Let’s say the conversation starts that way.
“I mean, seriously, I cannot believe it!” The man goes on to tell me about the way his co-worker went behind his back and spread a pretty harmful lie about him. He makes clear that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. No, I hear, this guy has been pulling this two-faced garbage since the day he got to the company. And let’s say that it’s at this point that I really register the rage, the wrath on my friend’s face and in his voice. He feels he’s been wronged. He feels that an injustice has been done. And, for argument’s sake, let’s say that a thought enters my mind as I hear him say, “Man, I want to see that guy fired.” Buddy, I can tell you want to see more than that happen to him. You want something bad to befall this guy, and you want to be there to watch it happen. And laugh.
And then, you know, for the sake of discussion here, merely discussion, let’s theorize that I get a cold, prickly stab in the conscience as I realize that I’ve had that same desire before.
Okay. Skip ahead a week. My friend and I are talking about my faith. He’s a pal, but he likes to rib me and give me a jokingly hard time about the Bible and church and Christianity (although he sometimes gets eerily silent when I bring up Jesus Himself, but let’s leave that for another hypothetical day). “I just don’t get,” he says, sardonic glint in his eye as he pours his coffee, “how you can worship a God who would kill people.”
Yikes. This is usually where my heart rate spikes. Tread carefully, I think. First things first: I have to figure out what he’s referring to. “What do you mean?”
“All of it, man. The Bible. Sodom and Gomorrah. All that stuff.”
All right, I realize here that I don’t have the time necessary to explain to him that “the Bible” is a lot more than Sodom and Gomorrah. I look at my watch, or if this hypothetical story takes place after 2009, my phone, and I realize we have about 10 minutes. Pulse quickening, palms sweating, and no Gatorade in sight, I forge ahead nervously.
And right before I speak, it hits me.
“Hey, man, remember when you were so mad last week…”
“I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.”
God, in Jeremiah 8:6
My make-believe friend has a real problem. He views his own desire for revenge as justice, and God’s desire for justice as revenge. He gives in (in his heart, if not out loud) to his desire to see someone who wronged him in pain, but he thinks it is somehow petty for God to judge sin. He thinks it’s wrong for God to see willful and unrepentant traitors reap what they’ve sown. My fictional buddy sees sins against himself as a high crime, but sins against the good Creator as something that should be let off.
Everyone with a beating heart has desired justice at some point. When cut off by a smug driver, when mocked by an arrogant and nasty fellow student, when deeply and intentionally wounded by a family member you trusted, you will feel a desire for the wrong to be righted. For fairness. For recompense. For right to win, and to be shown to the offender as right. For a Judge to stop everything, step in, grab the one who mistreated you, and say, “What do you think you were doing? Time to pay the piper, pal.”
The reason, I think, we feel this most acutely when the offended party is us and not so much when the one trespassed against is the perfect, sinless, beautiful King and Creator, is that we love ourselves more than God. We want our glory and fame more than His. We are, to borrow from C.S. Lewis, adjectives trying desperately to be nouns.
When the men of Sodom wanted to rape the angels who came to rescue Lot, they were sinning against the God who made each of them to worship and enjoy Him forever. They were trading the love of the Father, the One who knit each of them together, for lust and attempted rape. When the people of Canaan worshiped Baals and stars and statues, they were following the long human path away from the perfect, all-satisfying Creator, enslaving themselves to created things. And when I spent a good portion of my life chasing down meaning and identity in popularity and human affection and drunkenness rather than in the God of Jesus Christ, I was turning my back on my good Maker.
There’s a reason why God so often refers to the sins of His people as adultery in the Bible. Our sins are violations of His love for us. And of His rightful claim on our hearts.
The injustice we feel when someone wrongs us? It’s a small taste of the reality of what sin really is. All sin is first and foremost an injustice against someone far better than ourselves. That overwhelming sense of unfairness we get when we’re hurt is a faint shadow of what our evils are to the perfect God who authored us.
So one more hypothetical.
Let’s picture someone far more innocent than my friend or me. Someone who really didn’t deserve anything bad to happen to him. Someone bolder and better than either of us have ever been. More sacrificial and honest and clean-hearted. Someone of flawless integrity and righteous motives.
Let’s picture this beautiful, sweet, selfless, courageous individual being violated, but not by gossip at work or being double-crossed by a colleague. By being sold and tortured and mocked and murdered.
That is what sin did at Jesus’ Cross.
They blindfolded God, the only truly innocent One, and then they smacked and slapped Him while sarcastically telling Him to prophesy. They spat on their Maker, whipped Him, and gambled for His clothing.
Our sin finds its most accurate, most awful rendering at the Cross of Jesus Christ. That’s what we’ve each done to God.
And yet, rather than giving us what we truly deserve, that God offers to forgive us of all our hatreds of Him, and of all our chasing after false gods. He opens His arms to adulterers and murderers.
Do you see the problem with my friend’s thinking ? We are guilty sinners who stand in front of other guilty sinners and demand that they get what’s coming to them.
In contrast, God is an innocent King who offers to save them from what’s coming to them.
This Creator is so gracious that He is willing to die for the creatures who disdained and disowned Him.
“Yeah?” My friend looks at me. “I was mad last week. What’s that got to do with this?” The glint in his eye is gone; there’s a sliver of tension, now. Boy, I could probably use that Gatorade at this point.
“Well,” I say, trying to be measured and careful in my tone, “I think if you or I were in charge, there would be a million Sodoms, and for all the wrong reasons.” This is probably where I’d try to swallow, but my mouth’d be dry. “And I think there’d be 0 Crosses.”
We think of our desire for vengeance as an innocent call for justice. And we think of God’s administering of justice as petty, thoughtless vengeance. We think too highly of ourselves and too lowly of our Creator. And as a result we’re baffled by the wrong thing.
You see, the stunning part is not the wrath. It’s the rescue.
It’s not shocking there was a Sodom. It’s shocking there’s a Cross.
As far as doors go, Heaven’s is far more surprising than Hell’s.