Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Lord in Our Midst: The God of Compassion

Our world is a dangerous place. A story I read recently only confirms that statement.

Some of you will remember the name Joseph Druce. A few years ago he was a prisoner. He made news when he brutally attacked and killed another inmate, a man named John Geoghan. Geoghan, if you remember, was the Roman Catholic priest who set off the sex abuse scandal a few years back. He had been accused in lawsuits of sexually molesting some 150 young people in the Boston area while serving as a priest for many decades. Well, while in prison, Druce and Geoghan struck up a friendship. They would regularly talk with one another in their cell block. Druce, in fact, considered himself a minister in his own right. Well, one day, he snapped. He killed Geoghan without any warning. He first strangled the ex-priest. Then he repeatedly stomped on his dead body. I apologize for being so graphic, but the brutality of this event helps prove my point.

When officials arrived on the scene, Druce said he was doing “God’s work.” He said he was a “savior” to the boys who had been wronged. He openly admitted his actions and expected gratitude. And that is exactly what he received. When news began to spread about Geoghan’s murder in prison, Druce began receiving hundreds and thousands of letters from around the globe thanking him for his “godly actions.”

Do you ever hear stories like this one and think, “How did the world end up like this?” This story is troubling on so many levels. A man of God caught in a sex abuse scandal, a murder in cold blood, putting forth the idea that God actually condoned and supported that murder, and the public’s reaction of praise for this heinous crime. Sometimes I hear stories like this one and just cringe! Obviously, this is a particularly heinous example. But I could point to far less sensationalistic events that prove how depraved our world really is. The fact is: human beings are capable of so much evil! And sometimes it can be scary to live in this time, in this culture.

Sometimes I’m scared not only for myself, but even more for my family. I wonder what it will be like to raise my children in a world like this one. I think sometimes it would be better to move off somewhere in seclusion, away from the mess, away from the chaos, away from the evil so prevalent around us. During times like these, I think life in the country, away from the big city, isn’t all that bad. Ever felt like that? If so, I want to introduce you to a friend.

The prophet Micah had a similar outlook on life. He was a country-fellow. He lived about 28 miles south of Jerusalem. Some of you think that made him a city dweller. 28 miles is nothing, it was a suburb! But 28 miles then was different from 28 miles now. 28 miles away from the city without planes, trains, or automobiles put Micah in the barren wilderness. And that was perfectly OK with Micah. You see, Micah didn’t have a very high opinion of the city or of those who lived there. He enjoyed his country existence. He enjoyed his peace and quiet. And he was downright turned off by the hustle and bustle of life in the real world.

Because in Micah’s mind, the real world could be equated with one thing: sin! Along with the crowded streets of Jerusalem came crime. Beneath the shadow of God’s temple lived dishonest and crooked people. He believed masquerading in this religious Mecca were wolves in sheep’s clothing. He spends a lot of time in his book describing the setting of Jerusalem. Calling attention to their oppression of the poor, highlighting their corrupt courts and judges, their dishonest commercial practices, false prophets, greedy priests, loss of community, and most of all, the way they simply ignored God’s justice. Micah stepped back and asked a very important question: How can such a nation be the instrument of God? Micah’s disgust for the big cities of Israel led him to make some pretty strong predictions concerning them. Micah tells us in the first chapter what God will do to the northern capital of Samaria.
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations… (Micah 1:6)
Later in the book, he makes some similar statements about Jerusalem:
Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets… (Micah 3:12)
Micah stands from his vantage point in the small town of Moresheth Gath and proclaims judgment on the big cities! I’m sure their actions disgusted him. I’m sure he would not lose any sleep at all if God just wiped them off the map. I’m sure sometimes Micah laid awake at night and thought…
“Sometimes I’m scared not only for myself, but even more for my family.”
“I wonder what it will be like to raise my children in a world like this one.”
“I think sometimes it would be better to move off somewhere in seclusion…”
“Away from the mess”
“Away from the chaos”
“Away from the evil that pervades our culture”
“During times like these, I think life in the country…away from the big city…isn’t all that bad.”
Yes, you and I may have much more in common with this ancient prophet than we first imagined. It’s very easy to be critical of the world around us, is it not? It’s very easy to get so fed up with all of the stuff this world lays at our feet that we’d rather just retreat into isolation.

Wouldn’t that be great? But listen, we wouldn’t have to be all alone. We could bring each other, we could all go. We could leave this place and form our own society, with our own businesses, our own schools, our own government, and certainly with our own church. Let’s just face it, the world would be much better off without all of those other people who cause all the pain and suffering and sin and chaos! Yeah, I bet Micah felt that way on occasion, but the God whom he served had other ideas.

As Paul Harvey would say, here is the “rest of the story.” God’s judgment extended to Samaria just like Micah predicted. Assyria came in and destroyed that city. The residents were taken into captivity. Some were sent into exile. The city never recovered. But just when we thought we had God figured out, God went and surprised us. Remember, Micah prophesied that God would hand over Jerusalem just as He had handed over Samaria. Because of the evil actions of those people, God would allow “Zion to be plowed like a field.” “Jerusalem would become a heap of rubble.” Remember that?

But that is not what happened. Assyria approached the city just as Micah said they would. They surrounded the city just as he predicted. But before they could attack something unexpected happened. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, prayed to God for deliverance. And God heard his prayer. An angel of the Lord entered the camp of the Assyrians and wiped out that army. God spared the city. Now, why would God go and do a thing like that? Those people deserved punishment. They deserved to be defeated and sold into slavery. They had it coming! At least that’s the way we think. That’s the way the human mind and heart want it to play out. It just makes sense. But thank God, our Father sees things differently. At the close of Micah’s book is this description of our God:
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago. (Micah 7:18–20 NIV)
Why would God go and do a thing like that? It’s simple really. Because God promised that He would. God promised He would rescue His people. God promised He would not ever leave them no matter what. And because our God is faithful to His promises, God offered compassion even when they didn’t deserve it. Because our God is faithful, He offers compassion, even when we do not deserve it. Is anyone in here as thankful as I am that that statement is true?

You know, we are lot like Micah, you and I. We, like Micah, are often so tempted to proclaim God’s judgment to the evil world around us. Christians are usually the first in line to condemn this world. When we see family values denigrated in the media, or when we see Hollywood unabashedly mock the Christian lifestyle, or when our own families are effected by the fallenness of this world. But as we stand here with our fists clinched and voices raised against this evil society, know this: These atrocities have never escaped the attention of God. But instead of raising His own clinched fists, His Son ascended a cross. Instead of turning His back on this world, our God took the sins of this world on His own shoulders.

And if we are truly to conform ourselves to the image of this God, we must learn to do the same. Sometimes when anger seems appropriate, God chooses peace. Sometimes when hatred seems appropriate, God chooses love. Sometimes when seclusion and isolation seem appropriate, God chooses to enmesh Himself into this world. Sometimes where we would chose judgment, God chooses compassion. If you’ve never met my Father, the God of compassion, I’d love to introduce you to Him.

No comments:

Post a Comment