Religious Hate and Moral Brokenness

It was very early on the first day of this week that Americans awoke to the news of a bloodbath in a Florida nightclub. Recounting the details of that horrific rampage in the hours before dawn on Sunday would by now be redundant.  But there are always things we can learn from events like this that bring man’s fallen nature into stark relief against the goodness in which he was created.  “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 ESV).

A portion of Isaiah 45 has gone through my mind over the past several days as I have pondered this tragedy.  In this chapter, Jehovah is introducing the Persian King Cyrus, who many years later would be used as an instrument in His hand to bring a remnant of Israel back to their land. The Lord declares Himself to be sovereign over the heavens and the earth, even over light and darkness, peace and evil. Cyrus, and by extension all men, may be used as vessels in the hand of the Lord, whether they acknowledge Him in it or not.

But there are many “vessels” who insolently speak against the God who made them thus. “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!”   It is to be expected that the “potsherd” (a clay vessel morally broken by rebellion and sin) “strive with the potsherds of the earth.”  But for the formed clay to have the audacity to ask the One who formed him – “Why have you made me like this?” – is to bring great woe upon himself.  Still others mock at God, accusing Him of impotence by saying: “He has no hands!”¹

Possibly there were many in that gay nightclub in Orlando who had spent much of their short lives questioning or arguing with God about how He “made them male and female”.²   And this may be purely conjecture, but perhaps the Muslim killer felt compelled to take into his own hands the judgment of immorality because he believed the God of Christians to be impotent and incapable of keeping moral order in His realm. Whatever his state of mind may have been, that morally broken potsherd had an issue with other potsherds of the earth, and the resulting carnage shocked America.

What doesn’t seem to shock America any longer is the immorality that seems to have played a part in fanning the flames of religious hatred that consumed so many lives. But which form of immorality and rebellion is more worthy of judgment in the eyes of the Maker of vessels: Perversion or hatred?  God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13), and He “will render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:6), so that Christians need not offer an opinion as to relative evils. Rather, we ought to grieve over man’s departure from God and his consequently broken condition, and over the judgment that will soon fall upon this world that still rejects Christ.

Fifty souls left bodies of clay to meet their Maker that morning. Millions of the seven billion people on earth do so every day, most from “natural causes” like old age, which somehow manages to make the natural man feel less troubled about death than when violence is involved. Only the Christian knows the real truth about death, its finality, and what lies beyond it, and it should grieve the believer’s heart whenever, and at whatever age, a soul slips into eternity while yet in their sins.

It was very early on the first day of the week that the Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead, Victor over death, hell, and the grave. Into this world where sin once reigned unto death, He brought “grace and truth”, and because of His perfect finished work and God’s acceptance of it, grace now reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Him.³  How wonderful to be able to proclaim it! – that all who believe on Jesus are justified from all the sinful deeds that they could not be justified from by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39), which condemns both murder and homosexuality. God is completely finished with man’s attempt at keeping the “law for righteousness” (Romans 10:4). The seventh day (the Sabbath) represents God’s righteous claims under the Law, but the Lord Jesus waited in the tomb until the first day of the week to rise from among the dead, showing to all that there is healing for the broken, since grace reigns!

 

¹    Isaiah 45:9; Romans 9:20       ²    Matthew 19:4     ³     Romans 5:20-21

The Love of God: Limited, Universal, or Misunderstood?

At the root of some of the doctrinal difficulty and disagreement in the Christian faith is a lack of understanding of the love of God and its relationship to the grace of God. For example, there are those who declare that God’s love would not allow any sinner to perish, or go to hell; this teaching is called “Universalism.” Five years ago, megachurch leader Rob Bell wrote a book to that effect, entitled “Love Wins”, in which he postulates that people are given an eternity of opportunities after death to respond to God’s love, and so none will be finally lost.  On the other side of the theological spectrum, if we might be permitted to speak that way, are those often referred to as hyper-Calvinists, who maintain that when the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world,” He really meant that God loved the world of the “elect”, and not the souls of all men.

Wisdom consists in part of the ability to distinguish between similar concepts that differ in important ways. The concepts of love and grace, although intimately related, are not used interchangeably in the Scriptures.  We read in I John 4 that “God is love”, and we understand by that expression that love is His inherent nature.  Another has said that the declaration that “God is love” reveals to us the energy of His nature, while “God is light” (I John 1:5) tells us of the purity of His nature, which necessitates His righteousness. I believe it would be correct to state that the love of God is the wellspring of all His activity in the universe, beginning with creation and culminating with the reconciliation of all things based on the infinite work of His Son on the cross to put away sin, done once for all “in the consummation of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26).

The grace of God, on the other hand, is the means by which God, in the perfection of His love, carries out His purposes in the lives of helpless, unworthy sinners. Grace is effectual, for God always accomplishes what He sets out to do by grace in the lives of His elect (Philippians 1:6; Ephesians 2:10). As difficult as this may be to comprehend, this grace was given to us who are saved “before the world began”.¹  God’s love is not spoken of in Scripture with this particularity, because love is the motive and mode of His activity toward all, whereas grace has the individual soul’s eternal blessing in view, and grace infallibly accomplishes its goal according to the purpose of God.²   John Calvin wrote of “irresistable grace”, but since that term has an objectionable connotation as indicating forcible entry into a soul, we might more accurately and carefully speak of the “effectual grace” of God.  In fact, to say that “grace wins” would be much more correct than the Universalist mantra “love wins”, for grace is effectual while love is motivational.

And what a motive was love in God! So much so that we can state and preach emphatically that God loved the world so that He gave His Son Jesus as the propitiation for the “whole world” (I John 2:2), and that all men are both invited to come and commanded to repent, since propitiation allows God to be merciful while remaining perfectly righteous. When sinners up until their final breath reject and disobey the gospel call, they experience permanent separation from the love of God, and from the God of love.³ However, the love of God is not compromised or diminished because He must judge the wicked, and judgment is His “strange work” (Isaiah 28:21).  We can therefore place both Universalism and hyper-Calvinism at the extreme fringes of the discussion of the love of God, and unworthy of godly consideration.

But grace is God’s unmerited favor toward individual sinners who are no better than “them that perish” – by grace God chooses them, quickens them, saves them, and glorifies them. God’s highest delight now and forever will be to glorify Himself in His Son through us who are saved, and who are the beneficiaries of “the riches of His grace“.   And lest we become overly occupied with our own interests and benefit in the matter of God’s working by grace, let us remember that the believer’s redemption, acceptance, and adoption will throughout all eternity be “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”²

 

¹   II Timothy 1:9

²   Ephesians 1:3-12

³   Romans 8:39; Matthew 22:13; Luke 14:24