Thursday, February 14, 2013

What Is the Answer to Sin?

David, the Psalmist -- Asking Forgiveness

   We have been considering the problem of human evil, with a brief detour through the subjects of abortion, capitalism, and the nature of morality in general. Today we ask the question, what is God's response to the problem of evil?
    Sometimes people will ask, "Why can't God just forgive us, the way a human parent would forgive his child?" Others object, "Why would a good and loving God allow evil to exist in the world?" There is, in fact, a moral dilemma here, and this dilemma is reflected in the Old Testament. On the one hand there is a whole class of psalms called "imprecatory" psalms, in which the psalmist calls down the wrath of God upon his enemies. For example, in Psalm 35 we hear David praying, "Let those be brought to shame and brought to dishonor / Who seek after my life; / Let those be turned back and brought to confusion / Who plot my hurt? (v. 4; NKJV). On the other hand there is another whole class of psalms called "penitential" psalms, in which the psalmist asks for forgiveness for his own sins. Thus, for example, in Psalm 38 David pleads, "O Lord, do not rebuke me in your wrath, / Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!" (v. 1).
    We might well stand back in utter amazement and wonder how David could be so hypocritical. But David is reflecting on his own experience. When we are the victims, we naturally want justice. The nature of evil is all too obvious. "For without cause they have hidden their net for me in a pit, / Which they have dug without cause for my life" (Ps. 35:7). Something inside of us tells us that evil is wrong. But, when we have been the perpetrators of evil, and we know that we have done something that was wrong, we cry out for relief from the crushing sense of guilt. "For my iniquities have gone over my head; / Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me" (Ps. 38:4).
    How, then, to resolve the dilemma? First of all, the Bible is very that God is just, and that someday there will be a day of reckoning. This day is still off in the future, which means that in the meantime good and evil exist side-by-side. Why does God delay justice? The delay is a mark of His benevolence towards us. He tolerates evil in the short run in order to give us the opportunity to repent. "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4).
    Although the day of reckoning may be far off in the future, it will nevertheless come, and when it does come God's justice will be sure and true. God "will render to each one according to his deeds" (v. 6; possibly quoting either Psalm 62:12 or Prov. 24:12). Everyone will get exactly what he deserves – those who strove after righteousness will receive eternal life (vv. 7,10), but "to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish . . . " (vv. 8,9). And then Paul notes, "For there is no partiality with God" (v. 11).
    God must punish sin. To take an extreme example, what is God likely to have said to Hitler when the latter appeared before Him upon his suicide in 1945? "Boys will be boys, and we all make mistakes"? Hardly. But where does one draw the line? God is just and justice will be done. "For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. / He shall judge the world with righteousness, / And the peoples with His truth" (Ps. 96:13).

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