God commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he (Jesus) is the one appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
- The Apostle Peter, Acts 10:42
Following the recent atrocities against our country, a local minister, with as great a penchant for writing letters to the editor as delivering sermons to his flock, wrote that America got what she deserved - almost. Because of her great sin, he believes the evil she endured this time should have been worse.
Angry readers fought back. Many equated his "religious fanaticism" to that of the terrorists. Few came to his defense.
Religious fanatics are nothing new. Some even have their words preserved in Scripture, specifically those of the prophets in the latter third of the Old Testament.
Blow the trumpet in Zion and sound an alarm in my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble... for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible, and who can abide it? (Joel 2:1-11).
"Among my people are wicked men... their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful... and their evil deeds have no limit... Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this? declares the Lord (Jeremiah 5:26-29).
At first glance it looks like our modern prophet is following in holy footsteps. But reading beyond these few words of Joel, Jeremiah, and their counterparts, I notice some big differences: The Biblical writings were warnings, not indictments; and negative verses like these are only segments of the message God told them to tell.
After Joels warning he uses more than half his allotted space to list the rewards of repentance, including the symbolic phrase, I (the Lord) will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). And Jeremiah illustrates Gods offer of a second chance with the story of the potter whose vessel was marred, so he made it again (Jeremiah 18:4). Each message contains what someone has called God's wide space for repentance. It also speaks of Gods sorrow when that repentance doesnt come, something thats missing from our local writers prose.
I dont pretend to speak for God, and I dont mean to soft-pedal the countrys obvious moral decline which I both see and deplore. But the Bible is full of other sermon topics, too, including many examples of Gods mercy outweighing his judgment.
David - King of Israel, ancestor of Jesus, and man after Gods own heart - should have been stoned to death. According to Jewish law, adultery, murder, indiscriminate killings of his predecessors descendants - any one of Davids less-than-godly acts should have sealed his doom.
But God forgave a repentant David, and used him greatly as a leader over the new nation of Israel. God also forgave the repentant, Christian-hating tentmaker formerly known as Saul, and used him (Paul) to guide new converts to Christianity throughout first-century Asia Minor.
My natural reaction to our local prophet is to rail against him, too, for his timing as well as his content. But its not easy for Christian leaders to know when to stress Gods judgment, and when to dwell on His love.
That decision is doubly hard if youve been brought up in a church where the negatives are emphasized so much you rarely hear about that love - or when tragedy and evil specifically touch you, and your theology undergoes a change.
To help me understand those who are short on sympathy and long on condemnation, I picture one of my children or grandchildren lying injured in a hospital bed because of an accident of their own making.
I look at the broken bones, the crushed spirit and disfigured face, and imagine what I would say. Would it be, I knew this would happen... you shouldnt have been driving so fast you had this coming to you, and you get no sympathy from me?
Or would my eyes well up with tears for this child I love so much? Would I touch him wherever he was still touchable and assure him I will never leave him no matter what the final consequences of his actions are?
There is no doubt how I would respond. Some of my tears would be for his folly, but I wouldnt have to point that out to him. His injuries are sufficient for that.
I have no doubt God saw Americas accident coming, or that He has longed for us to live by his protective standards instead of our own folly for a long time. I also have no doubt He is standing by Americas crippled side now, urging us to turn our faint God Bless America signs into Joels blowing trumpets, lest further evil fall across our beloved land.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.