From the time we can begin to comprehend the world around us until that comprehensions ceases we are aware that good behaviour brings reward and bad behaviour brings punishment – in one form or another.
A child recognises very early in life that the word “if” is very important to their well-being and happiness. “If you are a good boy, a good girl – then you can have the bar of chocolate.” So the sense of reward or lack of it is soon seen as being dependant on behaviour. Of course our society in general operates on the same principal. Actions have consequences – as we are continually reminded. And without that principal there is a strong argument for suggesting that the good order of society itself would collapse.
All of this, for me at least, having been involved for many years in the world of law and order, is why the Kingdom of God, as I see it described in the Bible, is so counter intuitive.
This hit me with some force recently as I was reading Psalm 103, coming upon this statement –
“He (God) does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.”
And given that this is in the Old Testament gives the statement double force. I was brought up to believe that God would indeed punish me as harshly as my sins deserved. Indeed I have spent most of my life believing this!
Most of us believe that God is like our parents – if we are good we are rewarded, if we misbehave we are punished – after all that’s the way of things is it not? But not, apparently, for David – or indeed the apostle Paul. Listen to his take on the matter –
“We know full well that we don’t receive God’s perfect righteousness as a reward for keeping the law.”
In other words being “good” is not the basis for God loving or redeeming us. But is this not turning everything we are led to believe on its head?
I often think of the young man who approached Jesus having kept to the letter of the Jewish law and its requirements. Yet he appears to have had some doubt, because he asked Jesus –
“Wonderful teacher is there a good work I have to do to obtain eternal life?”
We know Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor – and that he in turn went away angry because he was very well off. But what was really going on here? For me at least, at its most basic, Jesus was saying to him – “Go and find a heart of compassion and love!”
You see, and here is the rub, the unconditional love, the unconditional grace of God is not dependant on my actions! Back to Psalm 103 –
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”
I took a coffee break in the middle of writing this post and put on a CD. The words of the first song took me, to what for many of us, is the absurdity of this whole issue as regards Jesus himself –
“The Innocent judged guilty
While the guilty one walks free
Death would be His portion
And our portion liberty”
The innocent deserve reward, acknowledgment, praise and honour. But in the economy of God’s Kingdom – the innocent Lamb King is the one who is punished! And as he takes upon himself the death of deaths, what is his pronouncement on his murderers –
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
This is unconditional love as it has never been seen before! And yet, and yet – this is the measure of love he calls on us to exemplify in our world of crime and punishment –
“However, I say to you, love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them.”
All I want to ask here is how does this apply in your life and mine, conditioned as we are to the the tit for tat, wages for work, reward for good behaviour world we live in?