I sat down in the bay window of my parent’s rural Ohio home to do my evening prayers.
In the evening, I follow Tim Keller’s five-step pattern for prayer: evocation (inviting God to be present), meditation (reading Scripture), word prayer, free prayer, and contemplation. After the evocation, I turned to the Scripture for the evening, which I took from the Moravian Daily Text’s “watchword” (Old Testament Scripture) and “doctrinal text” (New Testament Scripture). For June 29th, those passages were these:
I have to admit that this was not what I hoped to receive from the Lord that evening. I was hoping for a word of encouragement, for something speaking of God’s love for me and His promises to me. Instead, I got this word about being punished for my sins. It was not only disappointing but intimidating. I started wondering what I had done to make God say this to me and what it meant for me. I started worrying and I wanted to turn away from my prayers.
But I didn’t. I forged on, meditating on this passage as I have been taught to do. As I did, I somehow stumbled across the word justice. I always try to pull a truth about God from the Scripture I read. In this case, the statement about punishment brought me to the truth that God is just (punishment comes from His justice; He punishes sin because He is just). When I realized this, I realized that this statement which I found so threatening and disagreeable in the moment, this statement which seemed to be dropping me back into the “God is Zeus who can’t wait to hit you with a lightning bolt for the slightest transgression” territory, was actually a statement about God’s love. It was a statement about the wideness of God’s love, the universality of God’s love, the fact that God loves everyone.
You see, all sin is a transgression not just of God but of another person. I have thought long and hard about this. I have run through the catalog of all the sins I know, and I can’t find one that is not in some way an insult or offense against another of my fellow human beings (my fellow human beings who are created in the image of God just as I am and who are just as valuable in the grand design as me). Murder is obviously an offense against others, as is theft and lying. But so is all forms of sexual immorality, even lust; Paul says that sexual sins are “taking advantage” of other people (1 Thessalonians 4:6) and Jesus seems to suggest that even looking at others is using them in an untoward way (Matthew 5:28). That being the case, what God is saying here in Jeremiah 21:14 when He promises to punish us for our sins is that He is not going to allow us to get away with insulting, offending, taking advantage of, and using others. That is exactly what would happen if He didn’t punish sin; He would be allowing one person to get away with doing such things to another; He would be favoring one person at the expense of another. And He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t operate that way. He loves all, so He punishes all. His justice is an expression of His love for all.
Now I don’t know exactly how this will all play out. Is this punishment in this life or the next? Is this punishment some sort of physical affliction or is it simply a word of rebuke (much as He verbally rebuked Sarah for laughing but did not physically do anything to her)? Is this punishment all covered by the sacrificial death of Christ (a strong possibility). I don’t know. What I do know is that I saw the strength and immensity of the love of God in this verse. I saw that God not only loves me but loves everyone to the point that He will punish me for offending anyone and will conversely punish anyone for offending me. This is not Zeus, who as far as I can tell was cruel and arbitrary in his punishments. This is the ever-loving Yahweh, the Yahweh who shows His ever-lovingness and fairness and concern for all by punishing in some way all sin, by allowing no sin to go unaddressed.
And that’s what I saw on June 29th.