Tuesday, August 04, 2009
God: Judge or Pardoner?
Once upon a time, a man was brought to trial. He was charged with the crime of theft and murder for breaking into a house months before, killing the mother and her two children inside while they slept so that he could rob them. The only surviving member of the family was the father, who happened to be working late the night this happened.
The evidence was clear to all in the courtroom that the man on trial was guilty. There was the DNA found at the crime scene and on the man's clothes that could not be explained away. There was the surveillance video from the security camera the home-owner had set up. There was the stolen items that were found in the man's own house. There was even testimony from the man's friends about his boasting of all that he had done. As if all of that wasn't enough, there was this man's extensive criminal record. There seemed to be no doubt as to what the outcome of this trial would be.
It only took the jury about half an hour to come back with the verdict that all had been expecting: guilty on all counts. Many shook the hand or hugged the grief-stricken father. Cries of relief sprang up all over the courtroom. Sentencing was to be just a few days later.
When the trial reconvened for the judge to pass his sentence down to this man, the courtroom was shocked into silence as the judge began to speak.
"I, as judge in this trial, hereby set aside the verdict and declare that this man is free to go," declared the judge, pounding his gavel as sobs and screams rang out. The father had to be visibly restrained from charging the front of the courtroom.
As spectators streamed out of the room, many were visibly shaken and in interviews accused the judge of being bribed by the defense, of being corrupt, incompetent, senile and most called for his resignation. The only ones who seemed to be happy at the outcome were the defendant, his lawyers and family members, who jubilantly danced around the room after the sentence was read.
What comes to mind when you read this story? Do you put yourself in the victim's shoes, or the defendant's shoes? What do you think of the judge in this story? Wouldn't you agree with the victim and his family at the incompetency of this judge?
Day after day in our society people violate God's laws and get outraged when anyone dares to suggest that the wages of sin are clear. When it comes to our own sin, we put ourselves in the place of the thief and murderer, calling for God to overturn His own law on our behalf and set us free. Most of the time we cite things like being a good citizen or prior good behavior. Or, we declare that our crimes don't have victims or really aren't "that bad."
Our God *is* a just God, unlike the one in the fake "trial" described above. He has set a moral law in place and the consequences of breaking this law are clear. The evidence is all there, the witnesses are all around us, and the victims of our crimes are littered throughout our lives (there is no such thing as sinning in a vacuum). When we sit in the defendant's chair, it is clear that we are guilty. And, when we are the ones sitting there, we like to think that our crimes don't deserve what God, the best judge ever, might sentence us to.
Yet, if we place ourselves in the victim's roll, we *want* God to be a fair and unbiased judge, meting out justice on our behalf (and usually we want justice to be in our lifetime so we can delight in our enemy's punishment). We would, in the case of my fake trial, cry out in outrage over the injustice and travesty of a judge who would pardon someone so clearly guilty. Yet, we ask it of Him when the tables are turned.
God's justice is not like ours, though. The punishment for all of our crimes is the same: eternity apart from Him. Period. Apart from God Himself intervening, an unredeemed man cannot spend eternity in the presence of the holiness of God. It would be an utter abomination.
So, there has to be a way. There has to be a way for men and women who are clearly guilty to be made righteous. It is absurd to think that the God of the universe would take the time to create us, give us free will to do both good and evil and not have a plan in place (even before He created us) to allow us to come to Him.
Let me take you back to the courtroom...
"I, as judge in this trial, hereby set aside the verdict and declare that this man is free to go," declared the judge in our first trial. But, what if that was not the end of the story?.....
"The law is clear, there must be punishment for this crime," said the judge standing up and taking off his robes. "So, instead, I will take the punishment for the crime that this man has committed, and serve the sentence on his behalf so that he can go free."
Turning to the defendant the judge lays out his conditions for his new sentence, "If you chose to accept this gift you must commit yourself to following me with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength.
And I will know you have committed yourself, you cannot lie, I will know. I will know because your life will be changed. You will walk out of here and be a different man from now on. Yes, you will stumble, but your heart and your life will reflect a desire to change and be like me. This isn't a one-time thing. This isn't a one part of your life thing. This is for the rest of your life. This is everything given over to me. In fact, I will require regular meetings with you, I will require others around you to help you out, and I will require you to read up on a few things so that you know what I expect. I may even require you to leave some things, people, or ideas behind that might cause you to go back to your life of crime.
If you agree to this, the gift I give you today will never be taken away. In fact, I will see to it that you never serve a day of your sentence here, and should you ever be accused of a crime again, I will see to it that you never wind up in anyone's courtroom but mine. What do you say?"
A wise man would say, "YES I will do it!"
Let us all remember just what it is we have been saved from and our lives be found worthy of the sacrifice that the judge over all gave so that we could be set free. For God is fully Judge, but He is also fully Grace and Mercy.