Monday, June 20, 2011


Love Will Separate Sheep from Goats

Imagine being gathered in a room with ten or twelve friends. As you have their attention, you begin to make slanderous and insulting statements about a common acquaintance as a form of humor. Each jocular statement promotes a roar of laughter from the audience. Upon delivering your fourth quip, the crowd sheepishly glances at you, immediately diverting their attention to the shoelaces of the person beside them. Finding this response bizarre, you slowly peek over your shoulder with a peripheral glance. An involuntary wave of panic flushes over your body as you find the target of your humor standing behind you. Anxiety sets the stage making eye contact uncomfortable if not impossible. You shrink in humiliation and desire to be removed far from the situation and from the presence of your victim.

The above scene is a very mild example of the reality associated with the way foolish, insulting behavior affects relationships. Following, I will attempt to develop a representation that captures the reality of the experience of a human being who has not been honoring God as God (Ro.1:21), whether through active, aggressive rebellion or mild mannered, passive disobedience and apathy, as they step into the unveiled presence of the most overwhelmingly intense being in the universe.

As developed in the first paragraph, being in the presence of a person one has dishonored is, to say the least, uncomfortable if not overwhelmingly excruciating. This is a very natural and realistic aspect of our moral constitution. I would like to suggest that people have a tendency assume that moral reality ceases to operate as we are translated from this life into the “hereafter.” It is assumed that, somehow, the reality of one’s relationship with God and the emotional and moral consequences of one’s behavior are no longer functioning factors in one’s experience when stepping into the unveiled presence of the most overwhelming majestic and intense being in the universe. This is what I call Lucky Charms Christianity (magically delicious - We seriously need to rethink and reverse this assumption!

I suggest that for a person who has not truly reconciled to God, the experience of standing in His presence will not prove pleasant. The unpleasant dimension of this encounter will not be due to anything God does to make it unpleasant. If He is guilty of making it unpleasant, it is only because the sympathy and compassion radiating from His being will add to the shame and humiliation that overwhelms the individual in question. Let’s attempt to envision the scene.

An individual who has been pursuing some form of self-supremacy (sin) and has never responded to the self-sacrificial, loving redemptive provisions of God, dies in this condition. The next conscious moment is in the presence of the Creator of the universe. God is the supreme, righteous governor of all moral beings. Governing in righteousness and wisdom places parameters upon how mercy and forgiveness can be exercised (great amounts of careful thinking upon this issue is tremendously important but cannot take place in this mini-article). What does the sinner find as he/she stands before God? The most overwhelmingly appealing, beautiful, intense and attractive Being possible. Made to be in His presence there is a deep longing to be so. However, guilt, shame and anxiety fill his/her being as a natural consequence of violating moral reality. The sinner, though longing to be in God’s presence, is utterly unfit for and uncomfortable in His presence. The overwhelming nature of this experience is beyond description. It is this experience that produces the statement, “I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness”, from the mouth of God. It seems as though many assume this statement is made with some sort of anger and retaliatory satisfaction. I believe it is a statement of brokenness, sorrow and regret. With moral reality functioning as it does, the guilty sinner is ushered away from the presence of God in order to diminish the anxiety and guilt. However, when out of His presence, the desire to be in His presence continues to be a source of regretful longing, producing its own form of anxiety and regret. When in His presence, he/she wants out of His presence and when out of His presence, he/she wants to be in His presence. This is a “fire” that cannot be extinguished and a “worm” that never dies, constantly eating at the soul of a moral, immortal being. Consistent with moral reality, God opts for the most merciful of the two options, considering both the sinner who is not fit for His presence and the well-being of the reconciled who are invited to live where righteousness dwells.

I would encourage us to make an effort to rise above shallow, wishful thinking regarding these complex moral issues and realize the challenge the supreme moral governor of the universe faces that eventually require a separation of the sheep from the goats.

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