In his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Johnathan Edwards preached of hell’s reality, of God’s grace, and of our deep indebtedness to God for our salvation. It was typical preaching from the Great Awakening and used the now-famous image of God holding humankind over the fires of hell as a man might hold a spider by its web dangling over a candle flame. This is not the feel-good, kindly old God we are used to hearing about these days.
Isaiah seems to have a different view of God and his relation to our sin. Rather than ominously dangling us over a flame, it seems that God’s punishment for our sin is to let it have its way with us. God’s greatest gift, our free will to do whatever we please, becomes our greatest curse when sin is involved.
Our sinfulness separates us from God, Isaiah says in 59:2. It is not God who ruins the relationship with His holiness but we with our sinfulness walk away, or build the wall of separation, or become enemies of God. Paul picks up this idea throughout his writings but especially in Romans 2, where the punishment for our sin is to let it run its course.
And sin on the loose is a harsh punishment, for sin always seeks to increase itself. Lies always lead to more lies and ultimately to broken relationships. I have given up on political dialogue in this season because anyone who is paying attention in the least knows that our government does not speak truth but convenience. Whatever helps their cause is what they say, even when facts or experience or common sense or their own previous statements contradict it. And when the truth dies, so does trust, relationship, and hope. Similarly, violence always leads to more violence, hence the Old Testament rule “an eye for an eye”, which really meant “no more than an eye for an eye”. Name the sin and follow it to its logical conclusion and you will find death and broken relationship.
But thanks be to God that He breaks the cycle of sin. God teaches us another way, a way that regards truth as a required good unto itself, that repays peace for violence, and that brings life, eternal life, back to our sinful souls.
So we have a choice to make. We can either follow God’s ways and find life and eternal friendship with God, or we can follow our own way and find death and separation from Him. But the choice is ours, and to “not choose” is to choose the later.