I had a chance to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and adjoining museum recently. It was a stunning reminder of the April 19, 1995 bombing attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and the months and years of recovery, investigation, and trials which followed. The exterior grounds (the actual memorial) is operated by the National Park Service and the museum is operated by a non-profit foundation.
Tons of emotions were evoked in me as I wandered through the exhibits and grounds. Sorrow. Empathy. Anger. Bewilderment. At first I was embroiled in sadness for the families of the 168 who were killed (and 680 others injured). Then I was focused on both anger and bewilderment at how or why individuals could possibly justify such acts of destruction and complete disregard for human life. Then in the quietness of wandering the memorial grounds outside I began to think about how these acts affect God, and the following three observations came to mind.
- God was and is grieved when evil manifests itself. People struggling with tragic events such as this or any other tragedy they’ve faced will sometimes ask, “Where was(is) God in all of this? How could he let something like this happen?” Even believers may wrestle with these questions, and skeptics will even go so far as to suggest that these types of events prove that there is no God, or at the very least that He doesn’t care. This is often referred to as the problem of evil and is discussed in numerous other venues, such as this and this.I want to point out, though, that the Bible is very clear on how much God hates evil and grieves over its impact. In Psalm 10, David (the presumed author) begins by asking the question, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Yet he confidently asserts a few verses later (vs. 14), “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.”
God is not unaware of our pain. He grieves when His people are in turmoil, even though they may be rejecting Him. He used the prophet Hosea to reiterate this point when he said, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? … My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)
The writer of Hebrews even reminds us that “since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
- Ultimate justice will be meted out. When one reads a statement like this in the context of something like the Oklahoma City bombing, a natural reaction might be, “Yes! Justice must be served! They deserve the harshest punishment possible for what they’ve done.” Indeed, that is a common theme through scripture. Consider again some of the Psalms, with statements like “For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.” (Psalm 37:17), and, “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:5-6).
Isaiah also speaks of God’s judgment on the wicked. He says, “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.” (Isaiah 13:11) Even in the New Testament, Paul asserts, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5)
We may very well read verses like these and feel very confident in the fates of terrorists who harm innocent people. However, let’s stop and consider that phrase “innocent people”. It’s easy, perhaps, to place people whom we deem as “evil” at the head of the line of people deserving God’s punishment, but imagine lining up all the people in the world in a line like this. McVeigh and Nichols, and others who have committed egregious crimes can be at one end of the line and people might get progressively better as you move back through the line. So now, decide where the cutoff point is. Where do you draw the line and say that people on one side of that line deserve God’s punishment and the people on the other side of the line don’t? That brings me to my final observation.
- My sin is just as grievous to God as Timothy McVeigh’s and Terry Nichols’.
The measuring stick or line that determines “good” and “bad” is determined by God, and based on God Himself. God is completely good and holy and righteous. When He is recognized as the standard to which all definitions of “good” should be compared, nothing else comes close to measuring up to that standard. God cannot allow any thing that is less than His standard of “good” into His presence (heaven). Paul makes the following observation in Romans 3:9-12:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
This is bad news for us. No one has a chance of being declared righteous based on their own deeds or lack of misdeeds. However, the good news is that Jesus fulfilled the requirement of God’s goodness and perfection. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Did you catch that?
- For our sake – God knew that we couldn’t help ourselves out of our mess, so He provided the solution for our sake.
- he made him to be sin who know no sin – Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life, so God made him to “be sin” by allowing Jesus to take upon himself all the sins of the world and die a sacrificial death on the cross in the place of the sinners who actually deserved such a punishment.
- so that in him we might become the righteousness of God – Because of Jesus’ death, and the fact that he won the battle with death and rose from the dead as evidence of the victory he had won, we have the opportunity to become righteous and good in God’s eyes. How?
John 1:11-13 states, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” When we receive Jesus, believing in what God affirms about him and trusting that God will count his righteousness to us, we become the righteous people that God expects. Not righteous because we do certain things, but righteous “of God” – He declares us righteous because we are linked inseparably to His righteousness – Jesus!