For No Other Reason Than That God is Good

John 3 presents an interesting problem this week. Do we believe him? Do we believe that Jesus came into the world to save those who were good enough, or unselfconscious enough, to have their deeds exposed to the light? This isn't just a John thing, either -- Matthew does something not too far different. The salvation of those who both recognize and accept Jesus for what he is -- and the judgment to death of those who recognize Jesus and refuse him, or refuse to recognize him.

This is what we popularly call the "come to Jesus moment" -- a moment of confession in which what you've done is exposed. The demand that you trust Jesus -- because if you don't, well, sentence has already been passed on you, and justice will be done. But is that justice? Is that God's justice? Or is it simply human grief in the face of persecution, lashing out in response to those who refuse to honor our path to God?

This puts the much-loved John 3:16 in an awfully different context. God sent his son into the world to save the world, so that whoever trusted in him would have eternal life -- and whoever did not, would still perish. Jesus is not the judgment of the world, though God still judges. This remains an article of faith: that God, being pure divine goodness, judges the deeds of his creatures in absolute equitable justice.

Precious thin gospel, that. Salvation in Christ becomes an act of law. Does that inspire your trust? In the face of such judgment, don't we, on the whole, rather prefer a bit of shade? It hurts to open up and expose a wound, even though that's the only way it will get cleaned, the only thing that will save us from worse infection. We would rather suffer, and hide it, because the pain of shame is worse than the pain of the wound. We're embarrassed by our wounds. Especially when the ways we got them can't be told without making us look just a little foolish. There's no shame in a wound honorably obtained in the course of virtuous conduct -- shot while doing heroic battle with the enemy. But most of the time, even in battle with the enemy, we get wounded in the middle of being far more human than that. Far more human, far more fallible, than we can recount with pride. Shot in the butt. Or the foot. Or worse, maimed in ways that make us want to hide where nobody can see us, how disfigured we are. A "come to Jesus moment"? Bright, piercing light on our flaws? That's the last thing we want. Leave us a little dignity, for God's sake!

Is this a God about whom we could sing today's psalm? "Praise God for good things, for everlasting kindness"? For faithful, unfailing mercy? Can we sing that psalm without a trace of Schadenfreude, without sounding like we're thanking God for our own good situation, because it could be so much worse? Without the praise of God failing precisely when we do?

What does God's justice really look like? It doesn't look like this. Jesus is not a light of judgment, a light to expose and record our flaws. The messiah did not come to embarrass us, to be the thin end of the wedge dividing the good from the bad, the confident from the ashamed. We don't praise God because we do good things, or because God judges us to be good people in our daily lives. We praise God because God is good, because God has created us along with all things, and judges us to be good precisely because we are God's own deed. Because God has made us good, in ways that no sin can erase, and that benediction over creation cannot be contradicted by anything we do. Even wounded, maimed, and killed as we are, even as people who wander from paths and fail to meet goals, God's love for us is so great that it wraps around us in mercy, in unfailing kindness, and unites us with that one who has been wounded, maimed, and killed with us.

You see, God did not send Jesus into the world to be a judge, let alone to become a means of judgment. And no matter how often we make Jesus into a means of judgment, he remains something else. Raised up as a bright, shining symbol of our wounds, the exact image of our shame and failure and death, Jesus is God's gift of healing. And raised up as a bright, shining symbol in the resurrection, Jesus is God's gift of new life.

God doesn't care about your failures. But God does care about your wounds. God loves you precisely where you hurt, because you are God's own good work in the world. And the Father has given his only Son to show this, to make it real for us. And it's not about what you've done -- not because you did anything good, or because you did anything bad. God gives good things to you in love because you are God's own creation, God's own good deed in the world. And God has prepared for us a world of good deeds from the beginning of the universe, so that we can live among them and know kindness and mercy and love.

That is worthy of praise -- that will let us sing the psalm again in joy, and tell of God's extraordinary acts.

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