Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Getting what we deserve? (Ps 103:10)

"JUST DESSERTS" (Ps 103:10)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
 
It is disconcerting for a driver when he sees a patrol car's flashing lights in his rearview mirror, specially when he realizes that those lights are directing him to pull over. His eyes immediately check the speedometer. Can he talk his way out of a ticket?
A fellow was speeding along the highway, feeling quite secure since the rest of the traffic was traveling at the same pace. Passing a speed trap, he was tagged by a radar detector and subsequently pulled over. After the patrolman handed him a ticket, the driver said, "Officer, I may have been speeding, but this just doesn't seem fair. There were lots of cars around me traveling just as fast. Why did I get the ticket?" "Have you ever gone fishing?" the patrolman asked. "Uhhhh, yeah," the driver replied, a bit puzzled. Grinning, the officer continued... "Did you try to catch all the fish?"
It is disconcerting for a driver when he sees a patrol car's flashing lights in his rearview mirror. God does not issue speeding tickets, although you might prefer that He did, especially when you are in line to receive your "Just Desserts."
 
We assume that God is eminently fair, that unlike man He is not capricious in His dealings with us, and there is considerable Biblical testimony for such a view:
All his ways are just....Upright and just is he. (Deut 32:4)
The leaders of Israel and the king...said, "The LORD is just." (2 Chr 12:6)
The works of his hands are faithful and just.... (Ps 111:7a)
God is just. (2 Thess 1:6)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.... (1 John 1:9)
Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. (Rev 15:3c)
The down side of God's fairness is that He demands accountability from His creatures, those who are volitional beings and should know right from wrong. The Apostle Paul has repeatedly said that people who commit sin (i.e., everyone), who violate the standards of behavior God established, are accountable before Him:
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.... There is no one righteous, not even one.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:9-10, 23)
We will all stand before God's judgment seat.... Each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14: lOc, 12).
We also read that God metes out punishment according to a preordained and calculated metric, and that it is wrong when such equity is absent:
That servant who knows his master's will and...does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. (Luke 12:47-48)
There is something...meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This...I say, is meaningless. (Ecci 8:14)
Nevertheless, God will treat some people more harshly than others for their disobedience:
If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over.... If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over.... If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over.... If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. (Lev 26:18, 21,23-24, 27-28).
While He is indeed not capricious, neither is He rigidly fixated on a strict tit-for-tat policy. He does not throw down lightening bolts from heaven in answer to each transgression. There is a leniency in His response to man despite his sin.

Any apparent unfairness in God's treatment of us arises not because some have too much punishment, but because some of us have too little. None of us will receive harsher judgment than we deserve.... The marvel is, in the biblical view, not that men die for their sins, but that we remain alive in spite of them. (Wenham 1974:70)
This is an aspect of God's character that should never cease to amaze us: that He does not always punish people as their sins deserve. Sometimes, and happily for us, His mercy exceeds His justice.
 
David extolls this wonder in Psalm 103. Astonishingly and certainly unwarrantedly, God "does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (v. 10). He made this lopsided view of divine justice clear to Israel at the beginning of the nation's history in an important statement of self-disclosure:
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exod 20:5-6)
When David writes Psalm 51 he does so recalling his past sin as the superscription indicates: "For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba." (Ps 51:0) If he wrote Psalm 103, our text this morning, later in life, that same event would undoubtedly have informed his thought.
 
In any case, what the king writes in Psalm 103 is surely an informed appreciation of God's nature: "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (v. 10). At the outset we must realize the difficult position we occupy:
 
I. God's justice makes us libel.
 
Absent divine intervention, the only thing we can count on in the end is a fair trial, and even that is an expression of His benevolence. He does not owe it to us, and we certainly do not deserve it, rather: "Do not pass 'Go.' Do not collect $200. Go straight to hell." Instead...
A. We receive His fair scrutiny
...and...
B. We receive His fitting punishment.
He gives each case careful consideration but comes to the same conclusion for everyone, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Consequently, everyone faces punishment in the end, not necessarily the same punishment—there are degrees of retribution ("many blows [or] few blows" Luke 12:47-48) but retribution nevertheless ("weeping and gnashing of teeth" Matt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Moreover, part of what constitutes punishment in the end may be isolation, true and everlasting solitary confinement.
 
Application: Some in hell may think it comforting to assume they will not be alone in their final state. After all, "misery loves company," and the excuse people sometimes give for not turning to God is that perdition will be tolerable because they will be with their friends. But there is no consolation in knowing that others are suffering too. In fact, there is no evidence that anyone experiencing eternal torment will even be aware of another's suffering. Far from being with one's friends, each person in hell will be alone, unconnected to the countless others experiencing the same fate. As Jesus says, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it" (Matt 7:13).
 
The downside of life is that God's justice makes us libel. The upside of life is that...
 
II. God's mercy makes us grateful.
 
While He would certainly be within His rights as man's creator to drop us all into a bottomless pit and forget about us or start over from scratch, God has chosen to do something different, to offer something different, a way to rectify our relationship with Him. He presents a most amazing opportunity, and for those of us who accept it...
A. We receive His unmerited pardon.
...and...
B. We receive His overwhelming benevolence.
God's standard in all things is perfection, and even man's best efforts fail to achieve it. In fact, one might despair of ever reaching it. God's mercy is His answer to our inability. Knowing that we could never attain God's level of perfection, He reveals to us what He will accept—our very best. Jesus explains this principle to his disciples:
Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)
What makes her offering acceptable to God is not its quantity but its quality. What makes her offering acceptable to God is not its sincerity—although one's attitude is certainly important—but its superiority, that it is the best she has. This is how what we give comes close to perfection.
 
Even man's best, though, cannot secure the kind of divine favor necessary to receive divine forgiveness. Only God Himself can offer that, which He does: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). While David did not know Jesus and the sacrifice he made, David's faith gave him access to "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 13:8).
 
To a limited extent, all people benefit some from God's favor: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt 5:45b). In this way, God is indiscriminate in the application of His favor. All people gain something simply because they are part of His creation, whether or not they are redeemed.
 
To a great extent, however, certain people benefit most from God's favor: "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven... .whose sin the LORD does not count against him." (Ps 32:1-2a). In this way, God is discriminating in the application of His favor. These people gain everything explicitly because they are part of His redeemed.
  • Temporally, He blesses the Jews more than the gentiles. (Here, He is selective.) As Paul asks and answers, "What advantage...is there in being a Jew...? Much in every way! ...They have been entrusted with the very words of God." (Rom 3:1-2) "Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises" (Rom 9:4).
  • Eternally, He blesses the productive more than the unproductive. (Here again, He is selective.)14 As Paul states, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10)
The final determinant whether a person receives God's blessing is God Himself, but the determinant of how much blessing a person receives in the end is the individual himself.
 
In this life, all people must decide whether or not they will take advantage of the mercy God extends. This is the most important choice a person will ever make, because it has eternal consequences:
If, by the trespass of the one man, [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:17).
Those who accept God's offer of forgiveness enjoy His pardon and His presence both now and in the future, the blessed assurance that He "does not bear a grudge" (Kraus 1993:292).
 
Application: God gave His very best for you, His Son; in turn you must give your very best for Him. While you cannot give what He gave, and God does not expect you to sacrifice your firstborn, you should look for ways to give Him your best—your best talent, your best time, your best token.
  • Moses extols you to give your best:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut 6:5).
"Be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today" (Deut 11:32).
  • Paul extols you to give your best:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Col 3:23).
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).
The hymn by Howard Grose (1902) expresses this same admonition:
Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth;
Throw your soul's fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.
As you apportion your resources be sure to give God what is best not merely what is left (Col 3:23).
 
In Ps 103:10 David reminds his readers that if God were only interested in dispensing judgment, people would be in dire straights with only His wrath ahead of them. Thankfully, God is also merciful, and that attribute gives man hope the future holds a more welcoming prospect, one that even includes the possibility of reward. While God states this principle of "Just Desserts" through David, it is one He articulated years before through Moses and affirms years later through Jesus. It is this same principle believers today embrace as they look forward to what God has in store for them, a future in which "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities."

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.