In a recent worship service, a young man, probably 23 years old, gave the sermon. He introduced it by saying that his father was a strict man, this father was probably "a little" abusive to his two sons, but "I'm sure I deserved it." The young man then announced that his sermon would be about God and justice. "I'm not going to talk about mercy or grace today, I want my emphasis to be on God's justice." I sat, politely, and tried to swallow what he was sharing. He spoke about our sins, God's punishments, and that if we sinned, we would be punished. Bottom line. And for 25 minutes I heard about God's infinite heavens (200 billion stars, 200 billion universes), and how God will punish us when we are/do wrong.
Oh goodness. I finally turned to Scott and said, "He's not talking about my God. My God is a merciful God, not a vengeful God."
My God works within the realms of the world He created. And in this world there are natural consequences for actions - just as in physics - for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I can handle this. You step into a road and a car comes zooming by - squash. You base jump off Angels Landing and your parachute doesn't open, oops. You sleep around and catch a crab or two - itchy itch. You cheat on a test (or not), and your teacher catches you - well, there's the price paid for your "mistake." But no - my God is not setting me up for failing. In the world I live in, divorce happens. Cancer happens. But it's not God's punishment! Bad things happen, and not at the expense of mercy. My cancer is not a product of a loving or vengeful God, but because I live on this earth where natural things happen - that are out of anyone's control. "How could there be a law save there was a punishment?" Because this natural world, this physical space is about consequences - natural consequences.
This caused me to think about where thoughts on Higher Powers come from. My parents are loving parents. I was spanked as a child, I remember my parents swearing once or twice, but hitting, locking up, laughing at a mistake, nope. Nada. Not even. My parents are still loving parents, who will do almost anything so that we are not punished for our sins. They show mercy.
As for my parenting - I spanked a time or two, I yelled a few times, yes. In fact, one of my more memorable parenting moments was yelling at the kids, "Damn it, you two are both in time out. Go to your rooms." And then I heard Jenna, with her Barbies, singing, "Damn it, damn it, damn it." Just as happy as could be. Choice and consequences! I do remember once telling Tyler, when he complained about not getting what he wanted on his sandwich, to return to the counter and ask for the proper order, that I wouldn't do this for him. And watching him walk up to the counter, sticking up for his order, was one of the hardest parenting moments I've had. Oh yeah, that and telling Jenna she needed to "stick it out," when she was in North Carolina for the summer, and homesick. But I didn't do either to hurt them, only to teach them. Mercy. Punishment? Opportunity to teach? Proverbs 3:11-12 teaches, "For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."
I've written about this theme of justice, mercy, grace, a few times, and I keep coming back to it. And I'm finding that every time I entertain the idea of a punishing Higher Power I want to walk away and never go back.
I'd like to talk with this guy in about twenty years. Or not.