Break Not, Quench Not: Reconciling God’s Mercy & Justice

In a previous post, titled Who’s the Weak One?, Lambs Harbinger described one of the reasons a Christian may be judgemental. In that article, I began by saying, in most cases, Christians have generous attitudes (i.e. compassionate, understanding, forgiving, respectful, giving the benefit of the doubt, thinking the best of, etc.). If they have not been gracious to you–a non-Christian or fellow believer–then there could be an underlying reason which isn’t God’s fault and is not in harmony with biblical Christianity. In an attempt to make God look good where others have failed you, this post will discuss a phenomenon which sometimes leads Christians to be contrary to Christ… and that is, a misconception (witting or ignorant) about the true nature and character of Jesus Christ.

It’s not easy being a Christian when Church teachers and leaders perpetuate confusion between Testimony and Reputation, or tout legalism and weak Christianity by poor definitions of what is “holy” and “worldly;” but Christianity is especially difficult when one is presented a distorted picture of Jesus. As a result, one can become spiritually exhausted from performance-based, shame-driven, never-good-enough, externalism kind of Christianity. What’s worse, God’s face is either never smiling or too rarely smiling; and subsequently, the insatiable hunger to be increasingly “holier” leaves the Christian irritated with the “lost” around him and unable to find peace within. Ah, if we could only learn that God views the “lost” as having the same provision that we received… that, through the lenses of his grace, he is able (while life lasts) to see and treat everyone the same—ex. Sending rain upon the just and unjust alike.

If a proper vision of Christ is not held, isolationism follows, and Christianity either ruins God’s reputation or tucks itself away in some irrelevant monastic setting, thinking everyone should come to them to “see” their difference and “become a part of the community of faith.” Whichever the case, increased displays of holiness are certainly the answer [sarcasm]. There he sits, a Christian who can’t stand to be around his “lost” co-workers. He never invites them to the game or to barbecue or to be otherwise a part of his life. “You don’t understand,” he mutters, “they cuss and talk about their drunken parties and are crude and plan their ‘adult parties behind their spouses’ backs.'”

If only we could see Jesus as He is, then we would see ourselves and others far differently.

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God. –A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

Through studying the biblical Gospels and attributes of God in recent years, and also by studying prophecies about Christ’s 1st Advent, I have come to a fresh realization of the Person of Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is a good deal more loving, caring, and compassionate than the distortions placed upon Him. Then, He is a great deal more joyful and generous too–a far cry from the humanly contrived kind of “holy” one often meets.

If anyone should have been irritated or frustrated by the “filth” and “muck” around him, it would have been Jesus. He had no sin in him, no evil desire. He was a proverbial diamond who came down to the mud. But, he was neither angry nor “too good” to be around the likes of us. And, if a Christian truly understands the spirit of Christ, then he will be free of this vexing qualm between God’s Mercy and God’s Holy Justice. 

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Rom. 5:6-8 NLT)

The Compassion & Wisdom of Jesus:

It is a rather elementary truth, but Jesus did not come into the world in order to condemn people. He came to rescue (John 3:16-17). Let that soak in. Likewise, since Christians are sent into the world just as Jesus was sent, then we are not here to condemn either, but to rescue (not as if the sufficiency is of ourselves but “our sufficiency is Christ”– 2 Cor. 3:5; John 17:18; 20:21). This is not to say that the truth won’t shine like a light into the dark corners of men’s hearts; it does. However, we need only depend on the Spirit of Truth to convince someone of sin, judgement, and righteousness in Jesus. Some may object by saying, “yeah, but you gotta say something too.” I understand. However, the subject at hand is that too many Christians withdraw altogether, either because they are too “intimidated” or too “disgusted” or too “holy.” Either that, or they cannot see how God could be just in allowing sin to continue on… they just have to say something condemning, instead of listening and hearing and befriending and rescuing (John 12:44-47).

Yet, Jesus ate with “sinners.” In modern terms, he went over for a barbecue; and he was so artful in making his point without being condemning (Luke 15). In the face of those who were condemning, the Lord Jesus said,

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ because I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13, 12:7; Hosea 6:6).

“Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men,” Jesus said (Mark 1:17). Now, I am no professional angler, but I know enough about fishing to get the analogy Christ was making to these experts. First, he wasn’t saying that the Gospel is a line, hook & sinker to be swallowed by the unsuspecting. Neither is it a net by which to snare someone. No, these things would not be done by the Christ, who willingly went to a Roman crucifix or by a group of His disciples which met similar ends. Instead, Jesus was making a promise to the disciples; and the promise was that by the time He was done with them (if they would learn from the way He does things), they would know mankind as well as (or better than) they knew the fishing trade–which they’d been in all their lives. If the reader insists on applying the poetical analogy, it might be said that if one would gather in mankind like fishes, then he first needs to be where they are, and know how they think and what affects them. Perhaps needless to say, the Disciples “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). I think they got it.

Almost constantly, while growing up in a separatist, isolationist church, I heard Proverbs 11:30… and in the King James Version too. “He that winneth souls is wise,” the verse says. For the longest time, I wanted to be considered wise. So, I sought to “win souls for Jesus.” That is the meaning and application presented by many church leaders. I would go about it in all of the pathetically impersonal ways–hand a leaflet to someone I never had met…usually at the grocery store or gas station or left on counter in the bathroom (–no, leaflets aren’t bad), knock on a random person’s door (–no, this isn’t evil either), invite someone to church off the street (–again, inviting to church is fine), or run through a 20-40 minute outlined presentation in a park (–do I have to even say it… ah, never mind). My point is these methods are just methods, and generally do not employ relationship or love, and certainly not any real wisdom.

Then, it dawned on me: “wise is not a label one earns from God just because he seeks to ‘win souls.'” Rather, the grammar of the verse, as better reflected in other translations communicates something like this, “…he who is wise rescues lives.” That changes everything. Suddenly, wisdom from ‘soul winning’ is not a badge to be earned like a boy scout patch. Instead, if one is wise… if he really knows how life works, how to have skill at living in this messed up world, if he knows where men go (in their minds or on their feet) when they are lost souls–if he can feel compassion and empathy and sympathy and yet navigate through the human condition like an ace; then that person also knows how to rescue lives… and that is what Jesus does best.

When I am on the highway or in a coffee line, or near a work-place cubicle and someone gets irate, then I am tempted to say, “I wonder what her problem is!” I am tempted to get irritated. But, if I have the wisdom of Christ, then I would think to myself, “who knows what is happening in her life today.” Suddenly, selfless compassion and wisdom fill my thoughts. When I am near the water cooler, and Joe Schmoe is taking about his weekend romp with the secretary, I am really tempted to condemn. But, if I have the wisdom of Christ, I might think like Jesus thought at the Samaritan well (John 4:1-26), and I could consider that there is a multiplicity of reasons why people do what they do… many of them are looking to escape loneliness, fear, shattered hopes, shame, past abuses, etc. I might even invite Joe over sometime, just so he knows a real Christian who sees him as Jesus sees him. Sure, other people will talk, and I am not saying it is ever right to do wrong for the chance to do right, but I am saying compassion and wisdom lead one to be less condemning-minded and more rescue-minded. They lead one to love his neighbor as himself instead of standing in self-righteous condemnation of others.

The Inspiring Tenderness of Jesus:

Several hundred years before Jesus, the Christ, stepped on the earth’s stage, a seer named Isaiah talked of the Messiah’s characteristic attitudes. “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, …” (Matt. 12:20; Is. 42:3, 7; Luke 4:18; Is. 61:1). This is perfect imagery. A reed stands straight and tall, so long as it is not bent over by a passerby. Once bent, it can’t be straightened. Some might just come by and snap it off, saying it has no more purpose or function. Jesus is not so. If he sees a bent reed, he won’t break it. Not on your life. So, if someone is down and out, Jesus won’t kick them while they’re down. He won’t scold them into loathing guilt, so that he knows that they know they’re good and sorry. He’ll never crush someone’s spirit. He’ll always be careful and handle folks with “kid gloves.”

Similarly, flax could be used to start a fire. It would burn if it ever gets past the smoldering stage. Some might stamp it out because of their impatience. But, Jesus is not so. He’ll never quench the potentiality within someone. Even if there is the tiniest ember, and even if it is nearly dead. He focuses on it, encourages it, breathes new oxygen into it, and monitors it until it glows hot. Even so, Christians must look for the ember of truth in every conversation we have. Hear people for what they are really saying, not what you think they say or all of that with which you disagree. Agree with the truth, encourage it. Likewise, listen for someone’s hopes, their dreams, their passions… and come along side and fan the flame. Facilitate them; serve them before yourself. Don’t quench them.

The Endearing Patience of Jesus:

Jesus defined disciples differently than most denominations, and he treated them differently too.

First, he labeled someone a disciple, even if they had not yet believed in him as Lord and God. It took Peter 2.5 years to confess Jesus as the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), and it took Thomas much longer… until he could shove his hand into the resurrected Christ’s wounds (John 20:25). Now, there is a great difference between a following disciple and a believing disciple. One is born again. The other is not. But, it seemed Jesus was patient enough to wait for them all, and he was even more patient and forgiving to the believing ones who stumbled (John 21). When John the Baptizer doubted Christ’s being Messiah, Jesus did not condemn him; rather, he consoled him and sent word of proofs that would help John’s faith. Then, Jesus turned and blessed John in front of the crowds (Matt. 11:5ff; Luke 7:22ff).

Christ never rushed his disciples, as if fearful that they would never accomplish their mission on time or in the right way. He was aware of what they were able to receive, and that is what He gave them (Mark 4:9-10; John 16:12; John 17:8, 14). This is not to say he was passive about their maturing, especially in believing what he had taught them before (Matt. 8:26; 14:31; 17:17; Mark 9:19), but he always came through for them and had great pity and absolutely no rejection. He always believed in them (Phil. 1:6,7).

More than all these things, it is the Creator, Jesus who waited from eternity past to enter the world once; and he is waiting still for the consummation of all things. What patience!

The Continued Presence and Multiplication of Jesus (by the Spirit):

Jesus was very concerned about not leaving his disciples like orphans. He has not left us who believe alone; his presence is known by the Spirit. “It is convenient and practical that I go away,” he said, and added, “because if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you (John 16:7). Furthermore, he said, “I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Then, Pentecost happened (Acts 1:8; 2:3), and the Holy Spirit has been here ever since to enable believers to have the Life of Jesus (in his characteristic attitudes and reactions and works) come through them. This is the real reason that the Disciples “turned the world upside down.” Jesus was in them and being allowed to live through them in all the ways described above and more.

CONCLUSION:

Our view of God is truly the most important thing about us, Christian and non-Christian alike. Without a proper picture of the Person and Life of Jesus, it is impossible for believers to accurately recognize and yield to His Spirit in them. That makes the Christian life hard, and it makes for hard, cold, irritated, and “holier-than-you” Christians. Furthermore, that kind of Christianity can’t balance God’s mercy and justice, because one has no frame of reference for leaving behind what’s condemning for taking up rescue. Jesus is the proper balance of these things, and he was prophesied as one who would break not & quench not. Rather, He Himself was broken and quenched. He suffered so that God may look at us all the same, not in condemnation but in a desire to see us reconciled and restored wholly.

……………………….

RESOURCES:

Sermon by Charles Spurgeon on “The Smoking Flax

In Defense of the Spirit 

Demonstration of the Spirit and of Power

 

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