Friday, January 17, 2020

Resurrecting the Unrighteous

When Jesus comes back, what happens?

If you listen to the preaching, something like this: Jesus comes back and all the righteous persons are taken to Heaven with Him while all the unrighteous sinners are thrown into hell. Those who have died are resurrected to be with Him, but those who perished in their sin know nothing of it. All the preaching on the afterlife has been tailored to this point - you want to be among the resurrected. You want, in the end, to be one of the righteous persons to whom Jesus restores life.

Except that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says that the resurrection? It's for the righteous and for the unrighteous.

That's right. Jesus is bringing us all back.

When Paul stands before Felix and presents his case, he says as much. He says, "I hope for the same thing my accusers do, that people with God's approval and those without it will come back to life." (Acts 24:15)

Now, wait a minute. We just want Jesus to bring back unrighteous sinners long enough for them to see how wrong they were and to recognize the fiery pits of hell as they are thrown into them, right? That's what it's all about - it's about making sure that sinners know, forever, that they were sinners and they were wrong. It's about judgment and punishment and setting things right in this broken world.

Eh...not exactly.

See, as vindictive and judgmental as we are, and as adamant as we know God is about righteousness, there is not one place in all of Scripture where God says, "I can't wait to destroy all of those sinners! I'm looking forward to the day when I can throw them all into the pits of hell and be done with them! Oh, boy, you better watch out because I am super-excited to show them all how completely wrong they were and watch their eyes widen with fear as they see that fire approaching!"

God's just not, and never has been, as vindictive as we are.

In fact, when we do see Him destroying the unrighteous, what we see, every time, is how broken-hearted He is over it. He mourns over Sodom and Gomorrah; He doesn't dance on the ashes. He grieves the loss of creation in the flood; He doesn't relish it. It's not the way it was supposed to go. It's not the kind of God He wants to have to be.

And it's not the kind of God He is.

When you read Revelation, it talks about how God is going to give each one of us a new name. He's going to reveal to us who we really are, who we've always been, who He created us to be by calling us by the name that He's given us. And then, He's going to open the Book of Life and show us the names written there, and you know what? I think that book is full of our new names. I think that book is full of the persons God created us to be, not the broken human beings that we are. I think our sins are cast off into the lake of fire and we are restored into our perfect creation, who we were always meant to be. I think when God tells us our story, when He reads from that Book, what He recounts are all the moments that we were who He created us to be, when we were the best version of us. Something sacred. Something holy. Something in His image.

And that's what He's always wanted. To see us like that. For the righteous, those stories will perhaps be long ones. For the unrighteous, much shorter. For the righteous, there is little to be chipped away and thrown into the fire. For the unrighteous, painfully much more. Some will see those little imperfections they've always hated about themselves burned up forever. Others will feel the fire as almost everything they've ever been is burned away. Some of us take more refining than others.

But we all get a chance at a new life. At least, that's the hope. That's Paul's hope, and he says it's always been the hope of God's people. That those with God's approval and those without it would be given new life.

And that, he says, is what enables him to always do his best by God and by people. Because he's not busy judging them, but rather, very busy hoping for them. Hoping for their new life.

What if we could do the same? What if, instead of being a vindictive people, instead of judging the world by righteousness and unrighteousness (out of our own self-righteousness, ironically), we were a hopeful people? If you truly believed that one day, everyone would be given a new life before God and we could see the best version of them, the person that God created them to be, the image-bearer that was always in there, don't you think you'd do better by people? Don't you think you'd do your best by them? 

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