There remains a tinge of favoritism in our understanding of grace that needs to be corrected. “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” [Matthew 5:45]. My uncle one afternoon responding to a 5 year old’s inquisitiveness who asked why it rains, explained, “to provide water for the garden.” To which the lad retorted, “Why, then, does it rain on the sidewalk?” We, indeed, often use logic to explain what we clearly do not know enough about to make such assumptions. And sometimes our logic suggests God does have favorites—even though He told us multiple times this isn’t so.
If we are true dispensationalists [a belief in stages to God’s revelation and plan of salvation] we might feel that at Jesus’ death and resurrection, God transferred His affections to His Church and no longer cares about Israel, His Old Testament people. This is favoritism and it is not biblical grace! “God has not cast away His people, Israel.” Paul corrected us [Romans 3:1; 11:1]. God’s grace is no respecter of persons [Acts 10:34]. It was on this principle of God’s mercy, Paul could affirm that the invitation to come to salvation was now extended also to the Gentiles. In fact, that was God’s heart all along!
But why did God call me and not him—some other forgotten sinner? This question is not in our picture of grace. What we contend, scripturally, is that the “Heart-knower” has answers about you and me and all His creation, that He alone is privileged to. We contend that someday all will be revealed, For now, for us, there is a commission to preach and teach the Kingdom message in our world [Matthew 28:19-20].
If God has no favorites, why does He show mercy to some and wrath to others? [Exodus 33:19]. How else do we reconcile the mercy and the judgment of God. No theological question seems larger than this one, but, perhaps, we need to rotate the pieces a bit to see how they fit together naturally. Mercy and Judgment are not based on status but, again, relationship. My love for my sons is clearly more intense than my love for other peoples’ children. I do show them favoritism in the form of gifts and attention. But I am their biological father and, as a human, my resources for gifting are quite limited, I have a reasonable right to be more selective for these added reasons. God’s sons and daughters, however, [we] are all adopted, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:15—except Christ—and His grace is inexhaustible. The Bible tells us “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9].
Here is not the place to theologize about what is known as “The Simplicity” of God, but it is worth noting. Bible scholars and Church Fathers after discussing God’s mercy and justice asked “Can God do both at the same time?” If he forgives, how could He punish? God’s ability to show love and anger, mercy and wrath, suggested to some that He must have two sides to His nature [and that would be having favorites.]
Some languages have a weak translation for some Biblical words that answer this question, like vengeance or punishment. To use our metaphor of the puzzle: we need to look more closely at the piece we are holding to determine shape and pattern and then turn it to fit it properly in the context it is used in the Scripture. God’s vengeance [Leviticus 26:25] is a synonym for God’s judgment and judgment is a return to justice and fairness and righteousness in God’s world by dealing with evil. Notice that vengeance or judgment deals with breaking the covenant, which goes far in explaining why God rewrote the covenant in new terms in the Savior’s blood.
Here is not the place for a theological lesson in salvation but we have been forcing pieces in place because they look like they should fit even though in the wrong place or the wrong way. The curse Jesus took upon Himself had everything to do with the curse Israel assumed when they came in covenant with God in Deuteronomy 27. The gentile believers had nothing theological to do with this although we generalize the curse to include all of us [Galatians 3:10, 13]. The judgment or vengeance of God was a necessary consequence of this curse, which Jesus took upon Himself willingly for them. This does not mean Jesus didn’t die also for the gentiles. He clearly did [Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9] which Paul’s entire calling affirms.
There is a sense in which each scripture is a piece to this puzzle picture of our salvation, but God overturned the box they were in and left to us with the Spirit’s guidance to put them in place. And scholarship has been working on this project for thousands of years. We will continue to inquirer into God’s New Covenant in Christ, this glorious plan to save us, for the coming ages.
Even punishment is a strong word which is often understood as chastisement. The difference between the terms [which some languages do not recognize] is whether it is meant for discipline or to satisfy a moral debt. God’s punishment in this latter case must “fit the crime.” We know Jesus had to die if He took upon Himself a punishment meant for us all. This is an acceptable interpretation but, as a chastisement, His death, also, dealt conclusively and resolutely with sin [Hebrews 9:26] providing with HIs resurrection a newness of life for all who would accept it by faith. Which is it? Was Jesus chastised or punished? Why not both! “the chastisement of our peace was upon him” [Isaiah 53:5]. The NIV and some other translations read “punishment.”
Anselm, almost 1000 years ago, explained why Jesus had to be both divine and human, “Our situation is compounded by the fact that in order to compensate God we need to give back more than we owed originally and by the gravity of our offense, having dishonored God, so that the debt we have incurred is of infinite proportion. So no one but God could pay a debt of such magnitude, but no one but man is obliged to pay it. It follows that our salvation requires God become man.”
God’s simplicity is His unity of purpose and vision in all He does. Like the trinity is three in one, always ONE, so His feelings and thoughts, His heart and mind, His many attributes or the quality of His character, who He is in relation to us, will never be in conflict, never contradictory. His responses may appear, at times, in our misdirected logic, to be one thing for one person but something else for another, but He is always and only a HOLY God.
St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, proposed that God is characterized by simplicity. There is no attribute or expression of His being that is not demonstrated in every act. We can say that God’s counsel [will] is one and the same as His [desire] good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
A theology that proposes that God has anything less than His perfect will for us (Jeremiah 29:11) is an invention of our fears over our failures—nothing more. His wisdom [and grace] has always been unchanged and unchanging: “pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.” (James 3:17) “God is love” [not love is God] according to 1 John 4:8. This verse does not so much reveal the nature of God, but rather, the nature of His love. God’s love is always totally consistent with His grace because He cannot be other than Who He is toward us, His creation.
But why treat Saul different than David? The obvious answer was the condition of each man’s heart. David confessed his sin in covenant language because his covenant was with God alone, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge” [Psalm 51:4]. The Heart-knower, knew David’s heart was “after His own” [1 Samuel 13:14]. Persons who do not know the Lord, object to His authority, believing that God is power hungry or a glory-seeker, but believers know that what God wants is our love, our hearts, in covenant relation with His.
Grace is Not Status