The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble… The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established equity. (Psalm 99.1,4)
I’m reeling as I write this. Last night, I had dinner with a dear brother of whose faith and witness I have no doubt. I have loved this man my entire life and can say without pause he has loved me just as long. We would give our lives for one another. For decades, our politics have been diametrically opposed. He’s a black-and-white kind of guy. I’m convinced I know so little of the realities our world faces I look out on fields of gray. Our discussions on social and economic issues get pretty heated, but we always stop before they boil over. Protecting one another from injury—or causing injury—is paramount.
Healthcare reform came up. He held his party’s line: it’s a disaster in the making. I held my position: as long as people can’t access healthcare, we are guilty, as believers and citizens, of moral neglect. His answer stole my breath. “I’ll tell you what’s moral,” he said. “Quit waiting for the mailman to drop an envelope at your door and get a job.” After we parted, my mind couldn’t release his mischaracterizing people on unemployment as “immoral.” Why couldn’t I shake that? The ton of bricks thundered down on me. Not six months ago, he’d spent a year waiting on the mailman. How was he “moral” then, while millions now in similar circumstances are not? Time changes everything, they say. This change was heartbreaking. How could he forget his recent past so easily?
Not everything changes with time. There are principles and expectations set down thousands of years ago that remain constant and in effect today. They will never change, because they are divine edicts issued from God’s throne. They are cast in ironclad language that leaves no wiggle room for circumstantial shifts or interpretation. They are true. They are clear. They are timeless. And nothing we bump up against in life gives us liberty to disregard them. The slightest inclination to set them aside for a moment should shake us until the very notion falls from our minds.
“The LORD reigns,” Psalm 99.1 says. “Let the nations tremble.” It reminds us again in verse 4: “The King is mighty.” We must be very careful about allowing changes over time to alter our sense of accountability to One Who does not change. Petitioning His power to rescue us when we’re in dire straits and then ignoring what pleases Him when times get better puts us in a perilous place. “He loves justice—you have established equity,” the psalmist declares. Justice. Equity. These are established principles. There is no “moral” us and “immoral” them. Our situation is weighed no differently than theirs. And we can delude ourselves with any rationale that suits our fancy or fits our politics. Yet any time our beliefs and behaviors flout the justice and equity God loves we can expect repercussions. Galatians 6.7 says, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Before the Grace of God
When we observe someone whose hardships are comfortably removed from our reality, we say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Indeed, the further outside our realm of possibility they are, the more quickly we say it. To cite a personal example, I’ve never felt the least temptation to seek solace in alcohol. When I see or hear of someone who’s thrown his/her life away in a bottle, I have no difficulty recognizing God’s grace in sparing me from that impulse. But how many of us ever say, “There before the grace of God went I?” Why are we so intensely judgmental—to the point of dismissal—of those struggling with frailties God has blessed us to overcome? That’s for each of us to ponder, because our reasons are a complex knot of extremely personal emotions, circumstances, and memory. Still, no matter how rational our reasons for discounting anyone else may seem, this we must know: we’re wrong to do it. It displeases our King and warps His reflection in our lives.
The first stanza of “Amazing Grace” concludes “Twas blind, but now I see.” On the bright side of God’s grace, everything becomes clear. We see how easy our problems were for Him, and without the utmost care, we’re apt to assume the solutions came easily to us. We forget how murky those days before God made His grace known were. We slide into delusions that God delivered us because we proved we’re worth delivering. If that’s what we see when we look back at His goodness toward us, we’re blinder than we were in our troubles. God’s grace reaches us because it reached countless millions before us. It doesn’t prove anything about us; it proves everything about Him. He loves justice. He has established equity. He saves us to show us those He saved before us were no better than we. His grace proves we’re no better—no more “moral”—than those coming behind us, struggling in the same snares He graciously enabled us to escape. (Not avoid—escape.) There before the grace of God went we. Condemning those who’ve yet to know God’s grace condemns us.
If, on the bright side of God’s grace, we consider ourselves better than those who’ve yet to experience it, we’re blinder than we were in our troubles.