Will Not the Judge Do Right?
Dear friends in Christ,
Call Day, when new graduates from our synod’s teacher college and our seminary are assigned to their first calls, is a harrowing experience. That applies not only to the assignee but also for his/her parents. Judy and I have gone through it three times with our children. We were living in Florida when Kristina was assigned to her first call in Colorado. Florida to Colorado was a long way. That hit me hard. We know she was getting married in a year. That didn’t help. Our son-in-law was serving three churches in Minnesota. That’s a long way too. Our family was leaving the nest. Then came Courtney. San Jose, California? I know it’s the Lord’s work, but Lord, the Lord’s work is done closer to Georgia than California. A week later, we got better news! Ben would be going to Myrtle Beach. Closer, but I personally knew his work would be hard in Myrtle Beach. It’s a beach town. People like the sandy beaches and sand traps over church pews.
Yet our situation was nothing like the patriarch Abraham. Born in Ur, moved to Haran 1100 miles away, and then called to Canaan another 1000 miles away all on the Lord’s command. God chose him to be the great patriarch of Israel, but he would never see his boyhood friends again. He was gone for good. No planes or trains would take him back. The year was 2100 BC.
As we consider our service theme for the ten consecutive Sundays “That’s a Good Question,” today we turn to a question that Abraham once asked of our Lord, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” We see how 1) the unbeliever hears that question; and 2) As the believer hears that question.
Three men had come to see Abraham and Sarah, his wife. Abraham had celebrated his 99th birthday; Sarah had celebrated her 90th. They couldn’t be more heaven-sent. Two were angels and the other was the Lord himself who veiled his glory and majesty. The purpose of his visit was twofold - classic good news/bad news. The good news was really good, even miraculous. This ninety nine year old man and his ninety year old wife would soon be first time parents…and not by adoption. “Then the Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’”
Then there was the bad news. As they were going to leave, the Lord told them he was going to hold the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah accountable for their blatant sin of homosexuality and refusal to repent. The Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” Abraham began to pray and plead for the cities before the Lord. “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
What does the unbeliever hear when he or she hears, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” There is no way anyone can consolidate into one statement what all the wicked and skeptics think about the Lord as Judge of heaven and earth. I am not saying that Democrats are all unbelievers and all Republicans are believers. But the Democratic convention had a scary and unsettling moment at their convention this week. A good share of their delegates booed God.
Has our nation come to that? How sad when you consider that those who first settled here came to worship God as they pleased. It is our history. Yet now there are more than a few who want to wash the name of God from history books and from our government documents and office walls. Not only is it a travesty but it is dishonest to our past.
God is a myth for far too many. Their numbers have grown a lot in the last fifty years. When Abraham asked, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” many would say is this is a way that Christians try to exercise control over people. To say God is a Judge only frightens people and frightened people can be manipulated. The fear factor is a great motivator to control the lives and pocket books of people.
Yet not every unbeliever is an atheist. To believe in God is reasonable. The problem is that people want to believe in God on their terms only. To explain our very existence, people understand that there are two choices – we are the product of a divine designer or pure luck. For many, to believe that matter always existed; that every living plant, animal or human have one common ancestor, a cell that was created by chance when an electrical charge mixed with certain chemicals to create the DNA that makes up a cell, is difficult to swallow. Many believe there is a Divine Designer as a result. Yet, so many want to mold him to their standards. That’s the height of arrogance! Many don’t like a God who holds all accountable for sin. Many don’t like to think he would actually create a hell and use it. While they know there is a God, his specifications are man’s.
The prophet Isaiah speaks about the foolishness of man making his own God. He writes, “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.” Isaiah continues. Use your imagination to understand the foolishness. He pictures a very skilled blacksmith/carpenter who “takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” How foolish! How ridiculous! To construct an idol of wood or stone or even in one’s imagination and then fall down and say, ‘I worship you’ or ‘I fall before you’ is almost funny if it weren’t so sad and tragic.
Then there is the other extreme. People often want to turn God into Grandpa God. When our family was altogether this summer, I was playing the grandpa for all it was worth. Our grandkids could do nothing wrong. When they began to whine and whimper I usually made the remark that they were just being cute. Kristina calls me when Catie is being “cute” so I can enjoy it.
People look at God as Grandpa too. They like to think that in his eyes his children could do nothing wrong. He is not really that serious about sin and would never think of punishment. In fact, many believe that everyone will make it to and through the pearly gates. So many say that there is really only one God; he just goes by different names. Everyone will get there but we just take different routes. So how do people view God? Quite a range of thought, don’t you think? From myth to a god who has to meet man’s specifications.
Let’s look at Abraham, a man of great faith, a man that all of us ought to emulate. Let’s see how he saw God. “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Admittedly we don’t have the advantage that Abraham had. God showed up at the door of his tent. He saw him in person. They talked. They sat around and had a meal together. God revealed himself to Abraham in person.
While God doesn’t show up at our doors, he does reveal himself to you from the coffee table in your home or from the nightstand by your bed or the shelf of a library or wherever you keep a copy of his book, the Bible. If you want to know about God, don’t rely on your imagination. Rely on his book. That’s the purpose for which it was preserved for you.
As Abraham says, “God is the judge of all the earth.” He knows what is right and wrong. He tells us what is right and wrong. He has a right to tell us what is right and wrong. Because he is God and has the right to make the rules. He told Abraham what was happening in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was wrong. The Psalm says, “By them (meaning God’s commands) is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
God promises two things from the commandments. Bad things happen when they are violated. Violation of them makes life miserable when people steal or kill or slander. In addition God has placed a curse on all violations. “The soul that sins is the soul that will die.”
On the other hand, God rewards those who keep them. When they are kept, the law of love is practiced. Don’t kill! That works! Don’t steal! That works! Love God! That works! Love your neighbor! That works! There is indeed a reward in keeping the commandments. If only we could keep them perfectly! So if God judges when there is imperfection, how do we stand a chance? God, you just aren’t fair!
But then we want perfection too. Let me illustrate. Put an ink dot on a white sheet of paper. That page is not perfectly white anymore. Would you use such a piece of paper for a legal deposition? Would you use such a piece of paper for your doctoral thesis? Would you use it for your resume? You don’t even tolerate imperfection either. Nor does God!
He drew the line with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham knew it, but he prayed. So why did Abraham even bother praying? “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham knew they weren’t perfect!
The reason is because God is not only a God of holiness and justice, he is also a God of love. His love doesn’t compromise his holiness and justice.
This is what Abraham knew. This is what we know. God made a promise to Abraham. He would be the father of a great nation. That nation would be a blessing to all others. How? There would be one from Abraham who would be a blessing to all nations. While God demanded holiness of the world, that one, Jesus the Christ, would supply perfection for all. While God demanded that every sin in the world be punished, Jesus endured that punishment for all. How do you know that this is true? How do I know the holiness of God was met? How do we know that his justice was met? Don’t go looking in the sky and see God’s writing. Don’t think there is going to be a piece of mail from your postal carrier who delivers a letter with a return address in heaven. Go to the Scriptures. It was promised. It was signed, sealed and delivered when an angel rolled away the stone from the grave and proclaimed the dead Jesus was no longer dead but alive. That is the proof that God loves us.
Is God still a judge? Sure! But he is not to be feared! We have been judged already - holy in Christ. We are innocent through his life and death and resurrection.
While God brings divine retribution to the stiff-necked unbeliever, to people like Abraham and all who believe like Abraham are judged to be holy. For such people there are so many blessings. He invites us to pray in all circumstances. We have the guarantee that what is right and good will happen as a result. He is the Judge of all the earth. You are guaranteed that he will always do what is right.