Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
- On what basis does God inflict wrath (5)?
- Is He unjust for judging the world (6)?
- Sinners should be congratulated for being the object of God’s Grace (7).
It’s hard to believe that it was 25 years ago today that Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson led Los Angeles police on a low-speed chase. The infamous white Bronco took off on the day he was supposed to turn himself into police, a suspect in the deaths of his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. The chase went on for 75 miles and two hours. The drama on this day in history led to the more infamous trial that ultimately led to Simpson’s acquittal. Despite what seemed a mountain of evidence against him, Simpson went free until, ironically, he was charged in an armed robbery case in 2008 that him imprisoned until two years ago (some facts via cbsnews.com).
The Bible records several notable chases:
These pursuits were the result of military conflict, personal vendettas, and familial disputes, but they all were matters of life and death. Many other chases outside of the biblical record are famous, from the great locomotive chase of 1862 to the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia in the Middle East during World War I. But, there is a chase with infinitely more at stake than any of the ones I’ve mentioned already. What is it?
Paul says, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Paul tells Timothy that so many people pursue material things, and their love for such is the cause of their own hurt and destruction. So, Paul encourages Timothy to run from those things and run after those qualities that lead to eternal life (6:12-13), preparation for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ (6:14), and storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future and life indeed (6:19). All of us are either chasing the things of this world, which pierce us through with many sorrows, or the things of the world to come, where eternal life awaits those who pursue it.
My brother and fellow preacher, Brent Pollard, finds the most interesting historical facts—an ability which makes his preaching illustrations most interesting. He sent me an article about the Oise-Aigne Cemetery in northern France. Though I have actually visited that cemetery, I had no idea about the existence of an auxiliary burial plot known as “Plot E.” While the 6012 military personnel buried in the four main burial plots lost their lives in World War I, the 94 interred in Plot E are infamous, disgraced soldiers who died for their crimes during or after World War II. These men either murdered fellow soldiers or raped and/or murdered 71 people in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Algeria. “No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road” (warhistoryonline.com).
These men were supposed to be fighting for the freedoms and rights of American citizens, but instead they were most dramatically undermining the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the unfortunate ones who crossed their paths. For their crimes, they not only paid the ultimate penalty but were buried in disgrace and immortalized with infamy. They are remembered as “the dishonorable dead.”
The book of Revelation refers to the “book of life” (20:12), implying that it is possible for one’s name to be blotted out of it (3:5). However, those whose names are not found in that book will be “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). Those who take away from the words of this revelation—and by application any other (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)—“God shall take away his part of out of the book of life” (22:19). More specifically, John says, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). For the ungodly and disobedient, John lays out in apocalyptic terms how unthinkably horrible it will be to die unfaithful to Christ. He says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (14:10-11a).
Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). The faithful will receive glory and honor and reward (Mat. 25:34-40). The unrighteous, however, will go away into everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46). No one will deserve heaven, but will go there thanks to God’s amazing grace and his or her conscious effort to walk in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Those who know not and obey not the gospel will endure something eternally worse than a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, or blameworthy burial (2 Th. 1:8-9). Though the world may believe less and less in the reality of hell, the Bible’s position on the matter has not changed. Knowing the terror of the Lord, may we persuade others and, ourselves, be persuaded (2 Cor. 5:11).
Though mankind can construct a fantasy to explain our origin and propagate it in places like The Natural History Museum, we have a harder time skirting around our moral outrage at the atrocities committed by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945. I made my third ever visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and, more than ever, I was dumbfounded at how anyone could perpetrate torture and treatment like the European Jews received at their hands. Words like “wrong,” “immoral,” “evil,” “wicked,” and “barbaric” flow freely from the mouths of the visitors who see pictures or watch videos of the organized pogroms and the aftermath of the death cities they called concentration camps. Witnessing such depravity makes it easier to understand how men could take an innocent man like Jesus and be hardened enough to have Him crucified. It also helps us appreciate how necessary that sacrifice was.
Hitler, if he worshipped anything, worshipped the occult. He seemed not to truly acknowledge the existence of God, using His name only as a shield to defend his dictatorial policies. His regime is an extreme example of what men, apart from God, are capable of doing. With no sovereign standard to submit to and no transcendent truth to believe in, men become their own gods and write their own laws. They so often do so without regard for the welfare and lives of other people. They do as they please and what pleases them so often destroys them but also others.
Jesus warned of such a mindset in Luke 16, speaking to the Pharisees, saying, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (15). He warned on another occasion that “what comes out of a man defiles a man” (Mark 7:20), including “evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, theft, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, [and] foolishness” (21-22). When men try to negate the nature of God and escape the existence of God, it leads to the perishing of people and the harm of humanity. The answer is simple, if demanding: “‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12-13). Either way, it’s a matter of the heart! May our hearts get right and stay right.
I am sad whenever anyone in a position of power and authority abuses that, worse whenever that abuse turns deadly. I am sad whenever anyone, of any color, demonstrates prejudice toward any group, race, ethnicity, or similar common denominator. I am sad whenever anyone tries to commit a crime and get away with it. I am sad whenever anyone resorts to hatred, profanity, and divisive speech, even if venting anger, hurt, and fear. I am sad whenever anyone exerts themselves in contentious and divisive rather than understanding and unifying ways. In essence, I am sad whenever someone does evil and commits sin, but seeks to justify and defend himself or herself in so doing.
Long ago, the Holy Spirit moved Solomon to say, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Prov. 21:2). In nearly identical fashion, he writes, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2). Sin constantly occurs every moment of every day throughout every community of the world. At times, individuals will freely confess and without making excuse. However, the more common course seems to be what Solomon says. Parents raising children, asking who left something on the floor or who made a mess, hear the all-too-familiar, “Not me!” If one is caught in the act of wrongdoing, he or she may still say, “It’s not my fault,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It’s not what it looks like,” or “you don’t understand.” Perhaps that’s desperate self-preservation. Perhaps it’s an attempt to deflect responsibility and consequence. But, Solomon cuts through the flimsy excuses, realizing God sees with a perfect, unbiased manner and cannot be fooled. We can try to lie to others to try and mitigate or deny our guilt, but He sees all and knows all.
Horrific images out of North Charleston have sickened and scared us! If all is as it very much seems to be, color-blind, occupation-blind justice needs to be done (cf. Rom. 13:1ff). May it serve as an even greater object lesson that transcends race, law enforcement, and the like. When people become their own standard of right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6; 21:25), they can tend to justify anything (i.e., abortion, pornography, fornication, etc.) that God deplores. Let us remember the second part of Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2. “The Lord weighs the hearts and motives.” He never gets it wrong!