a fair number of the world’s wars would have been prevented. There would have been a lot of slapping but not nearly so much shooting.
  2. The Eucharistic city would teach rulers to agree with their adversaries quickly, to defuse domestic and international disputes before they explode.
  3. What if rulers were instructed not to look at a woman lustfully? That would also prevent some wars, keep presidents busy with papers and things at their desks, protect state secrets, save money and divisive scandals. The church would insist that rulers be faithful to their wives and not put them away for expediency or a page girl (or boy.)
  4. The church would insist on honesty and truth telling, urging rulers to speak the truth even when it is painful.
  5. The church would insist that a ruler not do alms or pray or fast or do any other good things to be seen by others, especially by others with cameras—a rule that would revolutionize modern politics.
  6. Rulers would be instructed to love enemies and do good to all. Obama would be seeking the best for the Republican Party, Ms. Anonymous Republican would be doing her best to serve the president. A ruler would have to stand firm against the antics of tyrants, not out of hatred but out of love, to prevent the tyrant from doing great evil to himself and others. If the tyrant attacked, the rule would have to defend his people out of love for them and out of love for his enemy. Punishments would be acts of love for the victims, the public and the punished, just as a father disciplines his son in love. The church would insist that the ruler not use his legitimate powers of force for unjust ends, on pain of excommunication.
  7. The church would urge rulers to beware their own blind spots and remove logs from their eyes so they can see rightly in order to judge.
  8. The church would remind a ruler that she will face a Judge who will inquire what she had done for the homeless, the weak, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry.
  9. At the extreme, a ruler might place himself on a cross, sacrifice his political future and his reputation, for the sake of righteousness. In certain kinds of polities, he would be the first soldier, the first to fly against the enemy, because being the leader means you get to die first. In great extremity, he might follow Jeremiah’s example and submit to conquest, defeat, deportation—endure a national crucifixion to preserve people for future rebirth.

Defending Constantine, pp. 338-339

Whether you’re in full agreement with this list or not, Leithart demonstrates that one doesn’t have to be a pacifist in order to give “an earful of the politics of Jesus” to any ruler.

Soli Deo Gloria