After a funeral recently, I asked a lady if she was a member of a church. She replied that, while she was a nominal church member, she really felt more at home with the “Old Testament God”. As a result of this aversion to the New Testament, she wasn’t actually attending church.
These remarks were, of course, the exact opposite of what I normally hear. Normally it’s the Old Testament God that people want to stay away from, and the New Testament God of love to whom people feel attracted. I’m not saying that I believe there is a difference between the two. Both Testaments are the work of the one and only God. But this lady had piqued my interest. I probed.
She replied that she preferred the God who would exact “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Certain terribly unjust things had been done to her, and she frankly found it difficult to forgive those who had done them. She knew very well that New Testament faith comes with the requirement that we forgive others: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This was not an appealing prospect.
I was impressed both by the clarity with which she had understood this aspect of the gospel, and by the integrity which made her refuse to pretend to be a Christian. Nevertheless, I pray that she might some day soon be able to accept God’s forgiveness in Christ, and in receiving God’s mercy, to forgive others.
This serves as a reminder that, while the stern justice of God is a challenge to us, his scandalous mercy can also be a challenge when we really understand it. Let’s pray that we all come to a deeper understanding of that mercy through our service today.