Posts Tagged ‘justice of God’

Deuteronomy 19:14-21 (Part 1)

Concern for Justice

It’s not fair! The famous cry of children everywhere when they are punished for bad behavior. Why does my brother only get “x” punishment when I get “y” punishment? It’s not fair! When we were kids, everything that to be equal. We wanted our punishments to be equal. We wanted our gifts to be equal. We even wanted our dinner portions to be equal. Why does he get more spaghetti than me? It’s not fair!

 

The same was true when I became a parent and step-parent. I was the father of two girls and the step-father of three boys from 1995-2004. When I married the boys’ mother, the boys were 3, 6, and 9 years old and my girls were 5 and 9 years old. Over the next 9 years, child discipline became the bane of my existence. I often wonder what would have happen if each of us had children of each sex instead of all one sex or if I had been the parent of boys and she had been parent of all girls. Would things have been different? Who knows? However, the reality of the situation was that I had the girls and she had the boys. If you have ever had any boy children and any girl children, you realize that all of the talk about the equality of the sexes is just a created belief. I am not saying that women and men cannot do the same jobs or receive the same pay (if experience and skill sets are the same). I am just saying that we are wired differently by God to serve different, but equally important, roles in the world. Women are more tender-hearted than men. Men are rough and gruff. Women are beauty. Men are functionality. Women need love. Men need respect. Women are collaborative. Men are conquerors on their own. Society will say its OK for a woman to stay at home with her children but society expects men to work from teenage years til they retire and provide for their families. God just made us to fill different roles in the world and in our families. He intended there to be differences between men and women that ultimately complement the family unit and to make our children well-rounded individuals. To say that the sexes are the same is simply a social construct that ignores the eternal truth of God.

 

Never were the differences between men and women, boys and girls, made more known to me than during the nine years of second marriage. With the girls, they were generally more timid than the boys. Over the first years of their life, I had learned that my girls, being of the more tender-hearted sex, could be disciplined with a look or a talk. Their biggest fear was for their parents to be disappointed in them. I could get that steely-eyed look at them when they done something wrong and it was as effective as yelling and screaming. They were daddy’s girls and my approval meant everything to them. It was rare that I had to physically punish them. Sending them to their room for a specified period of time was as effective a punishment as the belt was. I reserved the belt for them only for the most grievous of child disobedience crimes. The boys were different. Man were they different. First off, before I came along, there had been no consistent fatherly presence in their lives so they were never really punished for bad behavior. So, they were a bit unruly to begin with when I got them. But, I soon learned that with boys that mean looks and steely eyed stares would not reform behavior as I wished. It took screaming and yelling and whippings. And the weird thing was that with the girls, you could usually punish them one time for a crime and they most likely would not commit that same crime again. However, with the boys, it was as if they lost their memory on a daily basis. I had to repeatedly punish them for the same crimes against daddy’s law. They would challenge your authority at every turn. So, as a result, I had to punish the boys more often than the girls. That became an issue because the boys were hers and the girls were mine. As the consequences of misbehavior had higher stakes as the children grow older so did the rift over discipline between her kids (the boys) and my kids (the girls) was a bone of contention that was one of the central reasons (among several) that our marriage ultimately came undone.

 

There were cries of me being unfair by the boys and that led to appeals to their mother (who would ultimately undo my punishments). Why do you spank the boys and only yell at the girls? It’s unfair. Trying to explain that boys and girls are different and must be raised AND punished differently met with deaf ears. Trying to explain that when a child (typically, the boys) breaks a rule 10 times with impunity for the rule, their punishment SHOULD be different than the child who breaks the rule for the first time. Everything got cast in the light of my kids vs. your kids and the purpose of parenting got lost in the shuffle. It was not until years later that one of the boys told me that he now, as a grown up man trying to make it in a world where men are just expected to suck it and work their entire lives and as a father of a boy himself that realized that I had to be tough on him. He said he appreciated what I was trying to do while I was in his life. Sometimes, life is not about fairness but rather about what needs to happen to make a man grow up into to his role in the world and a woman to grow up into hers.

 

The cries of “it’s not fair” and the most popular line of today’s passage was what came to mind as I read through this passage for the first of two looks that we will take at it. Let’s look at today’s passage together now with particular attention to the last verse (we will deal with the last verse first):

 

14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

Witnesses

 

15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

 

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

 

The old adage, “an eye for and eye”, comes from this passage and it was a principle to be used by the judges in the Israelite system of justice. It was not set out as a license for personal vendettas. This attitude toward justice may seem brutish to 21st century sensibilities, but it was actually a breakthrough in justice for the time period of the Israelites. Punishments fitting crimes was a novel concept in that age because ancient systems of justice were often at the whim of rulers or of angry mobs. Thus, justice was often arbitrary and unevenly applied. This guideline reflects a concern for evenhandedness in the application of justice – ensuring that those who violated the law were not punished more severely than their crime deserved.

 

That is what we must remember with our children – the punishment must fit the crime. We cannot be arbitrary in the application of justice with our children. The fifth violation of a family rule must be dealt with more harshly than the first violation. The first violation by that same standard should not be dealt with the same harshness as the fifth violation. The punishment fits the crime. I only pray that I practiced this principle well as I was parenting children to adulthood. I am sure that I made plenty of mistakes along the way.

 

The sense of justice here though is a principle that is a universal truth of God. Many today think that all roads lead to heaven and that everybody ends up in heaven. There will be cries of it’s unfair at the end when we find out that there is justice in God. He will not allow unrepentant sinners to enter into his presence in heaven. He has offered us the one and only way and that is by grace. We must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and not seek our own way. There is just one and one only way to the Lord and that is through accepting the grace of Jesus Christ. It is fair. We have the choice to accept or reject Jesus as our Savior. We have the choice to continue in our seeking of ourselves that will result in punishment eternally for having rejected Him. It has been made known through God’s Word. It is up to us to accept Jesus or reject Him. There can be no cries of it being unfair. We know God through the intricacies of nature and the universe but we must come to know Him personally through Jesus Christ. That’s it. We’ve been told.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 6 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

Receiving mercy when we should receive severe judgment. Unexpected and undeserved mercy is a gift beyond all proportions when you are in that position. You know that you should be judged harshly. You know you deserve it and you expect it.

 

That was my story when I was a teenager just after my dad was transferred to Travelers Rest, SC as the pastor of two United Methodist churches there. For the previous two years, he had been serving as the associate pastor at a large church in Anderson, SC. While in Anderson, I had sort of come into my own as a teenager. No longer was I simply an attachment of my parents. I had a life of my own. I was a big man on campus at Lakeside Middle School. I was popular. Played on the junior high football team. Was a star on the church league basketball team at church. All the girls thought I was cute. Then, the world shattered. My dad was moved. He was ready to be a solo pastor again and not just the second guy in command. It was good move for him and his career as a pastor in the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. It was great for him but it was the end of a great run for me.

 

Moving to Travelers Rest was a bad thing for me. I had the perfect situation in Anderson. Why change it? I was angry at dad. I was angry at the bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. About a month after we moved to Travelers Rest, I got to have my best friend from Anderson come up and spend the week with us, in the middle of which we are going to get to Six Flags as part of a youth group trip. When Donnie got there, we were to hang out at the parsonage while my parents were at work and just do what we used to do back in Anderson when our parents were at work, except for the whole Lake Hartwell thing. Donnie lived right on the lake so we spent a lot of time in Anderson, swimming, and exploring the woods around the lake. In Travelers Rest, the lake was not an option but everything else was the same. Listen to music, ride bikes around the area, explore. This scenario of life used to not be a big deal and we stayed out of trouble. However, this one day in Travelers Rest, SC, proved to be different. We decided to go around “downtown” Travelers Rest seeing what we could get away with. We stole bubble gum and candy from the town drug store and we got away with it. That gave us a rush. Being the generally goody gooderson kids that we were, it was wild to get away with stealing. That emboldened us. As we were walking around town, something told us it was a good idea to vandalize the local elementary school. It was nothing to me since I was going to be a freshman that fall at the high school. For some unknown reason as we were plunking around the old school (it was pretty old – it was a one time the high school – built way back in the 1920s), we decided that it would be a good idea to yank the telephone wires out of the junction box for the phones in the office. This was where the wires came in from the road, up the side of the building, into the junction box, and then from the junction box into the office and its various phones. As we were yanking the wires out, the janitor saw us do it. Yelled at us. We took off and ran to this old school grocery store/convenience store down the street and hid out. However, the janitor had called the Travelers Rest police and they cornered us in that little grocery store. We were arrested.

 

Needless to say, my dad and Donnie’s dad were none to pleased and there was much grief to pay for our misdeed. The rest of the summer was hard labor for both of us (me in Travelers Rest, Donnie in Anderson). Then, there was the waiting to see what the justice system would do to us. Our fear was that we would be sent to juvenile prison in Columbia, SC (the state capitol) for how much time you get for vandalizing public property. I don’t know how it works today in 2017, but at that time in the fall of 1976, Greenville had started this new thing called the pre-trial intervention program for youthful offenders. You would meet with a juvenile probation officer instead of your case going to trial. He would decide whether your case would be accepted into the program or whether our case would be released into the court system. He was, thus, our judge and jury. He would decide our fate. We dreaded it. We were hopeful that he would have mercy on us, since we were generally good kids, maybe just too much attitude.

 

So, it was during that monumental meeting with the juvenile probation officer. I remember he was a former cop. He was a black man and was a rough, gruff, older guy who instilled respect from you as soon as you met him. For the life of me, I cannot remember his name now, but I remember his face. His intent was to scare us silly and he succeeded. However, it was during this meeting that it was revealed that my dad and Donnie’s dad had paid the price for our crime. They had split the cost of repairing the phone system at the school in hopes that the School District of Greenville County would not press charges against us and to make things right. It was during this meeting that we found out that the school district did, indeed, agree to not press charges us against us and that because of that, and the fact that we are not of age, the arrest would be permanently expunged from our records. There would never be any public record of the arrest.

 

OK so we avoided the prospect of jail. We avoided even having a record. That was all well and good, but what about our dads? Avoiding punishment from the court system was one thing but avoiding punishment from our dads was a whole ‘nother story. On the way from the Greenville County courthouse offices in downtown Greenville to Donnie’s home on Lake Hartwell in Anderson, SC takes about almost an hour. There was complete silence. We did not know what to expect from my dad. This whole thing had disappointed him greatly and I am sure he was angry at us. Silence for an hour for two boys who, when together, could talk the ears off a donkey. We knew that when we got to Anderson there would be this big pow-wow between the four of us (me, my dad, Donnie, Donnie’s dad) and that they would possibly tell us that we could never see other again or something. That would have been fate worse than death to us at the time. They might have agreed to put us to hard labor back and forth between Travelers Rest and Anderson for a year or something. We knew we deserved that or something along those lines. The mind boggled at what our real fate was to be.

 

However, when we got there, we were told to go put our swim trunks on. Donnie’s dad already had my dad’s boat fueled up and ready to go. We then spent the most glorious day (on a September school day for both Donnie and me) skiing on Lake Hartwell. Donnie and I were really good water skis. Summers in Anderson are spent on the huge lake that Hartwell is. We were water bugs on skis. This day was perfect. Since it was a weekday and during the work hours for most people, the lake was virtually empty and the water was perfectly placid like a pristine sheet of glass (before we came plowing through). It was the perfect dad-son day. The four of us. Donnie’s dad and my dad talking about who knows what all day up in the boat and Donnie and I having the time of our life doing what we did best at the time – water ski. I still remember that day to this day. Not because of the water skiing or skipping school but because we had been set free when we expected the worst. We expected at the worst to be sent to juvenile prison for six months. We find out that our dads had paid the price for our sentence for us. We expected some kind of punishment from our dads that would be almost as bad as going to prison. We got a day at the lake. After that day, the whole matter was never really mentioned again. If it was, it was only as the punchline for any joke about being scared to death. My dad or Donnie’s dad never truly held that whole episode against us ever again. That freedom from certain punishment is still a memory to me as an adult some forty years later. I remember that freedom felt on that lake that day like it was yesterday.

 

The idea of a parent having all the right in the world to punish a child for some grievous wrong but giving them freedom instead of punishment was what I thought of this morning when I read through this passage. With that idea of mercy and withheld justice, let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

In this series of blogs, we are talking about how we should relate to God. Today, we will talk about the mercy of God and how we should be eternally grateful for that. In this passage, Moses is saying that the Lord is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. Moses was distinguishing between the true God and the local idols worshiped by the peoples of the region. Then, Moses when a step further, calling God “mighty and awesome.” He has such awesome power and justice that people cannot stand before Him without mercy. Fortunately, His mercy toward His people is unlimited. When we begin to grasp the extent of God’s mercy toward us, we see what true love is and how deeply God loves us. Although our sins deserve severe judgment God has chosen to show love and mercy to all who seek Him with all of their heart. He knows that we deserve punishment and we know it. We deserve to be cast away from Him into the lake of fire, but when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, God sees that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. He has taken the punishment that we deserve. He sees the perfection of Jesus and not the sins that cover our skin. He shows us mercy through His Son. He loves us that much that He would send His Son to be the ransom for our sins. As a result, we get to ski on the lake of freedom instead enduring eternal punishment.

 

Just like the freedom and joy that Donnie and I felt on the day of our darkest hour. We were set free because our parents had paid the price for our crime and we were set free to live our lives in freedom as symbolize by two boys having the time of their lives on a day that should have seen great justice levied upon us, so too is the life that we have in salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

Free when we deserve punishment. Loved by a God whose Son has paid for our crimes. Reconciled to Him and the crimes are wiped clean from our slate never to be mentioned again or held against us ever again. What joy is that? Are you living in that joy?

 

Amen and Amen.