I am not a biblical scholar or an educated religious researcher. I am just a simple, flawed Christian striving to do a decent job with my life. It’s during the Resurrection season that my flaws seem the most amplified, in light of the magnitude of what Jesus suffered on my behalf.
So bear with me as I stretch my neck out and offer some religious musings. I expect to be castigated for my poor understanding of Scripture, but I’ll take my chances.
For the last few months, I’ve taken to making notes to myself during my Scripture reading. Nothing big or fancy, just a little index card I keep tucked in my Bible that lists verses and a two or three-word description of what I found relevant about them. This is handier than underlining passages (which I also do) since it means I have a quick reference card. Examples: Jeremiah 6:16 (good choices). Lamentations 1:14 (sin as a heavy weight). Hosea 4:12 (Earth Day). Amos 5:7-14 (politicians).
This week, Ezekiel 33:17-20 caught my eye: “Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just. If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it. And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so. Yet you Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But I will judge each of you according to your own ways.”
This is heavy stuff. What I get out of this passage is, “You think I’m unjust? You want to live life according to your own values? Fine. Go right ahead. Just don’t make excuses and pretend your choices are godly and right, because they’re not.”
I see a lot of this in America. My beloved country has become a cesspool of vice and hedonism, of negative morals and gutter behavior, of good turned into evil and evil made good. We justify these choices by any means possible. We either pretend God doesn’t care what ugly decisions we make, or we just shrug our shoulders and claim He doesn’t exist and therefore nothing should rein in our behavior.
God is being shouldered aside to a degree unfathomable even a generation ago. Children are taught by secular schools that the way of the Lord is not just, and therefore either a) He doesn’t exist (because we don’t like what He says), or b) he’s a cruel and capricious cad, so we can just ignore Him.
What isn’t understood is how much better our life becomes – far, far better – when we realize it is our ways that are not just. In other words, quit arguing that you know it all, and listen to what God says for once.
To jump ahead in Scripture, consider the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16), which is my favorite parable because it shows the extent of God’s mercy and generosity. Essentially, it says eleventh-hour converts will receive the same reward as those who have been faithful all their lives. The clearest example of this is the thief on the cross who rebuked the other thief for mocking Jesus, then humbly asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom.
In explaining this parable to our daughters when they were younger, one of them logically asked, “Then why bother being faithful all your life? Why not just wait until the last minute if the reward is the same?”
I replied that a) no one has any idea when that “last minute” will be; and b) even though the reward might be the same, you still have to live an earthly existence; so isn’t it better to lead a clean, wholesome and respectable life and avoid the heartache that poor choices and actions can lead to? The thief hanging next to Jesus (presumably) led a rotten life. It’s easier to make good choices, not bad, because your earthly existence is calmer and more peaceful. (Back to Jeremiah 6:16 again.)
But we’re free to do either. We’re free to live as rotten a life as we want. God doesn’t force us toward His ways; He gives us free will. We are free to toss Him out the door and never listen to Him. We are free to choose our own morals and abide by a code of conduct that drags our spirits and our bodies through hell. It’s all up to us.
God is generous with His rewards, but He also wants us to work in the vineyards. We can’t just go our merry way and expect “payment” for our slothfulness, our hedonism, or our poor decisions and actions. If we live our lives by our own standards according to our feeeeelings and emotions, we’re not working in the vineyard. We won’t get rewarded, not even if the minimum wage is raised to an unearned $15/hour. This applies across the board, even to those who call themselves Christians.
In a column entitled “Examples of ‘health care without conscience’,” Bill Federer documents the horrific slippery slope of deciding who was worthy to live and die under Nazi Germany’s universal health care plan. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote in “The Goebbels Diaries” 1939-41 that Hitler “hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.” [What is considered “noble” in this case is a classic example of trying to justify “our” ways, not the Lord’s.]
As more and more “lebensunwertes leben” (life unworthy of life) were euthanized under Hitler, anyone who objected was intimidated into silence, including many churches. An exception was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who helped found the Confessing Church in Germany. Since he refused to be intimidated into silence, he was imprisoned, sent to a concentration camp and later executed.
But his words live on, especially his searing analysis of what he called “cheap grace” where he rebukes nominal Christians: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
Repentance is working in the vineyard. Discipline is working in the vineyard. This is God’s way, not our way. We can’t choose to do whatever we want as long as it feeeeels good, and expect to be rewarded for our decisions. We need repentance and discipline.
Just some rambling thoughts on this Resurrection weekend. May you all be blessed by Jesus’ sacrifice.
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