A friend has come to me over the last several months seeking help with a sin that she keeps committing. She knows the destruction and pain this sin is causing her and all those around her but she continues to indulge in it over and over again. Every time she is caught she goes through a period of remorse and self-loathing only to turn around a month later and do it again. The pull of the temptation of this sinful behavior is too strong for her to resist. Mindlessly, she forgets all of the pain it brings.
Here is a startling thought about sin. Most of us grew up thinking that God’s reaction to our sin is punishment. Surely in life when we sin and experience the consequences, we are engaging in some form of self-punishment. Our parents punished us when we did bad things. We were punished at school if we broke the rules.
We know there will be hell to pay if we do a particular thing but we do it anyway, consequences be damned. And when we are living through those consequences we feel God’s anger and wrath. Punishment is God’s response to our wrong deeds.
Or is it?
Psalm 99 (Common English Bible)
The Lord rules—
the nations shake!
He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures—
the earth quakes!
2 The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
3 Let them thank your great and awesome name.
He is holy!
4 Strong king who loves justice,
you are the one who established what is fair.
You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Magnify the Lord, our God!
Bow low at his footstool!
He is holy!
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel too among those who called on his name.
They cried out to the Lord, and he himself answered them—
7 he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud.
They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them.
8 Lord our God, you answered them.
To them you were a God who forgives
but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.
Wait, what? God forgives and avenges wrong deeds?
What does it mean to avenge? To avenge is to step out from behind someone and take up their cause on their behalf. Avenging is an action of inflicting harm on something that caused harm to someone else. So when God is avenging our wrong deeds, his action is against the behavior, not aimed toward us. Thus the punishment we feel is not an indication that he doesn’t love us anymore because we have sinned. Indeed the exact opposite is true. He loves us so much he is angry at anything that separates us from that love…especially our wrong deeds.
9 Magnify the Lord our God!
Bow low at his holy mountain
because the Lord our God is holy!
Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He is the ultimate avenger who will fight against everything that gets between you and him…especially your sin.