Tuesday, September 30, 2014

God Does Not Abandon Those He Punishes

In a previous post, I relayed that God’s punishment of his elect is a painful but necessary ordeal.  While undergoing such seasons, there are times, sometimes lengthy, when the Lord seems to have abandoned his children.  Read the psalms and notice that more than once a psalmist would cry out in bewilderment, “Where are you?  Why is this happening?”  Juxtaposed to those times is the Babylonian captivity.  For decades the Lord had been warning his people through the prophets to return or be severely punished, and when the final blow was to befall Judah, he gave a fixed time of 70 years they would be forced out of their homeland because of their disobedience (Jer 25:8-14).

The latter occurrence drew Origen’s attention as he considered this first verse of Ezekiel:
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.  (Ezek 1:1)
What is notable about the verse?  To the uninitiated, there are date and location references, and some type of introduction to phenomenological activity, but Origen explains:
Not all those who were led away in captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar went to Babylon because of sins—most of the people because of sins, but the righteous among them did not: such as Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, this Ezekiel, Zechariah, Haggai, and those like them.  (Exegetical Works on Ezekiel, “Fragments,” 1)
We often do not pay attention to the historical setting, which places several God-fearing people in Babylon during the captivity—some who were forcibly taken there, and others born there who later returned.  During the times of adversity and discipline, the Lord has men ministering his word, offering comfort, hope, and encouragement.  The Jews in Babylon could look to those individuals and have a constant reminder that he was still dealing with his people for their good.
God who is good, and who punishes sinners, and hands over into captivity those who are not able to be in the holy land because of their sins—for opposites cannot exist—sends prophets along with them, so that the sinners may not be completely without help, when they have become captives.  For on the assumption that the sinners had been led away to Babylon on the basis of their sin, and there had been no righteous ones among them, there was no healing for the sinners.  Therefore, this was provided by [God’s] ineffable goodness.  For he does not hand over sinners to complete abandonment, but rather watches over them through his holy ones, about whom he said, “You are the light of this world, and the salt of the earth”*—he said this not only about the apostles, but also about those who are like them.  (“Fragments,” 1)
Yes, discipline is painful for a season, but the alternative, no discipline, means that you are not a legitimate child of his (Heb 12:8) being truly abandoned (Rom 1: 24-28) and left to your own destruction both in this life and the next.

God disciplines that we might share in his holiness (Heb 12:10).  We can be encouraged in this to lift drooping hands and strengthen weak knees, and make straight paths for our feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Heb 12:12-13).

*  Matthew 5:13-14

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