Yesterday afternoon I made apple pies while EJ watched football on TV. While the pies were baking, I took my dog Danny for a walk. The day was beautiful and the walk delightful. When I got back, the pies had been taken out of the oven (as I asked EJ to do). I was out of tea and he wanted ice cream to go along with the pie, so I walked to the gas station/store to buy both. The store didn’t have the brand of instant tea that I like (they had Nestea, not Lipton) so I bought me a couple of bottles of Sobe Lifewater instead. It was a good delicious treat.
My Hebrew class was at 10 p.m. Afterwards I visited with EJ and we ended up watching several in a series of Youtube videos about Hebrew words that was fascinating. I didn’t go to bed until 1:30 a.m. This is the second day in a row that I have stayed up until 1:30 a.m. Not good. [YAWN]
As I went about my day yesterday, I felt overcome with pain at the broken relationships in my life. It felt as if every beat of my heart pumped pain, not blood. I felt my soul cry, “Oh, God, how much more of this can I endure?” I can’t adequately describe the conflicting emotions I feel about it all. How do I describe how deeply I love my family/friends, and how much I long for relationship with them? How do I share how I forgive them for the things they have done while at the same time, set very necessary boundaries…I thought, as I often think at such times, “I wonder if this is how God feels about people? I wonder if His heart breaks like this? I wonder….”
I thought I’d share how I think God feels and relates to us humans based on my experiences. At the same time, I will explain why I am dealing with my family/friend as I am based on how I believe God deals with us.
I will start out by describe my son. He is very intelligent, witty, and funny, and he has a very tender heart. He is very caring towards those who are younger than he is or who are disabled, and he is very polite to those who are older than he is. He also can be very stubborn and strong-willed.
Sometimes my son commits tiny offenses. Like he forgets to feed the pets, which is one of his daily chores so I remind him. I want a simple, “Ok, Mom” as he goes to feed the pets. There are times that he cheerfully obeys, but other times he grumbles and offers excuses about why he didn’t do it or why he can’t do it. I don’t want excuses, I want him to just get the job done. He gets offended, argues…and it escalates into a disagreement, then into an argument. I tell him to STOP but he doesn’t. So I send him up to his room when he is becoming angry and unteachable to give him time to think and calm down. Occasionally he refuses and the conflict increases. All I wanted him to do was feed the pets! Finally, I say “GET TO YOUR ROOM NOW!” Each additional step of disobedience led to an additional consequence. He could have avoided it all if he had done the simple task I had asked him to do, and he could have avoided each additional misery at any time if he had repented. Often I can hear him pacing in anger upstairs when I’ve set him up there. After a while, he comes downstairs and says “I’m sorry.” Sometimes, his “sorry” is not a true apology. He says, “I’m sorry, but you….” I send him back upstairs. Repentance is about a changed heart and changed behavior, not merely saying the words “I’m sorry” when he didn’t really mean it. He stomps upstairs. There is always a time when he comes down genuinely repentant, understanding what he did wrong, and asking for my forgiveness. We talk over what happened and I give him a hug. I always allow him to remain downstairs at that time–because I was seeking a changed heart not merely punishment. Because he was humbly repentant, and I forgiving, the relationship is totally restored.
Sometimes JJ doesn’t accomplish a task well, and we make him do it over. Or I tell him to do something that he knows he is supposed to do but he did NOT do, and he says, “Why can’t you just do it for me?” Technically, I COULD do it, and I could do it better, and I could do it without complaining or conflict. But I make HIM do it because he needs to learn to work hard, and well, and faithfully. He needs to learn to be respectful and to submit to appropriate authorities over him. He needs to learn to be cheerful and honest. If he doesn’t learn to work hard and well, he may later find it hard to keep a job. If he doesn’t learn to be honest, his relationships will suffer–including his relationship with his future wife. If he doesn’t learn to obey us, even if he thinks we are mean and unfair, he will not learn to submit to a boss, or the laws of the land–or God. If we let him do whatever he wants without consequences, he will grow up to be selfish, or arrogant or miserable. We love him and want him to have a good life, so we confront him and hold him accountable–even if he thinks we are mean and unfair.
As humans, we have wronged God. We have disobeyed Him, violated His boundaries, and damaged our relationship with Him. Throughout the Bible, He has honestly told us how we have wronged Him. He has also said, “I long for a restored relationship with you. I will forgive you at any time if you repent.” If a person repents, they will be forgiven and enjoy a wonderful relationship with God. If a person refuses to repent they, like JJ on a bad day, will experience more and more severe discipline in an attempt to get him to repent so the relationship will be restored (Deut 28). I believe that God will give every person and every nation an opportunity to repent and have a relationship with Him. I believe this is what happened to Pharaoh in Exodus. God asked Pharaoh to let His people go and warned that if he didn’t, there would be consequences. Pharaoh didn’t obey, so he suffered the consequences. Ten times God warned Pharaoh to obey Him, and ten times Pharaoh refused to hear Him, and ten times he suffered consequences of increasing severity. The final consequence was the death of the first-born of Egypt–but even then God gave people a chance to turn to Him. Anyone–Jew or nonJew–who put the blood of the lamb on their door in obedience and repentance was forgiven and spared.
Some people, including Pharaoh, refused to repent. That is just what happens today too. People react in anger, and say, “I never did anything wrong to You. How dare you accuse me? You are a bully, and unforgiving and unloving.” They say, “How could a loving God allow suffering and evil in the world!” but they accuse Him of being judgmental when He deals with evildoers.
Many people struggle with a God who judges sin. They think it is unloving, unforgiving, and judgmental. They would prefer a God who forgave everything no matter what, with no accountability and no need for repentance. In reality, a judge is someone who supports the cause of the victim against an oppressor who has wronged him. A judge provides justice. Longing for justice is not wrong. What would we think of a judge who let rapists, murders, molesters, and thieves go free without penalty? We’d call that judge dishonest and corrupt.
There is a VERY thought-provoking award-winning documentary out right now called 180. You can watch it for free here: 180movie.com In the movie a person asks people some very profound questions that cause people to completely change their thinking about some things. I won’t reveal the main part of the movie. Go watch it! But at the end of the movie, the interviewer asked people if they believed there was a heaven or hell, and that if there WAS a heaven did they think they would go there. Most of the people said they’d go to heaven because they were “good.” So the interviewer asked a few more questions. (I will put his questions in quotes and the people’s answers without quotes.)
“Tell me, have you ever lied in your life?”
“What do you call someone who lies?”
“Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you?”
“What do you call someone who takes things that don’t belong to him?”
“Have you ever had sex with someone you weren’t married to?”
“Do you know that a person who has sex with someone they aren’t married to is called an adulterer?
“You have just admitted to being a liar, a thief, and an adulterer. Why do you think God should let you into Heaven?”
God cannot let unrepentant wrongdoers go unpunished or He becomes an unrighteous, corrupt judge. We have ALL done wrong, and we all deserve judgment. However, God loves us, wants a relationship with us, and offers us forgiveness, love, mercy, grace, compassion, and LIFE. All we have to do to receive it is genuinely repent, which means to “turn around.” It can’t be the kind of repentance JJ sometimes displays, “I’m sorry but…” And it’s not the sort of repentance of someone who says, “I’m a Christian because I prayed the prayer–but I believe that I can do whatever I want.” That would be like marrying someone believing you can still live as a single. A real marriage “forsakes all others” and is committed to each other. A couple might sometimes fail and hurt each other, but they repent and forgive each other.
God allows suffering in the world and does not judge all sinners immediately because we’d all be judged because we all fail. Instead, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) These days many people seem to struggle with the whole “repentance” thing. They want to believe that God is unconditionally loving, forgiving, compassionate, and grace-filled. God DOES give us unimaginable love, forgiveness, compassion, and grace, but only IF we repent. Those who do not repent will come under His wrath and be judged. Just as it would be harmful for JJ and those in his life if we allowed him to do whatever he wanted without consequences, so God cannot let us do whatever we want. While God is patient, to never judge evil would be evil.
God wants a relationship with us, and He has done much to reach out to us over and over again. In Genesis He had Noah warn the people of the coming flood and to build the ark so that any who wanted to escape judgment could find deliverance. People had a hundred years to repent and find safety in the ark. In Exodus He warned Pharaoh and the people to repent, and instructed them to be “covered by the blood.” He provided the Tabernacle/Temple sacrifices for people to have their sins covered. In the Gospels He sent His own Son to die in our place. All through the Bible, God warned of judgment and asked people to repent and be saved. And to everyone since God has reached out, warning of judgment and pleading with people to repent. What more can He do than what He as done?
Yet, still people do not repent. They justify and excuse their sins, they accuse God of unfairness and brutality, they reject Him and His people.
It took Noah a hundred years to build the ark, and in that time everyone had a chance to repent and be saved. However, there came a day when Noah and his family entered the ark and God shut the door. From that moment, relationship with Him was no longer possible. When the rains poured down from the sky and came gushing up from the ground, when the floods rose higher and higher, I can imagine the people panicking and pounding on the door, begging to be let in. Sound cruel? They had all those years to believe God and have a relationship with Him. Now it was too late. I believe that this is true today too. People have the opportunity to repent and be forgive. They have a chance to have a relationship with a God who loves them beyond imagining. But there will come a day when a relationship is too late.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. (Matt 23:36-38)
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
“But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices. (Ps. 81:10-12)
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:5-11)
The 180 Movie interviewer, after asking people the questions that I shared above, went on to say, “What if God really loved you, and wanted a relationship with you, and provided a way in which you could be forgiven and go to Heaven…would you accept? Some said yes! But sadly, many people in this world refuse to repent, and in the process lose everything that they could so easily have had.
In my personal relationships, I am dealing with people who neither repent nor forgive. They won’t forgive me for hurting them even though I have repeatedly asked them to forgive me and I have told them that I love them. They won’t acknowledge any wrong that they have done to me. They blame me while they excuse themselves for worse. My friend has thrown away a friendship of 10 years because she cannot forgive me, and because she refuses to say, “I am sorry I also hurt you.” How tragic.
I have asked myself, “What if I am the one who won’t repent/forgive? Am I angry and bitter? How do I know if I am the problem and not them?” (People always think it’s other people and not themselves!) But I know that I HAVE repented and asked for forgiveness and been refused. I know that I love them and have longed for a relationship with them. I know that I have forgiven people offenses they have committed against me.
Why can’t I “just let it all go” and “forgive them,” and not expect my family/friend to repent? I have attempted to do that over the years, and I have seen that it has not been beneficial. In order for restoration to take place, there must be repentance/forgiveness or the wounds/issues remain to cause problems and the relationships eventually fall apart. I know that if there isn’t repentance, relationship violations will continue to occur, causing additional damage. I know that if a person doesn’t recognize that he has also hurt others, he will feel an inner self-righteousness that will taint the relationship. I think it’s only when we realize that we, also, have failed others that we can have the humility to repent, forgive and love. We must have the humility to repent when we have wronged others. We also must forgive if others repent. However, if a person doesn’t repent/forgive, relationship is impossible and it dies.
All I want is for my family/friend to release their anger, which makes relationship between us impossible and hurts everyone involved. Instead of accusing and accusing, all they have to do is reach out in repentance…How tragic if they aren’t willing to agree to give the sort of basic respect and consideration that we give strangers on the street! If they can’t repent/forgive, there WILL come a day–soon–when relationship between us is impossible because repentance and forgiveness is refused. This is true between us and God, and between one person and another.