Critical Thinking

Musing on Sin, Death and Mercy

This episode is part of my podcast series DEAR ATHEIST… If you prefer, LISTEN NOW.


And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Be hold we die, we perish, we all perish.  Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the Lord shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?” (Num 17:12-13).

I’ve been reading the Book of Numbers in the Bible, and this statement by the Israelites actually sums up my thoughts, as I have read the Book.  So much death!  In Chapter 15, I was deeply saddened and pained to read that a man was stoned to death by the congregation, according to the word of the Lord, for gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day (verses 32-36)!  I told God I didn’t understand it, not in light of Jesus.  How can they be One and the same?  I prayed that He would help me understand.

The truth is not easy to hear.  The truth is that we all deserve death for our sins (Rom 6:23).  Immediate consummation by fire, not simply separation from God!  That is how vile sin is.  Even a little one.  Every day we live is by the grace of God.  Every day is a precious gift of God, which we are unworthy of.

But we do not understand this.  We have to realise that Adam and Eve didn’t get what they deserved when they were cast out of the Garden for their rebellion, instead of being consumed with fire…  They got mercy!

We have grown to be entitled, when we are all alive by His GRACE.  And we judge God, when He decides to act according to His wisdom and justice in taking life.  And, though we have thought evil of Him, by His grace we speak, and we live still.

The problem is we do not truly appreciate what sin is.  And that is because we have no understanding of HOLINESS!  If we did, we too would abhor sin, like God.  Even for a man to come near to God, it is required that he is holy or, by the Old Covenant, that he has made offering for his sins according to God’s commandments, whether known or unknown.  For because of sin, no man can see God and live!  In this sense, He is fearsome.

Yet, God doesn’t visit us all with immediate consummation when we sin.  If He did, the Earth would indeed be a wasteland!  He remains long-suffering with us, and has chosen some to bestow mercy on, while He has enacted His immediate judgement on others.  An example is the case of Uzzah, who, with good intentions, laid his hand on the Ark of the Covenant to prevent it from falling.  His life was immediately snuffed out (2 Sam 6:7).

This caused a great offence for David, who became afraid of God and angry with Him, not able to comprehend His judgments.  God did not snuff out David’s breath from him, though he had judged God in his heart, and refused to keep the Ark with him.  David committed many sins that were worthy of death, yet God spared His life constantly, and even blessed Him.  Why?

For me, the answer is in this statement: “[I] will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy…” (Exo 33:19).  Is this favouritism?  Is this injustice?  Is this fair of God?

Jesus gave a particular instance, when challenged by the Pharisees about His disciples doing what was unlawful to do on the Sabbath, about David.  He said: “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;  How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?” (Matt 12:3-4) and “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matt 12:7-8).  Jesus called David and his men ‘guiltless’, even though He said what they did was ‘unlawful‘!  How?  I believe it is because David was a vessel, chosen by God, to show forth His mercy to the world.

We can appreciate God’s grace this way…  If everyone is in prison, and all have been condemned to death for their own faults, but the King decides to acquit some, is the King unfair to the condemned or simply kind to the redeemed?  Surely, He has shown kindness.  Those who were condemned were rightly condemned, and those who were saved, were given grace…they have nothing to boast of, only to show gratitude through repentance and obedience (John 3:16-18, Eph 2:8-10)!

I think when we realise that we all deserve death, those who have been shown mercy will APPRECIATE that they have been shown mercy!  They cannot accuse God of being unfair to others, because their very breath is by His grace alone!  If you insist that none should be shown mercy, so that God may be truly just in your eyes, then it is you who is wicked.

Jesus said something similar, when He talked about the wages He would give to the labourers in His Vineyard.  In His parable, those who had been working since morning were angry at those who started an hour before closing, and angry at the Master for rewarding them equally!  But Jesus said: “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.  Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matt 20:13-15).

In his writings to the Romans, Paul also expands on this point of God’s sovereign choice.  He asks: “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?  What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory…” (Rom 9:21-23).  Sin is a big deal, but God alone justifies, and God alone condemns the wicked.  Through Jesus Christ, He has bestowed mercy on ALL by a NEW and BETTER covenant (Heb 7:22-24), that whosoever should call upon Him shall be saved (Rom 10:13).

The Lord has the right to disperse His grace as He chooses.  It is His sovereign right.  And if any soul is spared by mercy, they ought to give thanks!  For your life is not your own, it is a gift…and you must still give account for how you used it (2 Cor 5:10, Rom 14:11-12).  Whether or not you honoured God, obeyed Him and loved others.  And when He judges each and everyone of us on the Last Day…

We shall all know that:He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deu 32:4).

And the righteous shall declare: “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.  Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” (Rev 15:3-4).

Still we shall sing:The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psa 19:7-11).

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