Cornerstones and Stumbling Blocks
Why do the wicked flee when none pursue? Guilt. Why do we by nature exchange the glory of the Creator for corruptible things? Guilt. Why do the nations rage, and the rulers take counsel together? Guilt. Why do the sheep know their Master’s voice? Forgiveness. Why do the redeemed worship in Spirit and in truth? Forgiveness. Why have we been made into a royal priesthood, and a holy nation? Forgiveness. Eschatologically, what separates sheep and goats is eternity in heaven and eternity in hell. Here in the not yet, what separates us is living today in heaven and living today in hell.
One of the many evangelical truisms that gets under my saddle is this sweet notion that hell is the absence of God. I’m perturbed for several reasons. First, even accounting for fuzzy geography on the other side of the veil, the Bible says just the opposite, “If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there (Psalm 139:8). Second, it diminishes the horror of hell. God is most assuredly there, even as He is in heaven. The difference is that the goats behold His wrath, while the sheep rejoice to have His face shine upon them. I would go so far as to suggest, given the simplicity of God, that saints and sinners behold exactly the same thing, though it is blessing for us and curse for them. To some it is the aroma of life, to others the stench of death. Why? Guilt and forgiveness.
In like manner any manifestation of the presence of God in the here and now is a reminder to us of God’s forgiveness of us, and to the sinners, a reminder of their abiding guilt before Him. We move through our days reminded that we have been forgiven, and made His children. They move through their days reminded that they are under His wrath and curse, and liable to the pains of hell forever.
This reality is no more manifest than in our families. Jon and Kate, and The Supernanny have succeeded in terms of ratings as well as they have, I suspect, because they remind the lost that they could be worse off. People tune in to feel better about their own families. The Duggars, on the other hand, are vilified by the world because they manifest the grace of God in all that they do. The anger begins with the assertion that this family can’t possibly truly be this happy. The children cannot really be that well-behaved. The parents cannot really get along that well. It all must be fake, phony, a put on. People do watch, but many of them only to be snarky.
Of course the dividing line here may not be strictly sheep and goats. Too often we sheep forget the gospel that saved us. We too often are driven by guilt. We too often are repulsed by lives that manifest His grace, because such makes us feel guilty. The solution isn’t to cover the manifestation, but is to embrace the forgiveness. If we are in Christ, unlike the wicked we are being pursued. But we need not flee for it is the Shepherd who is looking for us, that He might remind us that we are His.