Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets. Monday Monologues, March 11, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Judgment Prayer and talk about Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets. Monday Monologues, March 11, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

Continue Reading

Judgment Prayer

Painting of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

All glory and honor to you for you have blessed us to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3) and turned a day of judgment into a day of celebration through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Forgive our forgetfulness, our sloth in sharing this good news with others, even those closest to us and have even given us new opportunities to share with the foreigner, the widow, and the orphans among us. Do not condemn us for failing to witness to the Ninevites in our lives, but show us a better way.

Thank you for the many blessings of family, good health, and prosperity and for turning our tight-fistedness into generosity for your name’s sake.

Thank you especially for the saints among us that model the Christian life for our enlightenment and salvation in spite of original sin.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, draw us to yourself:

open our hearts, illumine our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service that we may rest with you today and every day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Judgment Prayer

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019


Continue Reading

Living Expectantly

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Moral confusion pervades postmodern culture. This confusion directly threatens our persons and our way of life. While the Christian starts every conversation about morality with God, we can just as easily begin by observing that morality reflects not only a divine edict but the revealed experience of human beings struggling to make sense of life and survive in a sinful world. 

Normalization of Drugs

While our minds normally gravitate towards immoral sexual activity when moral confusion is discussed, the normalization of drug use probably makes the point even more clearly. According to a recent survey by the federal government:

“In 2014, 27.0 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans (10.2 percent). This percentage in 2014 was higher than those in every year from 2002 through 2013.” (CBHSQ 2015, 1)⁠1

What is the response of the body politic to this serious social crisis? Because most drug use involves marijuana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington DC have as of this date legalized recreational use of marijuana.⁠2 This response suggests that, in spite of the negative medical impacts of marijuana use and almost universal opposition from police departments around the country, a majority of voters in these states approve of these legal changes.

Negative Impacts of Drugs

While we might have a “open minded” discussion about the morality of consuming illegal drugs, the criminal activity associated with providing these substances is devastating communities throughout Central American and has led to historically high levels of illegal immigration into the United States in recent decades. The inability of young people and rural people to pass random drug tests has made it difficult for American companies to recruit employees, especially among defense contractors. The flip side of this recruiting problem is that many Americans have systematically precluded themselves from a high-paying job in their chosen field or in their local community because of drug use.

Why the moral concern about drug use? Employers want nothing to do with drug users because drug use impairs mental concentration and is often associated with criminal activity, depression, and suicide. Record drug use is not incidentally associated with a thirty-year high in suicides (Tavernise 2016). Reinforcing this observation, alcohol intoxication is reported in about half of all suicides (Mason 2014, 34).

Christian Ethics

Christian ethics starts with God in whose image we are created (Gen 1:27). In the Old Testament God interacts with his people primarily through the giving of covenants. After a second giving of the Ten Commandments, we find God revealing his character to Moses:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6)

This description of God’s character provides a context for interpreting the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus, but for us as image bearers it also gives us a template for ethical behavior. Jesus endorses this image ethic in the Lord’s Prayer when he prays: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)  The Apostle Paul says it even more directly: “be imitators of God” (Eph 5:1)

Later in Matthew when Jesus tells us to love God and neighbor (Matt 22:36-40), we embody this love first by imitating God’s ethical character and then by sharing this character with our neighbor. Remember that mercy, grace, patience, love, and faithfulness all require an object. The obvious object here is our neighbor because how exactly are we to show mercy or grace to God?

Role of Risk in Ethics and Judgment

Circling back to the moral confusion in postmodern culture, Christians are often accused of being judgmental and many are. But judgment and discernment differ substantially. As Christians we discern that most immoral behavior is also risky, suggesting a direct link with how we were created. 

Risk is an expected loss. In a sense, most moral behavior works like the premium on an insurance policy that protects us from a knowable and avoidable loss. Most people hate paying insurance premiums until they experience the loss for themselves. 

If we discern that a behavior places someone at risk of a future loss, we should inform them humbly of our insight, be it from scripture or life experience, and pray that they will not incur the loss or, should it be incurred, that they will turn to God in their loss. Such prayer leaves room for God’s sovereign grace and, if we are humble about it, we may also gain the confidence of that person in dealing with future issues.

Christian Distinctive

What sets Christians apart from others, especially secular people, is that we live, not expecting death, but expecting Christ’s return. Life is not a risk; it is an opportunity to prepare for our ultimate homecoming. We live life taking chances for the kingdom and leaving room for joy, because we know the end of the story is in Christ.

References

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). 2015. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Health and Human Services (HHS) Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data. (Cited: 18 October 2018).

Mason, Karen. 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

Footnotes

1 This citation continues: “The illicit drug use estimate for 2014 continues to be driven primarily by marijuana use and the nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers, with 22.2 million current marijuana users aged 12 or older (i.e., users in the past 30 days) and 4.3 million people aged 12 or older who reported current nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers.” (CBHSQ 2015, 1)

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decriminalization_of_non-medical_cannabis_in_the_United_States.

Living Expectantly

Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

Continue Reading

Chapter 20 of Revelation: The Binding, Millennium, and Judgment

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD (Ezek 37:13-14).

How do you view the future?

Because we know that the future is in Christ, we can afford to live life to the fullest and take risks to advance the kingdom of God. According to Apostle Paul, the full armor of Christ, includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of Spirit and helmet of the hope of salvation (Eph 6:13-17; 1 Thes 1:8). Revelation 20 focuses on that hope.

Like the previous chapter, Revelation 20 has three themes: the binding of the Satan (vv 1-3), the millennial rule of the saints with Christ (vv 4-6), and the judgment, including the final defeat of Satan (vv 7-15).

The binding of Satan parallels the account of the dragon that we saw in Revelation 12:7-11. There we are told, for example, that the angel binding Satan is Michael. The eschaton begins, however, with the work of the church as we learn from Christ himself– I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven–as he receives the report of the seven-two evangelists (Luke 10:17-18).

Verse 4 holds the key to understanding the millennial rule of the saints. Where did the Apostle John see thrones, and souls of the martyrs, and resurrected saints? Clearly, John’s vision is a vision of heaven. In heaven, the millennial rule of Christ has already begun.

The judgment scene has an interesting twist. Satan is released and he deceives the nations (especially Gog a prince from Magog (Ezek 38:2)) into rebellion against God at Armageddon, as we have seen before in different forms (Rev 11:18; 16:16; 19:17-21). The idea that Satan works God’s purposes, of course, is a theme in Job 1.

The future belongs to Christ. From beginning to end, our God reigns (Isa 52:7). We are not to fear. In the meantime, put on the full armor of Christ.

Questions

  1. How do you view the future?
    a. What does the end of times look like?
    b. How do we live in view of this vision of the future?
  2. What is the nature of Christian hope?
  3. Revelation 20 has three main themes. What are they? (vv 1-3, 4-6, and 7-15)
  4. What does the binding of Satan remind you of? Have we seen it before?
  5. What does the millennial rule of Christ look like? (v. 4)
  6. How does judgment take place?
  7. Who is Magog? (Ezek 38:2)
  8. Who is in charge? (Isaiah 52:7)
  9. What is the lesson of the armor of Christ? (Eph 6:13-17; 1 Thes 1:8)

Chapter 20 of Revelation: The Binding, Millennium, and Judgment

Also see:

Chapter 19 of Revelation: Praise, Fine Linen, and Truth 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

Continue Reading

Chapter 14 of Revelation: The Wheat and the Tares

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace (Matt 13:40-42).

I love agriculture. As a young person I spent summers with my grandparents living on the farm in Iowa. I learned patience watching the corn grow. I learned to drive stick-shift on a tractor. The Apostle John’s images of rural life speak the language of my youth.

Picturing judgment as a harvest, where the wheat and tares are separated and the tares burned, evokes both a message of patience and a reminder of justice. Harvest is a joyful time because for most of human history food was scarce. At the time of Napoleon, French soldiers were noticeably shorter than other Europeans because they starved—agricultural workers in France could not work an entire day for lack of energy. They were not alone. The practice of fasting during Lent is pre-Christian and evolved out of the reality of a lack of food at the end of winter in most of the pre-modern world. Tares were a threat to one’s life as well as one’s livelihood. In this context, burning tares—what we call weeds—is just.

Revelation 14 reports three signs. In the first sign (vv 1-5), we see the lamb and the 144,000 singing a new song—a song reserved for the redeemed. In the second sign (vv 6-11), three angels announce God’s judgment on Babylon (think Rome) and those that follow the beast. This includes a graphic picture of what God’s wrath will look like (vv 10-11). In the last sign, we see two more angels welding sickles used as instruments of judgment with grapes and a winepress adding to the graphic imagery of this judgment.

What is interesting is that these images of judgment remain part of John’s vision. The key verse is: Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Rev 14:12). We are given a glimpse of the future in order to inform our behavior today—endure, keep God’s commandments, and remain faithful.

The sickle and winepress images are an allusion to: Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great (Joel 3:13). The sickle allusion brings to mind the use of the hammer and sickle image by communist states in our own time because they were officially atheistic regimes. Their downfall highlights the paradox of Christianity—Satan was defeated at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the world is the church growing faster than in these formerly atheistic states. The conversion of Rome was equally dramatic.

In both case, just when things seemed the darkest, God intervened.

Questions

  1. What are the three requirements cited in v 12?
  2. List the three signs cited (vv 1-5, 6-11, and 10-11).
  3. What is the allusion with the sickle? (Joel 3:13)
  4. What is the teaching on the wheat and the tares? (Matt 13:40-42). How is Revelation different?
  5. What is the paradox of the cross?
  6. What is the new song being referenced in v 3? (Isaiah 42; Psalm 33, 40, and 144; Rev 5)

Chapter 14 of Revelation: The Wheat and the Tares

Also see:

Chapter 13 of Revelation: What is True Worship? 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

Continue Reading

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses

CloudsAnd when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be
alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation
will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will
be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These
are but the beginning of the birth pains (Mark 13:7-8).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly does judgment look like?

The images of the four horsemen of the apocalypses in Revelations 6 are as vivid as any in scripture (and likely taken from Zechariah 1:8). The allusion here is to the Olivet Discourse when Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives before entering Jerusalem for the last time and prophesied the destruction of the city (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21). The prophecy was quickly fulfilled as Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in AD 70—within that generation (Mark 13:30).

If you think that the four horsemen are a horrible judgment, take a look at the blessing and curses listed in Deuteronomy 28—stipulations for the Mosaic covenant. There we read: And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God (Deut 28:2). The voice of the Lord, in this case, is articulated in the Mosaic covenant. Later we read: But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you (Deut 28:15). And, of course, Deuteronomy 28 lists more curses than blessings.

The blessings and curses are attention grabbers. The expected response is: exactly what commandments, Lord, did you have in mind? (Remember: when scripture talks about the future, the purpose is to inform the present).

The clue to this question in Revelations 6 arises in the opening of the fifth seal. The martyrs of the faith ask: how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Rev 6:10) What is the response? The martyrs are told to: rest a little longer (Rev 6:11). In other words—the message to the seven churches is: be patient under persecution and remember who you serve. So the four living creatures may be saying: come, but not yet!

The Olivet Discourse underscores this point in the next verses: But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations (Mark 13:9-10).

While looking out for the fearsome horsemen, we are to be about our father’s business (Luke
2:49).

Questions

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6? a. What was judgment like under the Mosaic covenant? (Deuteronomy 28)
b. What does judgment look like in the Olivet Discourse? (Mark 13; Matthew 24; Luke 21)
c. What must happen before judgment? How are we to wait? How are we to respond?
3. Who are the four horsemen? What do they represent? (Zechariah 1:8)
4. What is special about the fifth seal?
a. What do the martyrs ask? (v. 10)
b. What is the response? (v. 11)
5. What is the allusion in the opening of the sixth seal? (Hint look at the references to the moon and what comes after in Mark 13; Matthew 24; and Luke 21

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses

Also see:

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship 

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

41. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty and Compassionate Father,
The Bible says that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to become witnesses to our neighbors, the region, and to the whole world (Acts 1:8). Convict us, Lord, that our witness reaches all in need.
The Bible says that Saul approved of Stephen’s execution and afterwards a great persecution arose (Acts 8:1). And that many churches were founded as the disciples were scattered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:19). And even the grand persecutor himself, Saul of Tarsus, was himself transformed into an evangelist who we know as Paul (Acts 9:5).  Convict us, Lord, that our witness reaches all in need.
Grant us the mind of Christ, we might focus on your priorities, not our own. Transform ours hearts that we might feel the things that you feel, not feelings of our own. That on the day of judgment, we will be judged according to Christ’s righteousness, not our own. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us eyes that see and ears that hear and feet that obey. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Continue Reading

Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Life_in_Tension_web“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is no accident that we feel the tension with God over the question of mercy. We do not want to admit to our sins (or our need for forgiveness) because we spend most of our lives trying to hide our sin from other people. We deny our sin from morning to night. And it is painful, in turn, showing mercy to other people —we would much rather have them fulfill their promises and pay their debts.

Our problem with mercy is that it requires action.  We would rather talk about love because it is a squishy sort of emotion.  Easy on the action; easy to redefine; easily to confuse with.  We are always in compliance with a law of love, at least in our own minds.  Mercy requires concrete action.  Billy Graham wrote:  “What are some of the areas in today’s world toward which we can show mercy? First: We can show mercy by caring for the social needs of our fellow men…Second: We can show mercy by doing away with our prejudices…Third: We can show mercy by sharing the gospel of Christ with others.” (Graham 1955, 61-65).  Concrete. Doable. Undeniable.  Highly personal.

God’s priority is showing mercy. Jesus cites the Prophet Hosea twice [1] in Matthew after citing the beatitude:

“For I desire steadfast love [2] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 ESV)

The heart of paganism in the church lies in trying to bribe God with sacrifices other than the sacrifice of our own hearts.  We prefer to bribe God with sacrifices (”burnt offerings”) than own up to our own sin.   Arguing that we are basically good (denying original sin), in effect, denies Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.  That is to say, we don’t need Christ’s mercy and, as a codicil, we do not need to practice mercy with those around us. The echo of Cain’s question still haunts us: “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9 ESV)

It is interesting that in the Gospel of Luke, the double love command (love God; love neighbor; Matthew 22:36-40) is cited, not by Jesus, but by a lawyer (Luke 10:25-28) who then proceeds to narrow the definition of neighbor [3]. He asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 ESV) Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end, Jesus pulls a Jedi mind trick asking: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36 ESV) Notice how Jesus substitutes the question—”who proved to be a neighbor” for the question—”who is my neighbor”. Jesus turns a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor). To this question, the lawyer responds: “The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37 ESV)

Notice how in the story of the Good Samaritan we started out talking about love, but ended up talking about mercy? God’s identity—

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6 ESV)

—includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first. Jesus’ brother James makes a similar observation saying:

“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13 ESV)

Judgment requires truth (אֱמֶֽת) which in Exodus 34:6 is translated also as faithfulness. Mercy also comes before truth and judgment. Interestingly, James has in the citation above restated Jesus’ beatitude in the negative—essentially it is now in the form of a curse—it is a curse to be judged without mercy.

The link of mercy and judgment necessarily brings us back to the atoning work of Christ. The Apostle Peter clearly linked these two ideas when he wrote:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

It is the mercy of God to provide us a path of salvation to Himself.

[1] Matthew 9:13 and 12:7.

[2] There is tension in the Greek and Hebrew texts on this word. The Greek reads mercy (ἔλεος) and the Hebrew reads love (חֶ֥סֶד).  The citations in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 go with the Greek.  The translation of Hosea 6:6 in the English Standard Version (ESV) goes with the Hebrew.

[3] Today, the lawyer would not only try to narrow the definition of neighbor, he would narrow the definition of love.

REFERENCES

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Continue Reading

Jesus: Passionately Pursue the Kingdom of Heaven

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

With the fourth beatitude we move from tension with ourselves to tension with God. Beatitudes four, five, and six speak of God’s righteousness, mercy, and purity—which we can never fully attain. Our tension emanates from our finitude compared with an infinite God and our sinfulness compared with God’s holiness. Yet, we go on knowing that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:28) and redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, because we hunger for God’s righteousness—a precious thing in a fallen world.

The fourth beatitude taps into deep physical and spiritual needs outlined in the words: “hunger and thirst for righteousness”.  Hunger in the Greek, πεινάω, means both “to feel the pangs of lack of food, hunger, be hungry” and “desire something. strongly, hunger for something” (BDAG 5758) which bridges both physical and spiritual needs (Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21).  Likewise, thirst, διψάω, in the Greek means both “to have a desire for liquid, be thirsty, suffer from thirst” and “to have a strong desire to attain some goal, thirst, i.e. long for something” (BDAG 2051). Righteousness, δικαιοσύνη, means the: “quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness” (BDAG 2004(2))

The  Gospel of John expresses this symbolism best.  Jesus says:

  • “Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
  • On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:37-39 ESV)

The theme of need runs deep in John’s Gospel.  Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not having enough wine; John 2:1-11). Our need is then contrasted with God’s super-abundant provision—of wine (John 2:1-11), bread (John 6:5-14), and fish (John 21:3-13).

Still, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” speaks of extreme suffering:   the most basic of human needs have gone unmet. The laments in the Book of Psalms provide the backstory of this beatitude [1].  There we read: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1 ESV) And “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (Ps. 89:46 ESV)  [2]. It is ironic that we are able to experience God best when we wander in the desert.  As God tells Moses:  “And you shall say to him [Pharaoh], The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod. 7:16 ESV)  In other words, God was inviting the Israelite people to rediscover the God of their fathers through adversity—this idea must have blown Pharaoh’s mind! (Card 2005, 16)

The second beatitude affirms that the expectations of human needs will be met and exceeded.  Jesus reassures the disciples later in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31-33 ESV)

Amidst our suffering and need, Jesus gives the disciples permission to pray for the simplest needs in life: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11 ESV). Jesus’ God is one  who cares deeply about his people. Even in judgment God cares for his people: the righteous are separated from the wicked by their attitude about and care for those in need (Matt 25:31-46).

[1] Christian songwriter Michael Card (2005, 19 ) writes at length about lament.  A lament has two parts.  The first part is cathartic–we pour out our hearts to God emptying ourselves of the anger, fear, hatred, and other vile emotions that we harbor.  Once this catharsis is complete, then in part two are hearts are open to remember God grace and mercy to us in the past and we are able to praise God from the bottom of our hearts.

[2] Modern atheism feeds from this painful stream. Modern atheists question God’s provision and care: if God is all powerful and all good, then the existence of suffering and evil suggests that God is either not all powerful or not good or not both—he does not exist. In contrast, Jesus testifies that those who passionately seek righteousness will be satisfied. The Greek word here for satisfy, χορτάζω, means “to experience inward satisfaction in something be satisfied” (BDAG 7954). Far from deserting us, in life Jesus suffered alongside of us, on the cross paid our penalty for sin, and in resurrection became our guarantor.  “While some continue to argue that Auschwitz disproves the existence of God, many more would argue that it demonstrates the depths to which humanity, unrestrained by any thought or fear of God, will sink.” (McGrath 2004, 184).

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide:  Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

McGrath, Alister. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism. New York: DoubleDay.

Continue Reading

Judgment

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Are you ready for your final exam?

When I taught in the university, my final exam was never a surprise. The week before the final I would pass out ten questions as homework and announce that five of these questions would be on the final exam. Now these were not easy questions—my questions were designed to encourage my students to master the subject. My good students invariably typed up answers to all ten questions and simply turn all of them in on the day of the examination; my lazy students showed up empty handed and unprepared to answer the questions.

God’s judgment works a bit like a take-home exam. We know the questions from scripture and from our ongoing relationship with God and His people, the church. Jesus’ commands and teaching are not a surprise.

So why does judgment create such drama?

One answer comes from a surprising source. Immanuel Kant observed that an evil person was not one who wills evil, but one who secretly exempts themselves from judgment, perhaps hoping that God does not exist (Arendt 1992, 17) [2].

Another answer is that many people avoid making decisions, hoping that they can escape accountability. Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who, having escaped Nazi death camps before coming to America, was asked to report on the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961) for the New Yorker magazine. Eichmann was the German officer during the Second World War who organized Adolf Hitler’s program of extermination of the Jews known as the “Final Solution”. Arendt attended the trial expecting to see a hateful, anti-Semite only to discover that Eichmann was more of a petty bureaucrat, someone unable to think for himself. In the case of Eichmann, the face of evil was that of someone unable or unwilling to think for themselves (Arendt 1992, 97–101).

Why do we care about the Hannah Arendt story? Because we worship a righteous judge in heaven who expects that we will exercise sound judgment here on earth. We must be good stewards of the wisdom and knowledge of truth entrusted us. Not judging is not an option—robotic thinkers walk the path of Adolf Eichmann, not the path of Jesus Christ. We are accountable both for judgments we make and those we refuse to make.

So what does God’s judgment look like?

The picture of God as a divine judge brings to mind the story of King Solomon and the two prostitutes. Both women had babies but when one baby died the women fought over the living child. Solomon tested the hearts of the women by threatening the child with death. In doing so, the women revealed their true feelings for the child and he was able to return the child to its rightful mother (1 Kgs 3:16–28).

Just like Solomon, God is a passionate judge who pursues truth and refuses to accept lies at face value [3]. Woe to the person who invites such testing! This is perhaps why the Lord’s Prayer includes the petition: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt 6:13)

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Kant further speculated that true justice requires that our lives be examined in their entirety which is only possible if resurrection and eternal, impartial judge exist. Therefore, justice and accountability require both eternal life and God!

[3] If you do not like Solomon test, think about the testing of Job who innocently lost everything (Job 1). Or, how about testing of Jesus in the desert? (Luke 4:1–13).

REFERENCES

Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Continue Reading