What the Bible says about
God's Merciful Judgment
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Psalm 73:12-14 shows the anguished complaint of the righteous man:
Look at these men of arrogance; they never have to lift a finger—theirs is a life of ease; and all the time their riches multiply. Have I been wasting my time? Why take the trouble to be pure? All I get out of it is trouble and woe—every day and all day long. (The Living Bible)
The author's distress is evident. At this point, he was clearly puzzled too. How quickly he seemed to have forgotten earlier outpourings of God's benefits. Did he allow his anguish to lead him into believing that he was being picked on unfairly? In this state of mind, a person can easily come to a wrong judgment about how he should respond.
Why would a righteous person believe God was punishing him? In one sense, it is easy to reach such a conclusion because in our calling we are educated to see sin in ourselves. Why? If we do not first see our sins, how can we repent of them? And, if we are not overcoming our sins, how can God be glorified in us?
In addition, at the same time we are also being educated about the holiness of God. Together, the two of them serve to emphasize how wide the contrast is between Him and us, sharpening our awareness of our sinfulness. How can we possibly live up to that standard? We conclude, then, that we are being punished. The apostle Paul's statement in Romans 7:24 about his own sinfulness seems to confirm our conclusion: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
However, this is not the end of the story on making this judgment, for it is indisputably unbalanced. We must emphasize and believe another characteristic of God's nature more profoundly. Exodus 34:4-9 records an episode following the Israelites' rebellion after receiving the law at Mount Sinai. Moses returned to the mountain and asked to see God, that is, literally see Him in person with his own eyes. God granted His request, permitting him to see His back. When God passed by, He proclaimed:
The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation.
God emphasizes His mercy, patience, goodness, truth, and forgiveness. Why do we not think first of His grace and run to Him, rather than fear His justice, accuse Him, and run from Him? He is our help. He gives us salvation. He provides us with a Savior. He called us and gives us His Holy Spirit, empowering us to learn and grow. He is creating us in His image.
The author of Psalm 73 used this positive insight to come to a better solution. He went to the sanctuary and prayed, and God gave him a balanced, quiet, faithful spirit. The accusations stopped and praise for God began because he could now understand the entire picture in a more sound-minded, less self-centered way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued
Consider that this woman caught in adultery is indeed an obviously sinful woman; she had a reputation as a loose woman. The Pharisees had caught her in the very act of cheating on her husband, and that was probably only one of her many sins. We would likely not be wrong in calling her a wicked woman.
In every way opposite to her is Jesus Christ, sinless and perfect. The Pharisees, themselves sinful, attempt to force Him, a Man of unimpeachable character, to condemn a sinner—to them, a foregone conclusion: "And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" (John 8:3-5). However, Jesus' approach to the situation is poles apart; His reaction and attitude throughout this vignette is completely contrary to that of the Pharisees.
In their reading of the Old Testament law concerning the punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10-11; Deuteronomy 22:22), this was an open-and-shut case: The woman had been caught in the act, they had two or three witnesses, the law was clear, so there should be a stoning! This appears to be unequivocal. The law does indeed prescribe the death sentence by stoning. What more proof does Jesus need?
Despite everything weighing against the woman, Jesus approaches the matter differently. He clearly understands that the woman had sinned. He realizes there were witnesses to that effect. He knows the law and the penalty, but He does not leap to a verdict of condemnation.
Recall that, for some time, He does nothing but write on the ground (John 8:6). He lets the matter simmer. While the carnal Pharisees agitate for answers and demand action, Jesus patiently waits. God works with us in the same way. We can become infuriated when God fails to answer us immediately after we say, "Amen," but giving us time for things to work out is a consistent pattern with Him. We can be certain that He does this when we are accused before Him, even when we are guilty as charged, as the remainder of the passage in John 8 shows.
Because we are so familiar with the character of Jesus, we can appreciate how shocking His statement in John 8:11 is: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." One would expect a just God to say, "This is the law. This is your infraction, so this is your punishment." But we understand that God is love and that He is gracious and merciful, so when He does not say, "I condemn you to be stoned," we tend to pass over it without thinking.
However, first-century Jews would have been astounded to hear such a thing! They may have been the most judgmental people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. One little infraction of the law was enough to condemn a person. Excommunication was so common a practice that people stood in great fear of the Pharisees (see John 9:22). What Jesus says was a radical concept, one that contradicted everything they had been taught.
Moreover, Jesus had every right—as God in the flesh, to whom the Father had committed all judgment (John 5:22)—to condemn her to death, but He shows mercy. He does not react in anger to reinforce how bad her sin was. He does not even preach at her. He simply commands her not to sin like this anymore, and He lets her go to work it out for herself.
However, He does not pass up an opportunity to teach the crowd: "Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). He teaches that He, being that Light, has given us an example to follow in situations like this. A sinner condemned to die produces nothing. Only with further life and light will he or she have the chance to repent and grow in character.
That is how God works with us, and are we not happy that He reacts to our sins with patience and mercy? So we should forbear with our brethren (Colossians 3:12-13).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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