The graciously delayed end
I've been posting recently on grace and eschatology, or rather, grace in eschatology, or perhaps, eschatology as grace.
God takes his time with us. He is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence. At least from our perspective, there seems to be a chronic postponement or delay in God's decision to call a halt to the ongoing catastrophe of life ruled by death. However, this pause is actually itself motivated by grace. Strangely, while the end will be the culmination of God's free action to defeat evil and reclaim his world, that he doesn't make it happen now is also a gift. The temporal 'gap' between rebellion and its consequences might make rebels bold. The causal 'gap' (or at least inadequacy of correspondence) between those who perpetrate destruction and those who suffer as a result might lead to the prosperity of the wicked and the pain of the (relatively) innocent. But God's patience is motivated by his desire for human repentence. While the victim cries for justice, God commits their cause temporarily to fallible and provisional human courts - courts which not only often fail, but always must fail to provide the infinite justice that grief demands. This too is gracious: avoiding the destruction of society in a mounting storm of reprisals, a multiplying echo-chamber of vengeance. Abel's blood cries from the ground, but God graciously marks Cain to prevent human attempts at pre-empting final justice.
Final judgement delayed speaks of mercy; the guilty may turn aside from their fatal path and live. Provisional human judgements upon wrongdoing are a partial and often bitter gift. But the open question of the when of divine justice grates those who have received injustices. Mercifully pausing for the sake of the guilty, graciously providing for the continuance of human society despite grievances that threaten to tear it decisively apart, God reminds us that the victim is not the only party in need. The wrongdoer is threatened by internal disintegration, social recrimination, and divine wrath. Their plight is dire indeed, and without the merciful space afforded by divine delay and the limits set upon human retribution, the self-destructive logic of their acts would itself bring about a catastrophic end.
Yet where is God's grace for the victims? How long will they have to wait for their day of vindication? Sorrowful concern for the sinner comes after righteous indignation for the sinned against. What gift does God have for them? How is the gospel good news for the poor and oppressed? The blood of Abel still cries, as does the shed blood of all the martyrs, innocents and wronged: 'how long, O Lord?'
But there is a better word than the blood of Abel. The cry of those faithfully leaving room for God's vengeance is not forgotten. But it is not answered on its own terms either. The sprinkled blood of Christ is a better word than the victim's cry for vengeance. God's justice involves not simple and immediate retribution, but a gracious sacrifice made on behalf of wrongdoers. For God's desire is that none should perish. He asks the victims to relinquish their demands, or at least to let them be transformed in the light of divine wisdom. He asks for trust: that his dealing with wrongdoers will satisfy the wronged.
Does he then go easy on the perpetrator while asking the victim to lower her expectations? Must she exchange her thirst for retribution and accept God's reforming work in the criminal instead? A partial answer is that the wrongdoer does not avoid death through repentence, but accepts co-crucifixion with Christ. But this is not the full answer. God's eschatological justice has arrived and been executed upon Calvary, but it remains hidden - as Christ is hidden. In Christ, God has begun graciously satisfying both victim and offender.
But grace is not over yet. There is more yet to come...
Series: I; II; III; IV.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The graciously delayed end