Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG meets the minor prophets

It was a strange moment this morning. I'm studying the minor prophets in preparation for an upcoming series in our church. As I'm taking a break, I turn on the television and see the CEO of AIG, the company that, having received 180 billion in government assistance, turned around and paid out bonuses of around 160 million to some of it's employees. The CEO is answering questions before a senate sub-committee about all this, and one of the senators requests that the CEO reveal the names of those receiving the bonuses. The CEO says he would, on condition that their privacy remain assured. The senator says he can't promise that. The CEO then reads excerpts from some letters he's received (or other employees have received). They're death threats, such as, "I will find you. I will find your children. I will strangle all of you with piano wire." "If I find out where you live, I will kill you." "Prepare to lose your house in a fire."

What made the moment so strange was that I was in the midst of studying God's judgment, and I found myself thinking, as I read of God's plan to judge Israel and other nations, "this is going to be hard to teach." People already dislike what they consider to be the 'Old Testament' God, because they view him to be harsh and judgmental, almost the antithesis of the gracious 'New Testament' God. How can I communicate that judgment and love are tied together, and that a God who stands by endlessly and let's evil grow uncontested, whether in my own human heart, or a family, or a company, or a nation, is not such a great God?

As I'm listening to these letters though, I realize that our post-modern notions and sentiments of a 'judgment free God' aren't really thought through very well. While not in manner vindicating the hateful, vindictive nature of the threatening letters, there's a reality behind them worth pondering: If pressed, all of us want justice to reign on this earth. We want the KKK to disappear. We were glad the Holocaust ended. We're sickened by Darfur. We don't stand idly by if child molestors are roaming the streets. And when a company is imploding, our sense of justice is offended when their employees make millions in bonuses.

But if we want justice, why are we bothered by the notion that God is a judge? I think it might have something to do with the reality that our own sense of judgment and justice is often selective, conveniently failing to see or address the flaws are clearly present in our own lives and the toll they might be taking on others. We're offended at the bonus takers, but not so easily offended by our own enjoyment of wealth that might have been extracted at the cost of someone's well being in the developing world. We're offended at the molestor, but not at our own secret lusts. We're offended at the murderer, but not at our own temper.

So it is, that when we ponder the reality that God, as a just judge, will deal with all corruption, we find the notion harsh. We want God to deal with some corruption; the other guy's corruption to be specific. Ours is, well, not so bad. It's just part of our nature, you see, and what with all the stress we've been under, maybe God should cut us a little slack.

The problem, though, is that selective justice tortures the very meaning of the word justice, perhaps beyond the breaking point. No, if it's justice we want, honesty demands that we want it for ourselves as well, not just for AIG execs. This brings me back to the prophets who offer good news: You want justice? God will bring justice! Everything that isn't rooted in the love, mercy, and character of God's perfect heart will ultimately be rooted out of our lives, and out of the universe. That's the faithfulness of God in action, as painful and offensive as it might sound. But in the end, it means that the new creation, the new world, will be a place of perfection, a place lacking all greed, lust, self-pity, hatred, and pride....even mine. Maybe judgment isn't such a bad thing after all.


At 18/3/09 17:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This story is a great one illustrating "take the log from your own eye before taking the speck from your brother's". Here we have our mighty elected rulers shouting foul about the AIG execs bonuses amounting to LESS THAN a whopping .1% of the bailout money received by AIG. What in fact has happened with the other 99.9+% of OUR MONEY that they gave away??? Who should be watching who?

I believe if we really start to look at our current circumstances from the view point of God's judgment, perhaps we are all right where He wants us.

At 20/3/09 22:32, Blogger amy said...

hi Richard!!! this is amy binder - the girl who asked you a few weeks ago about the old/new testament god.... god of judgment and god of mercy...

anyways - feel like i've learned a bit more and am beginning to have a better understanding.

the one thing i wanna share is the idea that there are always 2 sides of judgment and justice. i think of people who have been oppressed throughout the centuries and even today. people who cry out to the lord to bring his justice and make things right. there are also the people who are doing the oppressing - to them god's judgment and justice strike fear in them. to the first group - god's justice is their liberation and freedom. to the second - his justice is their end and they dread it!

so it kinda ties in with what you just shared - we are to examine each of our lives in light of this. we are quick to point our finger at those we want judgment to come upon but then we get all bother by the fact that the lord is right to judge entirely. it is only in christ and our life in him that we are made right with god and therefore not under his judgment and condemnation.

i think it's a beautiful call to examine our lives and see if our lives are inline with bringing god's kingdom to earth. god's judgment will bring the new earth and set all things right : ) he judges rightly and we can have peace in that.

blessings to you- thanks for sharing more thoughts on the topic!

At 20/3/09 22:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just ran across this verse which ties into what we were talking about...

proverbs 21:15
"justice executed is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers"

-amy binder


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