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.