There’s a story I heard years ago about a young girl who was walking through the woods on a glorious spring day. Suddenly a snake appeared in her path. She turned to run but the snake called out to her:
“Please! Don’t run away. I’m lonely and I need a friend.”
“But you’re a snake,” the girl replied. “you’ll bite me.”
“I won’t bite you,” the snake promised. “I’m a bit cold and I’m very lonely and I just want a friend. Besides, I’m one of God’s creatures, too. Won’t you be my friend?”
The tenderhearted girl looked upon the lowly creature of God and had compassion. She stooped down, scooped up the snake and tucked it under her light jacket to warm it, pleased that kindness prevailed over fear.
Of course, the snake bit her immediately and the girl dropped him in horror.
And as the pain and poison coursed through her body she cried out, “Why? Why did you bite me? I thought you wanted to be my friend!”
The snake turned, as it slithered down the path, and sneered, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
I told that story to an assembly of sixth graders last week.
I thought of it again last night as I lead a group of high school students through a discussion of Revelation 17.
Evil united to wage war against the Lamb. The scarlet beast, the mother of all prostitutes and a cadre of kings pooled their power to defeat their common enemy.
But of course their unity was short-lived. The beast and the kings threw the prostitute under the bus – left her naked, ate her flesh, burned her with fire.
Because the snake is never your friend. His promises never mean anything. No matter how sweet his speech, no matter how much honey drips from his smooth-as-silk words. No matter how pathetically he appeals to your Christian compassion. No matter how well he exploits your sinful desires.
We are nearing the end of our study of Revelation and we’re finally getting to the good stuff, to the Hallelujahs!
Last week we took a little side trip away from Revelation to look at how God’s justice and mercy have always been woven together – throughout the Old Testament and the New.
The cross being the perfect balance of the two.
The cross. The focal point of Lent.
Some “friends” mocked Jesus on Facebook yesterday.
Ordinarily I would have ignored it, but it’s Lent, and no one ought to mock Jesus during Lent. I mean, show a little respect.
So I reminded them – in a light, one sentence reply – that Jesus took a huge one for the team.
I don’t hold it against them, though. Some of Jesus’s last words as He hung there were “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
My gut tells me that those young friends don’t know what they are doing.
God told Moses that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Justice intertwined with mercy.)
Perhaps it was only sin that was forgiven on the cross.
“Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
You can sin without knowing what you are doing.
Those who don’t know what God’s standards are sin all the time without knowing it.
But, by definition, you can’t rebel without knowing it.
You have to know what God’s standards are in order to defy them.
No one is accidentally wicked. Wickedness is deliberately harming others – harm that includes enticing them to rebel against God.
All who are wicked and rebellious are sinners, but not all sinners are wicked and/or rebellious.
Jesus plead forgiveness for those who don’t know what they are doing – which doesn’t apply to the rebellious and the wicked.
Do you get what I’m saying?
I wonder whether Adam and Eve merely sinned – Eve said she was tricked, perhaps she didn’t know what she was doing – or whether they knowingly rebelled.
I’ve often wondered why God didn’t spell it out more clearly for Adam back in the garden. When He said, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” Adam had no experience with physical death (not human death anyway) and he had no experience with spiritual death. So why didn’t God get really specific? Take Adam’s face in His hands, move in close and lay out all the ramifications for him?
Perhaps He did, and Scripture just didn’t record it. Or perhaps He knew that it wouldn’t make any difference.
Whether or not He laid it out in the beginning, He’s certainly laying it out in the end. That’s what the plagues and bowl judgements of Revelation 15 and 16 are all about – God making the choice perfectly clear. The judgments and plagues are designed to show those bent on rebellion exactly what life will be like without Him. And He’s asking with each one,
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
No one is going to hell by accident.
Those outstretched arms welcome any sinner, any rebel, any doer-of-wicked-deeds who one day says, “I was such an idiot.”
May that day be soon.
P.S. It’s been a really busy couple of weeks – working round the clock on a project, preparing presentations and trying to keep up with life. Plus a car accident.
Life is still life, but the project is finished, the presentations have all been presented and I finally have time to catch up on some blogs. Missed you guys!