Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Art of Biblical Paradox: Is God Loving or Punitive? (5)

Throughout Scripture, covenant with God is an act of God's initiation. It's a free and undeserved gift of God, celebrated in the Psalms with thanksgiving and rejoicing: We are God's people and the sheep of God's pasture. Psalm 100:3 There is no one good enough, strong enough, fast enough, or smart enough to first choose God. It is God who first chooses and sends us. John 15:15-16 

John's Gospel, the most unique of the Four Gospels, is the fruit of two full generations of church life. Its focus is not on the limited judgments of Christians or church leaders.* Only in John does Jesus make clear that judgment belongs to the Holy Spirit. It does not belong to any Christian or church, or,  amazingly, even to God or Jesus. **It is the Spirit giving the wisdom, discernment, and redirection to the disciples and consequently, God's people. We choose, with the Spirit’s help, to move toward what is promising or what is fruitless, what makes for consolation or desolation. 

This speaks to a forgotten theme in New Testament study and in the discipleship of Christians. It is about my communion with God when I am faithful or unfaithful. The Spirit is the One who walks beside me, step by step. The Spirit is comforter and counselor. As I grow in love, I can even lose all fear of punishment. (See I John 4: 16-19)  I choose my spiritual reality and state of mind, my actions or neglect of action. While God's love and grace are always present, I do not always choose to live in God's love and grace.***

God does not have a hidden agenda, does not devise trap doors so that we will lose our way. The witness of John is clear: while we don't choose the right, the Spirit is present to redirect and to encourage, not to punish. 

* See Matthew 18:16-18

**See John 8:15, 22; John 16:8-11

***Attributed to Julian of Norwich, 14th Century mystic and spiritual guide. She is credited as the first woman to write a book in the English language, Revelations of Divine Love. The second edition called the Longer text came decades later.


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