(Read Romans 3: 9-18, 21-26 and John 3: 14-21)
Apart from Jesus Christ, not one of us is righteous. We do the best we can, and sometimes, we succeed in abiding by God’s commands; other times, we fail. More than anything, God wants us to receive his love and spread that love to our brothers and sisters in the world. When we live and act in love, the world becomes a more beautiful place, resembling the kingdom of heaven. When we live and act in fear and judgment, we contribute to the suffering of the world.
From a human perspective, we consider some people to be more righteous than others. If we were the judge, most of us would agree that Mother Teresa is more righteous than Charles Manson. Nelson Mandela is more righteous than Saddam Hussein. And Paul Newman is more righteous than OJ Simpson.
In Romans 3, we hear what the unrighteous are like: They are not wise, and they do not worship God whole-heartedly. The unrighteous have turned away from God, serving self and mammon, slaves to pride and power. The unrighteous speak words of deceit against the children of God. They lie; they threaten, and they curse and accuse anyone who is in the way of their distorted, self-serving agendas. “They are quick to hurt and kill, [leaving] ruin and destruction wherever they go” (Romans 3: 15-16). They do not know the path of peace or have reverence for our loving God.
Perhaps you have been the victim of an unrighteous person, someone who did you wrong or violated you because of their own sickness and selfishness. Have you been able to forgive? Do you want justice? What would justice look like to you?
In one of the more bazaar and interesting stories of our time, a woman took justice into her own hands. I’m speaking of the sensational news story of Lorena Bobbit.
“On the night of June 23, 1993, John Bobbitt arrived at [his and his wife, Lorena’s] apartment intoxicated after a night of partying and, according to testimony by Lorena in a 1994 court hearing, raped his wife. Afterwards, Lorena got out of bed and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. According to an article in the National Women's Studies Association Journal, in the kitchen she noticed a carving knife on the counter and "memories of past domestic abuses raced through her head." Grabbing the knife, Lorena entered the bedroom where John was asleep; and she proceeded to cut off more than half of his penis.
After assaulting her husband, Lorena left the apartment, with the severed penis. After driving a short while, she rolled down the car window and threw the penis into a field. Realizing the severity of the incident, she stopped and called 911. After an exhaustive search, the penis was located, packed in ice, and brought to the hospital where John was located. The penis was re-attached…and Lorena was taken into custody.
During the trial, the couple revealed details of their volatile relationship and the events leading up to the assault. Lorena stated that John sexually, physically, and emotionally abused her during their marriage. She also stated that John flaunted his infidelities, and forced her to have an abortion. Several witnesses provided testimony supporting Lorena's claims.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorena_Bobbit).
Many people who heard of Lorena’s story empathized with her. After hearing about John’s abuse and rape of his wife, they understood why she did what she did. In fact, after only 7 hours of deliberation, the jury in the case found Lorena “not guilty” due to temporary insanity. She spent just 45 days in a mental health facility, and then was released.
In this world, we want the unrighteous (John Bobbit) to be held accountable for their actions, for their sins. And why shouldn’t they be? Justice must be served. Murders, rapists, child molesters deserve some sort of punished for the crimes they have committed.
Not all of the unrighteous are so blatantly violent. Many simply poison God’s kingdom with their prejudice and hate, their lies and their betrayal. Many unrighteous don’t break the laws of our society so much as they break the laws of love.
Everyday, in houses that look just like ours, in places of employment just like ours, in schools just like the ones we have attended, even in churches just like this one, God’s command for us to live in righteousness is being broken.
What’s really infuriating is when the perpetrator is not held accountable, receives no punishment, or is set free.
In the bestselling book titled, The Shack, Mack, who is the main character, cannot get over his daughter’s tragic death, nor his fixation with the man who killed her. He exists in what he calls The Great Sadness. He is consumed with both guilt and anger at what happened.
The story goes that Mack had taken his youngest 3 children camping for the weekend. Josh and Kate were adolescents, but Missy was still a child. They had a great weekend of fun until the last morning.
Josh and Kate went out onto the lake to canoe before leaving, while Mack and Missy stayed back at the campsite. Once out on the water, Kate joyously reached up her paddle to wave to Mack, but this simple, innocent action caused the canoe to roll over. Mack ran to the shore to see if his kids were okay. Kate popped up, but Josh didn’t. And then, only his legs did. Mack knew something was wrong, so he did what any father would do, he plunged into the cold water.
Mack quickly found Josh, whose life vest strap had gotten caught in the canoe’s webbing. Josh was panicking and it was impossible for Mack to get near him enough to release him, so he did the only other thing he could think of, he flipped the canoe back over, an accomplishment propelled by pure adrenaline. When he did that, Josh came to the surface, upheld by his life vest. And his life was saved.
Mack breathed a sigh of relief. Disaster had been averted, that is until he and Josh and Kate got back to the campsite to find little Missy missing.
Details ensue (and it’s a good book so I would recommend that you read it), but the result is this: Missy had been abducted. An all out search lead only to a shack in some remote woods, and the only thing of notice in that shack was a stain of blood on the floor. Three years later, Mack is sitting in his living room cloaked in The Great Sadness, thinking of his little girl who was never found.
And thinking of the monster who killed his little girl and altered his family’s life forever.
As you might imagine, Mack is tormented by guilt for not taking proper watch over his youngest daughter, and he is seething with anger at the man who did this to his family. Mack wants Missy’s murderer to be caught, tried and imprisoned. And when his earthly life is over, Mack wants him to receive divine punishment for what he’s done and rot in hell.
The story unfolds in a mystical way as the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come to meet Mack and heal him. There are many very interesting conversations that take place, but what I want to tell you about is a conversation that Mack has with the Holy Spirit, who in this book, takes the form of a woman named Sarayu
Understandingly, Mack blames God for what happened to his daughter. He is angry at God for letting the murderer get away. He questions God’s love and goodness and power. So Sarayu offers Mack the opportunity to be the judge.
She says, “If you are able to judge God so easily, then you certainly can judge the world.”
Now if Sarayu had offered Mack his daughter’s abductor to judge, the choice would have been easy. Mack would have sentenced him to a life of misery and damnation.
But Sarayu puts Mack to the test. She says, “You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God’s new heavens and new earth, but only two.”
Mack has 5 children so he stares at Sarayu in disbelief.
She says to him, “You must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell.”
Mack can’t believe what he is hearing, so Sarayu explains, “I am only asking you to do something you believe God does. [God] knows every person ever conceived, and he knows them so much deeper and clearer than you will ever know your own children. [God] loves each one according to his knowledge of the being of that son or daughter. You believe [God] will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?”
Mack responds, “I suppose I do. I’ve just never thought about it like this. I just assumed that somehow God could do that. Talking about hell was always sort of an abstract conversation, not about anyone that I truly cared about.”
“So you suppose, then, that God does this easily, but you cannot? Come now, Mackenzie. Which three of your five children will you sentence to hell? You are the judge, Mackenzie, and you must choose.”
“I don’t want to be the judge.” There was no way that Mack could sentence any of his children to an eternity in hell for any reason, no matter what they had done. They were his kids; he would always love them no matter what.
“I can’t do this,” Mack said softly.
“You must,” Sarayu replied.
“I can’t do this,” he said louder and more vehemently.
“You must,” Sarayu said again.
“I…will…not…do…this!” Mack yelled, his blood boiled hot inside him.
“You must,” she whispered.
“I can’t. I can’t. I won’t!” he screamed. Pleading, he said, “Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity, I’ll go in their place. Would that work? Could I do that?” Mack fell at Sarayu’s feet, crying and begging. “Please, let me go for my children, please, I would be happy to…Please, I am begging you. Please…Please…”
“Mackenzie. Mackenzie,” she whispered, and her words came like a splash of cold water on a brutally hot day. Her hands gently touched his cheeks as she lifted him to his feet. Looking at her though blurring tears, he could see that her smile was radiant. “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well.”
“But I haven’t judged anything,” Mack offered in confusion.
“Oh, but you have. You have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves…And now you know [God’s] heart, who loves all his children perfectly.”
(Above is recorded dialogue from William Paul Young. The Shack. Los Angeles, CA: Windblown Media, 2007. Pg. 161-163).
Mack had never thought of Missy’s murderer as being a child of God, but his experience with Sarayu helped him and us to see what God’ perspective is like. God loves us all so much that he would do anything for us. In fact, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life… God did not send [Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17).
God doesn’t need or want to torture anyone for eternity, even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. It is difficult for us to understand this because we don’t see the unrighteous of this world as our very own children. But God does.
We want the unrighteous, those awful people who destroy others lives and our lives, to be held accountable and for justice to be served. We expect them to pay for their sins.
But God wants salvation for all people. Salvation begins in this life and comes to completion in the next. As we sang in the hymn, “To God Be the Glory” this morning, “the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”
The Gospel truth is that when a murderer or rapist or child molester stands before God and asks for forgiveness in Christ’s name, God will offer that person perfect justice. And perfect justice to God is mercy. God will forgive. God does the same for any believer who has sinned, violated, or betrayed us in any number of ways.
You see, when God judges us, he sees Jesus. As I said in the beginning, apart from Jesus Christ, not one of us is righteous. But in Jesus Christ, we all are.
One day, all of us will go before the judgment seat. With Christ in our hearts, God will look at us and proclaim his judgment with a kiss. And as the gavel falls, God will announce his sentence for us: we will be granted eternal life.