Friday, November 8, 2013

Is God Fair?

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Friday, November 8, 2013:  Ezekiel 18:1-19:14

29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?  30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”  Ezekiel 18:29-32 (NKJV)

There are three ways God deals with man: grace, mercy, and justice.

Grace is when He GIVES us blessings which do not deserve.
Mercy is when He WITHHOLDS from us the punishment which we deserve.
Justice is when He gives us EXACTLY that which we truly deserve.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible (and of a fruitful relationship with God) is being able to understand how these three concepts operate.  Perhaps the greatest tendency of fallen man is to mix them up.  As a result, men begin to accuse God of unfairness.  Men expect blessings from God AS IF we deserved them.  We are shocked at the punishment of God AS IF He no longer has the right to do so.

The Israelites shouted their accusation at God, "The way of the Lord is not fair" (18:25).  God's response is an invitation for them to look more closely at their own conduct.  This was a wake up call for them -- and for us today!

Throughout the Bible, we come across stories about how God, Who normally displays almost unbelievable patience and mercy, would suddenly enact severe judgment.  It can be a bit overwhelming.

In Leviticus 10, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu decide to conduct their own private worship service apart from the Tabernacle.  They offered "strange fire."  As a result, "fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Lev. 10:2).  Whoa!  That seems a bit over-the-top, don't you think?

Then in II Samuel 6, David tries to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem using an oxcart.  They should have been carrying the Ark on the shoulders of priests, but they didn't.  As a result the Ark teetered and a man named Uzzah reached out to steady it.  This was in direct violation of God's earlier instructions.  God's anger boiled over and He "struck Uzzah there because of his error, and he died there by the ark of God" (II Sam. 6:7).

In the New Testament this happens at least once.  Acts 5 tells us about an offering that took place in the early church.  Folks were bringing their tithes and offerings.  One couple, Ananias and Saphira, lied about their offering claiming they were giving everything when in reality they were keeping back part for themselves.  Once again, God struck them dead.

When we consider examples such as these, we are tempted to cry out like the Israelites in Ezekiel's day: "God is not fair!"  How could a loving God be so severe?  The truth, however, is that God has been showing mercy upon mercy to us by withholding the judgment we deserve.  In order to get our attention and shock us back into reality, He may from time to time withdraw His mercy and actually give us exactly what we truly deserve.

Several years ago, a bestselling book hit the market entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  It poses the question of WHY -- why do bad things happen to people who do not deserve them?  From God's viewpoint, this is the wrong question.  We should not ask "Why bad things happen to good people?".  Rather, the correct question is "Why do good things ever happen to bad people?"  This is not cynical.  It is reality.  If any of us got exactly what we deserve, we would be dead.  The truth is that God has miraculously withheld the punishment we all abundantly deserve.

Ezekiel 18:31 says that rather than grousing about how unfair life is, we should instead "cast away all transgression."  Begin today to do what God has told you to do.  Stop acting like you are so innocent.  Repent.  God calls us to "get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."  God says "Get right on the inside."

One of the most moving passages in the Bible is Ezekiel 18:31-32.  God actually PLEADS with us.  Like Jesus weeping over rebellious Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37), God practically begs Israel saying, "Why should you die?"  He shows us His heart.  He is by nature a loving, redeeming God who beckons us to "turn and live."

I am so thankful for the mercy of God.  Mercy, by definition, is not deserved.  If it were, it would be justice.  Mercy happens when God withholds our due punishment.  When mercy is given we should always simply be thankful.  But, never forget!  He is a God Who is HOLY -- a God of justice.  He deserves our respect and worship.  He deserves our best.  That is all that He asks of us.

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