Playing God


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, 1 Kings 21:17-29, 1 Corinthians 1:20-31, Matthew 4:12-17

Imagine a great crime has been committed against you – one that cannot be made right. The perpetrator is apprehended and found guilty. When the perpetrator demonstrates he’s really sorry, the judge defers the sentence until after perpetrator’s death, at which time his son will suffer the penalty. If you’d have a hard time feeling like justice was being served, you’re probably not alone.

This is pretty much what happened after Ahab, who along with his wife Jezebel had a man stoned under false pretenses to take his ancestral land, humbled himself before an angry God. After Ahab put on some sackcloth, fasted, and put on a sad face, God decided punishment could wait.

Unfair as it seems, God – being almighty and all – gets to call the shots. We don’t have to agree, like, or understand it. But it does teach us something about the practical application of Biblical principles: just because God gets away with it doesn’t mean we can or should.

Punishing the children of the guilty, instead of or in addition to the guilty themselves, is not a just system for human beings to administer. We can’t point to books like Joshua, wherein God commanded virtual genocide, to justify our own tribal violence against people of a different faith or ethnicity. When the psalmists beg God to smash out the teeth and kill the children of their enemies, we can’t assume that’s the sort of behavior God encourages us to pursue. When we twist scripture to justify our worst impulses, who exactly are we serving?

Over and over, God offers redemption and forgiveness to the very people we would expect God to punish. Saul the oppressor of Christians becomes the Apostle Paul. The Ninevites who enslaved Israel are sent the reluctant prophet Jonah and they repent (much to Jonah’s disappointment).  God will do what God will do. Who among us dares to say when God should punish and when God should redeem?

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.” Let’s walk and act humbly, leaving God’s choices to God.

Additional Reading:
For more on today’s passage from 1 Corinthians, see Fool Me.

Comfort: You don’t have to figure out what God would do; God will do it.

Challenge: Be cautious when using scripture to justify your actions.

Prayer: Merciful God, in my foolishness lead me to your wisdom. Amen. 

Discussion: What actions of God in the Bible are hard for you to understand?

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