6/09/2011

Divine Judgment (Gen 6:5-13)

Gen6flood
Theme: God's salvation (the ark) is always through judgment (the flood). There is never any salvation without judgment.


To countless people, the very idea of God's divine judgment is upsetting, outdated, and irrelevant to them personally and practically. 3 things in this account of God's divine judgment in the time of Noah may help us understand why it should not be so.

  1. The Violence of Man (pleads for the necessity of divine judgment)
  2. The Pain of God (not delight, when he has to exercise divine judgment)
  3. The Solution to Both (is salvation through judgment)

I. The Violence of Man (Gen 6:11-13)

Gen 6:13 says, "So God said to Noah, 'I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.'" People find divine judgment very disturbing, upsetting, primitive and problematic. But if one does not believe in God's divine judgment, it creates an even bigger problem: the inability to deal with the problem of human violence. Gen 6:11-13 explains that what elicits and brings God's divine judgment is human violence. By denying God's divine judgment, denying that there will be a judgment day, denying that God will judge the world, there arises 3 insurmountable problems regarding human violence:

  1. There is no intellectual defense against the naturalness of violence.
  2. There is no emotional defense against the poisonous of violence.
  3. There is no cultural defense against the endlessness of violence.
Human violence wins if one denies God's divine judgment.

1) No intellectual defense. It's OK for big viruses to eat small viruses, big animals to eat small animals. But we are filled with moral outrage if big nations eat small nations, if big groups eat small groups, if rich people "eat" poor people, if powerful people "eat" defenseless people. Why? Unless there is something outside of nature, something that judges nature, how can anyone say that violence (what happens in nature) is wrong. How can we say something is crooked, unless  there is a straight edge somewhere. Therefore, one has to believe the supernatural to complain about violence. Nietzsche said, "If there is no God, there are no moral absolutes. If there are no moral absolutes, then morality is just a power play." If there's no God, there's nothing wrong with human violence; there's nothing wrong with the strong killing the weak.

2) No emotional defense. For every 1 act of physical violence there are thousands of acts of emotional violence. Relationships are broken; characters are assassinated; hopes and dreams are killed. The world is filled with violence. When someone wrongs you/does violence to you, what will you do? Some say, "You should just forgive." If one can just forgive with a simple act of the will, they have not really been violated; their treasures have not been touched. There is only 1 emotional defense to the poison of violence: You have to believe that there is a Judge, and that you are not the judge. I must know that I don't have the power to judge, nor the knowledge to judge, nor the right to judge, in order to give people what they truly deserve. It's because I'm also flawed. But there is One who does. Only and unless one truly knows that there is One who will rightly judge are they able to truly forgive, and overcome the poisonous of violence.

3) No cultural defense. "Violence thrives today with the secret belief that God refuses to take up the sword." (Miroslav Volf) The practice of non-violence requires a belief in a God of divine vengeance. If one thinks that believing in a God of vengeance leads to war and strive, then they have lived a comfortable life, and have not encountered real violence in their own life. If one has encountered violence, has had his house burned down, his loved ones killed and raped, they will pick up the sword, and be sucked up in an endless cycle of violence, unless they believe in a God of divine vengeance; that vengeance is God's (Jer 51:6), and that God will deal with it. Look at the endless cycles and centuries of violence and conflict in various parts of the world. Only believing deeply in a God of judgment will break the cycle of violence.
This text says that God judges because of human violence (Gen 6:13). So, if we get rid of the idea of judgment and of a divine Judge, then there is absolutely no way to deal with human violence intellectually, emotionally or culturally. Therefore, we see the necessity of judgment. One who says that God's judgment is outdated is simply not thinking it through. Is violence outdated?

Because of the problem of human violence, divine judgment is necessary.


II. The Pain of God

Is it emotionally unbearable to think about God's judgment? Is it something that hurts you, that it is hard to bear emotionally? Should we Christians just bear down and accept it as the truth, painful as it might be? No. There's nothing wrong for our own hearts recoiling at the thought of God's divine wrath and judgment, to be filled with distress with the idea of God's judgment. Why?

There is someone else who was filled with considerably greater distress than we will ever be at the thought of God's wrath and judgment. Our distaste, recoil, disgust, distress at God's judgment is nothing compared to his. Did you ever consider this?

Read Gen 6:5. It's a terrible verse. A more emphatic statement about the wickedness of the human heart is hardly conceivable. This is how our Judge evaluates us. All superlatives: "only, every, all." Is that an exaggeration? What would you expect from the Judge who evaluates us in the next verse, Gen 6:6? Just destroy us as we deserve? Say, "You deserve every ounce of my judgment with righteous indignation"?
Gen 6:5 shows the necessity of judgment. But Gen 6:6 shows us the problem of judgment. What does God do when he sees what needs to be done? What is God's response? Read Gen 6:6: "his heart was filled with pain."

If you are upset with divine judgment, look at God's response. It caused God tremendous distress. How could this be?

The word "pain" means "unfulfilled longing." This is God's expression of deep unfulfilled longing. Isa 54:6 says, "'The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,' says your God." God feels like a young wife who was deserted by the husband she loves. To be deserted by one's spouse is the most traumatic, shattering, distressful, and agonizing of experiences. Here the author has the audacity to say that this is the kind of pain God felt: unfulfilled longing, bitter anguish, deepest frustration. What does this mean?

It means that God voluntarily bound his heart and his life up with us. God doesn't need us. God didn't create us out of need. He is God. But once God created us, God knit his heart to us. God voluntarily bound his heart to us. His own joy is so deeply tied with us such that when he sees something going wrong with our life, he experiences the deepest and most shattering pain possible.

Isa 49:15 says, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" Think of the audacity of God to evoke such an image. This image is of a woman whose heart and life is completely bound up with her child. God is saying that this is nothing compared to what he feels toward us. What does this mean?

It shows us the meaning of history: "The tears of God are the meaning of history." (Nicholas Wolterstorff, American philosopher, Lament for a son, after his 20 y/o son died) God tied his heart with us. But in the Garden, we said, "We don't want you. We don't trust you." And we turned away from God (Gen 3:7). It should have all ended there. Why are we still here? Why are you and I still alive? Why do we even have any history to speak about? It's because God decided to weep, instead of simply destroying us without a second thought, which he could have rightfully done. It's because God decided to stay vulnerable. God decided to suffer. Gen 6:6 shows God suffering for the sins of the world. Why is there suffering? It costs God tremendous suffering to relate to us and love us while we reject him, betray him, ruin our lives, and make a mess of the world. Parents who have gone through difficult times with their children can understand some of this. One who doesn't see God suffering for our sins, doesn't know what history is all about. Every act of evil pulls tears from God.


III. The Solution of Both


We have seen the violence of man and the pain of God. What is the solution for both? How can God be a judge and yet a lover? How can God be absolutely against injustice and yet still be totally engaged? How can God be a God of truth and love? If God were just a God of truth he would just smite and destroy people. If God were just a God of love he would just accept everyone while they destroy each other. But if he were a God of truth and love, he is a God of holiness and absolute compassion. He suffers. When God saw the sin in the Garden, when he saw the sin of man, God knew that he would suffer more than anybody else. God could have stopped it by destroying us, but he didn't.

What is the solution? The flood points to it. What is the flood? Is the flood simply a judgment? No. It is salvation through judgment. God puts Noah and his family in an ark. Then comes the flood. This does 2 things. 1st, it gives the world a fresh start. It is God's judgment on human violence. It stops the human violence (Gen 6:11-13). God is destroying the self-destroyed. He is destroying the world. But he is giving the world another chance. 

God tells Noah to build an ark. By faith he obeyed (Gen 6:22; Heb 11:7), while no one else did. When the flood comes, the very flood that destroys the world, lifts Noah and the ark up (Gen 7:17-18). The same water that crushed the people who didn't believe, lifted up those who believed. The judgment saved them. 
The flood became a pattern of grace through judgment, for the judgment both cleansed and saved. Did it work? Not really. After coming out of the ark, Noah gets drunk and brought a curse upon his own family. Later his descendants built a tower of Babel in united rebellion against God.  Why didn't it work? What went into the ark with Noah? His family. The animals. And sin went into the ark with Noah.

The flood shows the pattern of how he is going to solve the problem of human violence and of his own pain. It will be salvation/grace through judgment. Yet, it is still inadequate. From a liberal point of view, this is the ultimate effort in social engineering and it didn't work. From a conservative point of view, this is the ultimate effort to have traditional conservative values by getting rid of all the bad people and it didn't work. It retarded the growth of violence but it didn't eradicate it at all.

What is the flood pointing to? It is pointing to something else. When Jonah was in the boat and a storm came up, Jonah said, there is only one way to be saved. It is if I drown. In the belly of a whale, Jonah said, "You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight..." (Jonah 2:3,4).

Matthew 12:41 says that one "greater than Jonah is here" (Matt 12:41). There is a greater storm is coming. And Jesus will face it's full impact and be crushed by it. In this ultimate storm, Jesus would be hurled into the deepest depths and be completely banished from his Father's sight. When he cried out in agonizing dereliction and desperation, there was silence. It will be an ocean of wrath and justice. Everything that the human race deserves would come down upon Jesus. But Jesus' sinking into this storm will be our salvation, if we believe in him.

Gen 6:6 shows God's heart breaking. But on the cross, God's heart was broken completely. When Jesus was pierced in the side, water and blood gushed out. They/We pierced his heart and his heart literally broke. In Gen 6:6 God began to suffer for sin. But on the cross, in that ultimate storm, God completely suffered for sin. On the cross, truth and love was completely utterly satisfied, judgment and forgiveness was fully revealed. On the cross Jesus had to die. Jesus was fully committed to truth. He was willing to die. He was also fully committed to love.

On the cross, through his judgment we are saved (Rom 8:1). Through his sinking to the very depths, receiving the full wrath and judgment of God, we will be lifted to the heights, if we get into him. All the waves that should have swept us to the depths, swept Jesus to the very depths. If we see Jesus suffering on the cross for us, the mystery of salvation will dawn upon our hearts.

A Christian believes not only divine judgment, but also God suffering the judgment for us. Thus we believe that God can only save us through judgment on his Son. This is the mystery of the gospel. What does this do for us? 4 things:
  1. This world matters. The flood narrative tells us that this world is important. This is God's commitment to creation, to the animals, to this physical world. God loves this world. Violence, injustice, and oppression fills God's heart with pain. The trajectory of all other religions and salvations is to escape and to get us out of this world and into heaven. But the trajectory of Christianity, of Christian salvation is exactly the opposite. Heaven is coming down. God is coming in, getting involved. That's what the incarnation is all about (John 1:14). God is involved. God is enmeshed in his creation. Nicholas Wolterstorff says that as God suffers to take our suffering from violence, oppression and injustice, we also may suffer to take away God's suffering.
  2. Don't shrink from being involved in people's life with truth and love. If we live a life of truth, not love, if we like to tell people what's wrong with them, if we are a condemning person, we won't experience pain in relationships. We just tell people off, and only those like us will be our friends. If we are a lover without truth, if we do not address the sin in the lives of people, people may like us, but we also won't have pain in our hearts. But to the degree that we are like God, if we like Jesus, if we are are committed to both truth and love, we will suffer pain. Christians must be deeply involved in the sorrows of people like Jesus. Don't shrink from the pain that comes from it. Don't be a truther without love, or a lover without truth to avoid the pain.
  3. When floods and troubles come into our life, even if we are Christians, we still need to get into the ark/get into the gospel. Live with the judgment being in the past. Otherwise, when troubles come into our life, we will be in despair, be bitter and angry toward God or people. When floods and troubles come, we will be changed: we will either become bitter or better. Like a flood, it will either sink us or crush us, or it will lift us up. The outcome is dependent on to what degree we are in the gospel. "When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee, thy deepest distress."
  4. Live as though the flood is over, as though the judgment is over. Unless we believe that, if people criticize us, we want to retaliate. We will lash out in violence. We won't if we know that we're OK in him. In him, there's no condemnation (Rom 8:1). Or if we fail, we will lash inward in violence and beat ourselves up. We will crush ourselves. We will not be able to handle criticism without violence. We will not be able to handle failure without internal violence. Unless we live as though we are in him, and the judgment is past, and there is no condemnation.
The Violence of Man. The Pain of God. The Solution to Both.

This is based on a sermon by Tim Keller: "The Lord of the Storm."