Pentecost 17 “Is God a Fair Judge?”
September 27th, 2020 – Ezekiel 18:25
May you receive from God the forgiveness you have not deserved, not get the punishment you have, and may you have peace with God through the blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have talked with a couple of people recently who have expressed to me their reason for not having much to do with the church – something bad happened to them and they are not on good terms with God.
A pretty simple concept to understand. Their claim, and if we are honest the thought crossed our minds a few times too, is that God is not fair. What a rough place to be in mentally. The God of the universe who created you and keeps the whole universe in motion is a big bully. We are victims of His unfairness. He hurts us. He is not to be trusted.
To be thinking this way, you would be in good company. The whole house of Israel thought this of God. They even had a common saying about it – “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). This proverb is saying that when the Father sins the children are punished for it. They would repeat this over and over to themselves when bad things would happen. They would blame God for punishing the wrong person. A lot of them saw themselves as victims of God’s misdirected wrath.
To be fair, Ezekiel is writing in a time when the house of Israel could complain a lot about unfairly suffering. He is writing after the big-bad nation of Babylon had invaded their homes, defeated them in war, took everything they had, and sent them away from their homeland to live in Exile. This is comparable to our parents or grandparents who, during WW2, had to leave Europe after losing everything they had from the war. Or our First Nations people who were taken from where they lived, separated from loved ones, and sent to live on reservations. These were earth-shattering, life-changing, times for these people. Horrible times. At times like this, it is easy to look to God and blame Him for unjustly punishing them for the sins of other people.
God is, after all, seemingly punished a whole swath of people and punished the innocent along with the guilty. Remember in elementary school, when a teacher would punish the whole class for something only a few students did? This is how God is seen as acting. And for the most part, communities were much tighter back then than they are now. When you were a part of the house of Israel it was a part of your identity. You won together and you lost together. Now each person, or each little family, seems to be its own exclusive little unit. We are more individualistic here and now compared to then and there. For the whole of Israel to be punished for their general sin would have been normal and fair. But suffering for sins your parents committed? That would be unjust – IF you never continued in your parent’s sins.
The problem is, the people in Ezekiel’s time complained that they were in exile because of the sin their parents committed. The modern-day equivalent is like being born to parents out of wedlock, and you being treated poorly as a bastard the rest of your life and suffering for your parents’ sin that you never committed. This is what Israel was complaining about.
God, He patiently hears all these complaints from His people day in and day out and He finally says ENOUGH! He points out clearly to Ezekiel, and the house of Israel, that He does not unjustly punish sons for the sins of the father. He punishes each individual soul, each person, according to their actions. If they sin, He punishes them fairly for their sin; not unjustly because of their parents’ sin. Often, the sins of the parents can be taught, picked up, and continued in the children, but then it has become the child’s sin; and the child is punished justly for it, too. That is why it is so important for parents to teach their children the ways of God and how to deal with their sin – to be in church. To lay their sin on Jesus. To be trained on how to be good and do right.
What the house of Israel failed to realize is that they were sinning just like their parents. God graciously invited them to turn from their evil. He invited them to stop giving their best time and money to other things in their life. The other things they were giving themselves to were causing them to be unfair towards God. Devoting themselves to other things was causing then to be unfair to other people, too. Ever get so focused on what you want you hurt other people in the process? (sound familiar?).
Except, God knows that they will not be able to overcome their sin. He knows they will keep hurting each other and devoting themselves to other things. So what does God do about it? He says, “stop it!” He says, “turn and live!” He says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone!”
You know what? Each one of us is punished justly for our sin. Each one of us experiences problems and heartache. Each one of us has the opportunity to say, “God, you have hurt me.” And if we are blind enough to not see how we deserve every bit of bad that comes to us in this life, we will blame God and not ourselves. We do not see the exact ways that our sin and other people’s sin comes back to hurt us and punish us – but it happens.
God does not want us to be hurt. He does not want us to suffer. Even though each one of us suffers the ultimate punishment for our sin, of death, that is not the end.
God joins us to the death and life of Jesus through our baptism. That seemingly insignificant event of our baptism means everything. It means that we suffer death, as Jesus did, but we rise again too, like Jesus.
Although we justly suffer the consequences of our sin, God has given us a new heart to love Him. He has given us a new heart through Jesus’ death, and He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide, direct, and connect us to God and the new life He has given us.
It means that when we suffer death, we will rise again when Jesus returns, and we will be made new. We will live again on the earth in our bodies without any sin and without any punishment.
Because of that hope, we can be humble. We can know that we suffer justly, but that we are forgiven and are right with God. We can follow in the example of Jesus who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be clung to, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). We too can be humble and count others more important than ourselves.
We can look to the needs of others instead of just our own. We can be united in this mindset of God so that our whole outlook on life, our whole reason for being here, shifts. We can shine as lights in this dark world, proclaiming the hope we have in the face of all this suffering. No matter what happens to us in this life as we live for Him, God has graciously given us a reason to be happy. He has given us a reason to trust Him, to love Him, and to see Him for who He truly is – a good and fair judge of the world – dealing with us all far better than we deserve.
So when you see that person struggling with the hardships of the past, when you see them taking issue with going to church and seeing God as good, remind them of this. Remind them that God is good, we have sinned, and He has given us a way through the hardships of this life and into the perfect life to come.
Let us pray,
Father, thank you for being good. Thank you for judging us justly and for giving us so much more than we deserve. Thank you for being with us through the bad. And thank you for giving us a perfect life that is still to come. Help us as we go out from here to share your message. In Jesus name, we pray,