9 Q. But doesn’t God do us an injustice
by requiring in his law
what we are unable to do?
A. No,^1 God created human beings with the ability to keep the law.
They, however, provoked by the devil,^2
in willful disobedience,
robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.
^1 Eph. 4:[22-23], 24-25
^2 Luke 10:30[-37]
10 Q. Does God permit
such disobedience and rebellion
to go unpunished?
A. Certainly not.^1
God is terribly angry
with the sin we are born with
as well as the sins we personally commit.
As a just judge,
God will punish them both now and in eternity,
“Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey
all the things written in the book of the law.”^2
^1 Rom. 5:12; Heb. 9:27
^2 Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10
11 Q. But isn’t God also merciful?
A. God is certainly merciful,^1
but also just.^2
God’s justice demands
that sin, committed against his supreme majesty,
be punished with the supreme penalty—
eternal punishment of body and soul.
^1 Exod. 34:6
^2 Exod. 20:5; Ps. 5:5; 2 Cor. 6:14
This weekend marks the 237th anniversary of the United States of America’s independence from England. It also marks a momentous and historic occasion for our sisters and brothers in Egypt as millions of them –Muslim, Christian, and secular alike—literally joined hand-in-hand to call for the resignation of an oppressive regime. When a moderatorial delegation I led this past May visited Egypt, we were struck by the determination, courage and confidence of Presbyterian and Coptic Christians who were ready to put their faith into action, recognizing that such efforts might cost them their very lives. Reports that our delegation and our national offices were receiving from partners in the region leading up to the decisive moment last Monday (June 30, 2013) were filled with cautious hopefulness, not knowing what would happen, but a certain appointment with the inevitable. They had reached a point of no return because the heart of the Egyptian people wanted to be free. The revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime two years ago and which ushered in the Morsy presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood brought with it the hopes and dreams of the Egyptian people – at long last, poverty would be alleviated, the economy would prosper, religious protections would be secured, women and Christian minorities would be given a place in the new governance, all sectors of the nation would be part of shaping the future of their country. The stated promises of the presidency were just that: statements without action. In fact, what we heard again and again from church leaders were stories of repression, oppression, violence, iron-handed governance, a questionable election, and a post-revolution constitution that placed power and control over collaboration and a shared future.
At this writing, partner churches in the region reject our American government’s and CNN’s description of the June 30 revolution as a “coup.” While the military certainly had a key part in the events, the “roadmap” towards an Egyptian future was discussed and developed by political, religious, economic, and military leaders who had the trust of the masses. This was not a “coup;” this was the self-determination of a people to be free.
As events were unfolding, I found myself speaking rapid-fire to a NJ newspaper reporter who was asking me about my perspective on Egypt and Syria. For 90 minutes while shopping with my family at a local Modell’s Sporting Goods in the freedom and liberty of my surroundings, I told the stories of my Egyptian and Lebanese and Syrian friends and ministry colleagues, told of their deep desire for freedom. I felt the passion in me well up, the same passion that welled up when our delegation was in Egypt meeting with our partners.
Q/A 9-11 of the Catechism describes the all-consuming passion of God to be for His people, and for His people to be for Him and one another. Eberhard Busch amplifies this in Barthian fashion: God’s decisive Yes and No to our anemic No. When we say No to God’s love and to our neighbor, God responds by saying No to that sinful nature that is ingrained in all of us. God rejects our rejection. At the same time, God says Yes to us. God does not give up on us and on His intention in bringing us into the world. Even as God’s “supreme majesty” as Lord and King of heaven and earth are taken for granted in every act and word of No that we can ever mount, God is deeply committed to carrying out the choice which God has chosen: God has chosen, God has elected to be for us, to be with us.
We get this same sense of all-consuming passion in Jesus cleansing the temple so that those around will get the point that it’s not so much about the physical building, it’s about the people. (see John 2:13ff). Then in 2:17, the disciples remembered Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Jesus’ angry passion, and passionate anger are not politically correct, are not kind by our civil standards; his zeal for us consumes, a jealous God whose zeal overflows for the world that God created and for which God in Christ redeems.
Q/A 9 describes how God desires for us to be in tune with His heart through the law. Yet, again and again, we listen to the whisperings of evil, tempted by God’s enemy, walking away from God again and again. We rob ourselves of God’s heart and flourishing in God’s love.
Then, amplifying the seriousness of God’s deep commitment to us, Q/A 10 describes God’s anger at the reality that our choices, our decisions, our will, and our ways continually seek to say No to God’s Yes. When our family was discussing this section, my youngest son, Andrew, asked if God’s love was stronger on some days and weaker on other days, depending on how good we were. Using the analogy of my own love for him and my eldest son, I said that if they didn’t clean their room one week but cleaned it the next week, the doing or not doing the house chore will neither diminish nor increase the steady love I have for him. But my steady love for each and both of them doesn’t take away from the fact that my wife and I want them to do their house chores and learn about being part of a family community.
Far from being like an oppressive government, God our heavenly Father desires for us to be free, to live into His love, and to exercise freely that love, free from every influence, every power of No that we can ever mount against His constant Yes.
Tony Campolo illustrates the dynamic of mercy and justice that Q/A 11 describes. Imagine you are caught speeding and pulled over by a police officer. Justice demands that the police officer give you a citation for your offense, or if a DUI, hauled off to the county jail. Mercy would be if the officer wrote the citation, tore it up, and let you go. Grace would be if the officer gave you a Krispy Kreme donut instead.
Q/A 11’s teaching of “eternal punishment” is something we often don’t hear about; but we should. The Catechism’s description and accompanying Scripture texts that speak of judgment, cursedness, anger –this is serious stuff and cannot be ignored. Far from the Marcionite heresy of seeing the Old Testament God as judgment and the New Testament God in Jesus Christ as gracious and nice, even Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:28 about the One who can judge the soul is greater than any who can harm the body.
The triune God who created us and whose radical love is for us does not trifle with us, and neither should we. Galatians 6:7-8 reminds us that God is not mocked; let us not deceive ourselves that our actions or inactions don’t’ matter; they do. To take God and God’s love seriously and not take God and God’s love for granted is to take God’s law seriously, to take our constant mutiny against God seriously, and to receive God’s Yes for us seriously.
God rules and reigns over the world and over every affair of our lives. In stark contrast to governments, powers and principalities that lord over us, or in the case of Egypt’s Morsy who didn’t take the voices of the people seriously, God frees us at great cost.
God’s zeal, passion, justice and mercy demand it. God’s own commitment to us is such that God will go to the deepest, darkest depths, to the farthest moon, even to hell and back. Seriously.