Sinners in the Hands of a Merciful God

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust.

(Psalm 103:10-14)

Psalm 103:1-13 was the text today for Bishop Joshua Morai’s funeral.  He died of liver cancer at 41 years old.  He faithfully served a region that was not his home, caring for the pastors under him.  He left behind a beautiful wife, and five strong children, and many who grieve his death.

Still, plenty of people said that Bishop Joshua must have done something evil in order to be punished by God this way, ignoring the proof of all that God has blessed him with.

This kind of thinking isn’t unusual to Papua New Guinea.  We see it in the United States as well.  When we suffer, like Job, we cry out “Why did God do this to me?”

Then there is the other side of the coin – The Prosperity Gospel.  The religion of America – “God helps those who help themselves,” Ben Franklin proclaimed.  The chief agents of this message today are Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and Joel Osteen, to name a few.  They create their own lists of commandments and state boldly that if you do these things, God will reward you.

Before we went out into the mission field, I was finishing my training as a Mental Health Counselor.  Several people came into my office who had trusted in these false prophets, but could not see that they were false.  God must be false.  They did what was right, so God must not be just.  They were suffering, hurting, and angry.

But as the Psalm says “God does not deal with us according to our sins, he does not reward us according to our iniquity.”   The person that believes in God has His compassion.  He doesn’t reward the believer who sins the least with the most good stuff, and He doesn’t punish the believer who sins the most with the worst punishments.

Our reaction to suffering tends to be anger.  And it is anger because we do not have a concept of how sinful we are.

We forget that Christ promised that we would suffer because we belong to Him and instead we imagined that we would be prosperous, because we are on the winning side.  Satan wants us to be angry with God and to walk away from Him.

When you ask most people, even Christians, why they should go to heaven, the response is “because I’m basically a good person.”  I have heard this statement from child abusers, drug addicts, and adulterers.  We forget that Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating a piece of fruit.  They chose to listen to the serpent instead of God.

The punishment was that Adam and Eve, knowing good and evil, would experience pain and death.  All of their descendants, all of us, would deserve pain and death.  When Adam and Eve, the culmination of God’s creation, refused to trust God in a small thing, the whole of creation rebelled against them.  Work would be a struggle, childbirth would have pain, bodies would get sick, sons would murder each other, and death would come.  These are not punishments, but consequences.  A world with sin cannot work the way it should.

But death was not where it would end.  God was “mindful that we are but dust” and had compassion.  Adam and Eve lost their home, for their own good.  God clothed them and still caused the rain to fall and food to grow.  Most of all, He promised Christ, who would take on their punishment, because they could not.  He even tried to be gentle with Cain and gave Him a lifetime to repent.  But Cain would not trust God, he only feared his fate and blamed God.

“God does not deal with us according to our sins, He does not reward us according to our iniquity.”  When we are suffering, we tend to forget the good things we still have.  As the meaning to The First Article says:

…He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me from all danger and guards me from all evil.

All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

But how easy to get angry when when one or some of these things are taken away, as if they were not gifts, but entitlements.  We lose a job – “God has abandoned me.”   Our child gets sick — “How dare God allow this to happen!”  A spouse cheats on us–“God must hate me.”

There is one other reaction to suffering, or to lack of suffering.  There is the person who believes they are so evil that they don’t deserve God’s good gifts.  They look at their lives and feel condemned by the fact that they have good things because they had been so bad.  They think “God couldn’t possibly ignore those things.  He couldn’t possibly REALLY forgive me without somehow taking it out on me.”  That person tortures themselves with these thoughts.  They still struggle with certain sins.  How could God ignore that and be good to them?

But this chapter gives them comfort, too.  God doesn’t deal with us according to our sin. He doesn’t reward us according to our iniquity.  He has lovingkindness toward us and compassion.  He removes those sins as far as the East is from the West, as far as the Heavens are from the earth.

He did this by putting them into His Son and letting Jesus take the full brunt of this punishment that we deserved. Jesus, being God and man, and being sinless, took it, surrendered to it, and defeated it so now it is truly gone.

The compassion that the psalmist talks about is shown clearly with Jesus when He became a man and lived among us.  Those who were suffering with blindness, tortured by leprosy, and terrorized by demons, He blessed them.  He forgave their sins.  He healed them.  He had no problem with eating with sinners to lead them to repentance, and to honor that repentance.   He was infinitely patient with the men who witnessed everything when they still forgot what they had seen or misunderstood what they had heard.

Look at how He responded to Peter – when Peter started to sink on the water when he looked away from Christ, Christ reached out and grabbed a hold of Peter; when Peter denied Him three times, He restored Peter, three times.  The only time He was truly stern with Peter, was when Peter confessed that Christ was God, and then turned right around and insisted that Christ must not die.

When Thomas refused to hear the witness of ten or more of his brethren, and insisted that he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he could put actually touch his wounds, Christ came, and using Thomas’s very words, allowed him to do what he needed in order to believe.

When Lazarus died, He wept.  He knew Lazarus would be coming out of the tomb, but He was brought to tears.

“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

God knows what we are made of and He has compassion on us as we suffer.  He knows it is hard.  He knows it hurts.  He knows we sin and are full of iniquity.  But He removes that from us and loves us.  He blesses us richly, still, in the midst of our suffering, even when it is hard for us to see.  He is with us through it.  “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

And when Bishop Joshua met God face to face, He was not accused of His sins, but was welcomed in to heaven, being told “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21),” as will we.

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