Two words or ideas have been rolling over and over in my mind lately. First, the idea of what we “deserve” and second, the concept of what is “fair”.
It all started with my study of the life of Moses. As I have read the accounts of God’s judgment on the Israelites and others I have found myself making my own judgment calls as to whether God’s methods were too harsh (“that’s not fair”) or wondering if they really “deserved” that consequence?
Take the episode from Numbers 21:4-9–the Israelites and the bronze snake. The Israelites got impatient and began to complain about their circumstances–especially the manna God was providing for them to eat. They were sick of it!
Well, evidently God was also sick of their attitudes because He sent venomous snakes that bit them and many Israelites died. This seems a little harsh, don’t you think? I mean, venomous snakes for a bad disposition? My tendency is to say, “That’s not fair! They don’t deserve that severe punishment!”
So I began to ask the Lord about this: “Lord, why did you do that to them? Why don’t you do things like that today? People are doing lots of horrible things in this world and I haven’t heard of a single case of snake-bite outbreak! What’s the deal?”
God doesn’t always act the way I expect him to. In fact, he rarely responds the way I think he should. Isn’t it humorous that I would presume to direct his actions or behaviors as if I were the judge of all that is right and fair in this world? God doesn’t dance to my rhythm, he has called me to dance to his!
I looked up the word “fair” in the dictionary and it says “according to the rules”. The question we must ask is “whose rules?” Who is in charge around here? The Israelites realized God was in charge. They went to Moses and asked him to pray that the Lord would take the snakes away. In the past they blamed everything on Moses and Aaron and demanded they “fix” the circumstances. Now they see that God sent the snakes and he alone can remove them.
The word “deserve” means “to be worthy of, to merit”. And on this the Bible is clear:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
The Israelites didn’t “deserve” to be saved, they deserved to die from that poisonous bite because God’s judgment is real. Likewise, you and I don’t “deserve” to live eternal life in heaven with God, but we will, if we will trust God’s perfect provision in Jesus. He made a way for them and as we read this account we can see that he has made a way for us as well!
The more I’ve thought and prayed about this and other instances of God’s judgment, the more the Lord opened my eyes to see my own disobedience. I began to wonder, “Lord, why haven’t you sent snakes to my house?” There have been many, many days that I have had an attitude of ingratitude complete with a complaining mouth and some stinkin’ thinkin’! I realize that rather than questioning his methods I should instead begin to thank him and praise him that he has been so gracious and merciful in my life not to send the snakes!