Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's Unconditional Acceptance Does Not Mean Unconditional Approval

Unconditional love means unconditional acceptance, but it does not mean unconditional approval. God loves us regardless, but God doesn’t approve of all we do. God doesn’t approve when are complicit in injustice. God doesn’t approve when we act in selfish ways that hurt others. God doesn’t approve of our expressions of pride and egotism. Such attitudes and actions contradict God’s love. 

But God continues to love us, even though God may be saddened or angry by what we do. God never writes us off. God is patient and waits like a loving parent for the return of a lost child. 

God’s judgment, however, is not incompatible with God’s love. We have no idea what this consists of really. It may be, mostly, God allowing us to reap the consequences of our actions. Or, maybe it will be more direct, more engaging. We have all heard the expression “tough love.” The expression implies that love can be painful, difficult, and hard to bear at times. Loving parents may have to enforce some rather strict measures of discipline. The wife of an alcoholic husband may have to get a restraining order or even press charges, in order to protect their children or get her husband the help he needs. 

God’s judgment is always a form of love. It is nothing like the sentence or penalty of condemnation that may come from a non-feeling jury or judge. God is always partial toward our ultimate well-being. Judgment is never retributive or strictly punitive. It is always corrective, redemptive, and restorative. The ultimate intent of God’s judgment is to heal, redeem, reconcile, and transform. That may or may not be possible for all people, but it is God’s intent. 

If judgment were anything else it would nullify the gospel of grace. One afternoon when Jordan, my son, was a toddler, he was with me as I picked up a few household items at K-Mart. I told him he could pick out something for himself within our tight budget. (In those days it was very tight.) Well, he wanted some kind of action figure that was more expensive than what we could afford. As I tried to explain this, that he would need to scale back, he threw a little fit in the store. 

I looked him squarely in the eyes and informed him that if he didn’t settle down, he wouldn’t be getting anything. He didn’t settle down. So, I took it all off the table. Then he wanted to compromise. He picked something else out when he knew I was serious. I told him it was too late. As we made our way through the store, he was so sad and mad he couldn’t see straight. 

Well, I began to have a change of heart. I thought this could be a teachable moment. So I went back, with Jordan unaware, and slipped into the cart the second item that he had picked out. When we returned to the car and after I put him in his car seat, I pulled out the toy and surprised him with it. I said, “Son, this is called grace. You don’t deserve it, but in my love for you, I decided to get it for you anyway.” I don’t think he was old enough to understand the Christian concept of grace, but he sure was delighted to get the toy. And his delight was my delight. The hug he gave me to seal the whole experience made my heart melt. It demonstrates, I think, the healing, transformative power of grace. 

If God’s judgment is an expression of God’s grace, then there is nothing to fear. Whatever God’s judgment may involve, no matter how painful it may be at the time, it is for our ultimate good.

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