“If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to go back and apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!” exclaimed Ruth Graham, as she placed the manuscript on the desk of her husband, evangelist Billy Graham. It was the draft of a book he was writing, and her comment was sparked by a chapter describing the moral decline and increasing godlessness in American society.
That was over 50 years ago, and I doubt if that depiction of America in the 1960s would so much as raise an eyebrow today. Which only serves to make Ruth Graham’s reference to God’s fiery judgement on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah even more pertinent now than it was then.
The picture of a world ripe for judgement and a God poised to deliver it, is not new. Yet it is something many prefer not to think about, while others dismiss it as superstition and scaremongering. Ignore it if you like. Dismiss it if you dare. But never, in the entire history of the human race, has it been more relevant …or more imminent.
Yet even if you believe that much of today’s ‘enlightened’ society is as offensive to God as were Sodom and Gomorrah in their day, can you actually imagine the God of love, grace and forgiveness doing to us what He did to them? Isn’t He the Creator – the Giver of Life? How can He also be its destroyer?
…sin is any conscious choice that offends God
We know that after creating this amazing world, God adorned it with our first ancestors, made by Him in His own image. But we also know what happened so soon after that, and how disastrously marred it all became. God’s perfect Creation was perfect no longer, and Adam and Eve forfeited the eternal life He had breathed into them. That’s when sin entered the world.
But what is sin? Is it about right and wrong – like breaking the Ten Commandments or violating religious rules or moral codes of conduct? No. Sin is not about you and your religious or moral behaviour. It is about you and your God. You were made by Him for Him, to live in relationship with Him. So, sin is any conscious choice that offends God.
Which means that if God has not been offended, no sin has been committed – no matter what moral code or religious belief has been violated. Conversely, if God has been offended, then sin has been committed – regardless of how apparently good, virtuous, or well-intentioned the motive, or even the outcome.
“Thank you very much,” you may be tempted to say, “but how can I actually know whether or not God has been offended? Isn’t it easier to just have something like a rule to go by?” Yes, it is …if you are talking about religious observance and man-made rules of conduct. But not when it’s about you and God, because relationship with Him is based on love, not rules.
…how can you be sure you are pleasing God all the time?
Pleasing God is the opposite of offending Him – which makes it the opposite of sinning against Him. And nothing pleases God more than when you open your heart to His Son, Jesus. For when you open your heart, He opens your eyes so that you can see Him as He really is. Only when that happens can you ‘behold His beauty’ and experience the unspeakable joy that flows from willingly surrendering your life to Him. Once that has taken place between you and God, it is a simple matter to just keep on pleasing Him …provided that’s all you want.
But the question still lingers: how can you be sure you are pleasing God all the time? That, too, is simple. Once you have yielded yourself to Him, His Spirit becomes active in your life and He will not only let you know if and when you are sinning – but also if you are about to. But it will still always be your choice whether you respond to the Spirit’s conviction …or go ahead and sin anyway.
God is not some remote deity who sits in the Heavens seeking to dominate and manipulate hapless humans down here on Earth. He wants to always be involved with us – and He wants us to always be involved with Him. He formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. Then He took a rib from Adam’s side and with it formed Eve. Both Adam and Eve were the work of God’s hands – created by Him to fulfil His heart’s desire for the most personal, the most perfect, and the most pleasurable of relationships. Whatever was beneficial to that relationship pleased God. Whatever was detrimental to it offended Him.
Which is why there was no such thing as sin in the world until Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. Sin entered God’s world, not because Adam and Eve broke a rule, but because they consciously chose to do something that violated their relationship with God. Even though Adam blamed Eve who gave him the fruit, and Eve blamed the serpent who tempted her, they were each culpable for choosing their perceived self-interest over their relationship with God.
…the sin that first entered the world through Adam kept multiplying, as generation after generation of our ancestors serially rejected the God who loved them.
It was precisely because of His love and commitment to Adam and Eve that God could not allow their sin to go unjudged and unpunished. He had warned them of the consequences and now, like any loving parent, He was true to His word. He ejected them from the Garden and barred them from the Tree of Life. Yet, whatever their disobedience cost them, it cost God far, far more. From that very day He sought, by all means and at all costs, to bring them and their descendants back into relationship with Himself.
But over the centuries, whatever initiatives God took towards restoring that relationship were ultimately scuppered by human self-interest. The people He reached out to often loved the idea of an intimate relationship with Him and initially responded, but sooner or later they spurned Him in favour of their own gratification. That was the typical cycle.
There were always the exceptions, when individuals and small numbers of people not only made initial responses but also remained faithful to God throughout their lives. But they were few. Overall, the sin that first entered the world through Adam kept multiplying, as generation after generation of our ancestors serially rejected the God who loved them.
Yet, our Loving Father never ceased to care, to provide, to defend, to plead, to chasten and, yes, to also judge and punish the people His heart yearned for. His words through the prophet Isaiah expressed His anguish:“All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations – a people who continually provoke me to my very face…”
Yet God – who loves because He is Love – still did not turn His back on those who kept turning their backs on Him. Having already done so much to win them back, what more could He do? There was just one more thing, but it was so extreme as to be virtually unthinkable. And that was what Jesus came to do.
When He submitted Himself to the excruciating agony of death by crucifixion, Jesus also bore the full brunt of God’s judgement on the entire human race for their many offences against Him. None of us can even begin to comprehend the horror of that – and no other man has ever experienced it.
So how could the God of love ever inflict that on the only man who has ever lived on this earth without offending Him …and not just any man but His only Son? And how could that pure, sinless Son of God who never offended His Father, willingly lay down His life for people who were not only sinners but also His enemies?
Never has there been a greater injustice than that which was inflicted upon Jesus. And yet, at the same time, never has there been a greater act of love. Jesus went to His death not as a victim, but as a lover: of God and of you. He freely chose to be the sacrifice – the scapegoat – for humanity’s rejection of God, saying: “I lay down my life…No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Why? To save each one of us from the consequences of living and dying apart from God.
It should never have come to that, but we gave God no alternative! After being resisted, rejected and rebelled against by so many people over so many centuries, God’s love for them compelled Him to pay that extreme price.
The coming together of God’s love and God’s judgement in the sacrifice of Jesus is stunning to behold …and it should shame into silence any who dare to question either His love or His judgement.
…soon, very soon, Time will be no more and this world will pass away.
There is no doubt about the vastness of God’s love – which is ‘wider than the ocean and deeper than the sea’ – but neither is there any doubt about the position of those who still choose to reject Him.
“This is the verdict:” wrote the apostle John, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in their day, many today choose to live as if there is no God to whom they are accountable, and the world will just keep going as it is. But every single person is accountable to God, and this world as we know it is rapidly running out of time. Not because of climate change, overpopulation, the threat of armed conflict, or some virulent pandemic – but because the day is coming when God Himself will call:“Time!”
The apostle Peter described it vividly:“The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
Yes, there is still time. But soon, very soon, Time will be no more and this world will pass away. When that happens there will be no going back – and the only thing you will be left with is what exists between you and God.