Dearest Hope Family,
I like simple things. All or nothing. Nuances, tensions, and shades are not quite as clean and attractive as clear edges and solid boundaries. Unfortunately, Jesus’ way in the world demands that we often hold what seem like opposite qualities and values in balance and tension.
Is the God of the Bible, the God fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ, a God of justice and accountability? Is the God of the Bible, the God fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ, a God of grace and compassion?
The unflinching, univocal answer of the Bible is, “Yes!”
Consider, for one example out of hundreds, Isaiah 30:18-19: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.” The balance and tension of gracious compassion and justice are presented without comment or apology, as if to say, “Quit trying to relieve the tension. Wisdom looks like living in the tension.”
So much of us deeply desires to swing the pendulum in one direction or the other, and often whichever direction suits our current convenience. Just now we want gracious compassion to let us off the hook for everything wrong in us. We want freedom without accountability. Just now we want justice to take note of all the great things we are achieving for the sake of the Kingdom and hope it is all being registered in the cosmic spreadsheet. Similarly, we earnestly hope that justice is tallying the wrongs of those around us in the grand ledger so that payback will be swift and full for all that we have suffered at the hands of others.
The Psalms in general and Psalm 2 (our text for this week’s worship service) in particular honor that balance and tension and do not shrink from celebrating the gracious compassion of the Lord alongside his justice and righteous anger. Psalm 2 is one of the most quoted psalms in the New Testament, yet I have not found many people who find it to be as dear or treasured as some of the most beloved Psalms. The imagery cuts across the grain of what we often hear and imagine about God’s way in the world: an enthroned Lord laughing a not-so-jolly, fairly cynical laughter, wielding an iron scepter in his hand, and looming over fragile clay pots with an urgent and kindled wrath.
Don’t run from this portrait. Don’t try to swing the pendulum or relieve the tension. Rather, live in it and allow it to push you towards the Lord who is a God of justice and who rises to show compassion, longing to be gracious to you – through the work of Jesus Christ.
I commend to you a prayer for today and for this season, composed by a dear friend of mine, Rev. Eric Youngblood. It helps us wait in the tension and trust this God:
“Father, as your justice bids you to remedy anguish, to rectify what is wobbly, and to reassemble what has fallen apart, I ask you to rise today and reacquaint me and all the anguished, bored, sick, terrorized, taxed, and waiting with the sturdy consolation of your compassion. Waiting is an aggravating assignment. Help me to wait with unwearying confidence. You know we are assailed by threats and troubles we cannot mend. As we wait, act graciously, giving cures which our ingenuity, planning and resources cannot afford. Yank the leash on my galloping imagination back into TODAY where your presence is promised. Settle my jumpy heart with timely supplies of your tender grace. Assist me to believe again, persuasive Holy Spirit, that those who wait on the renovating action of the Savior will never be disappointed. Let the blessedness of waiting on you be undeniably evident to us all, sooner rather than later. Come Holy Spirit, bolster my confidence as I wait on my Redeemer, whose compassionate action I can count on for the ultimate benefit of all he has made and adores. Amen.”
Grace and peace,