I was singing the old hymn “Before the Throne” to my boys at bedtime tonight and one line is “for God the Just is satisfied / to look on him and pardon me.”
Some of my Christ-following friends wouldn’t give this line a second thought, not seeing a problem at all. Some of my Christ-following friends can’t even read this line without cringing inside. Let me explain.
For my friends who don’t see any problem: The “him” is obviously Jesus and the idea in the mind of the hymn-writer was probably (we never can really know, can we?) that of penal substitutionary atonement. This dogma deals with God’s wrath; it says that God was so pissed at sin that he had to unleash it on someone and that someone was Jesus and so now anytime God gets out-of-control furious with a human – phew! – he just looks at Jesus and that calms him down like a cup of chocolate milk used to calm my out-of-control 4-year-old.
For my cringing friends: I know, right? Can God really still be that childish? That emotionally immature? When Jesus wasn’t at all like that? And what about the inordinate and proliferous writings about the “steadfast love of God” that repeatedly repeatedly overcomes his wrath? In every book of the Bible. And how can that same steadfast, ever-persevering love of God and the eternal value God seems to place on humans be reconciled with one of the assumed bases of this dogma – that humans are basically pieces of dung that God himself can barely tolerate?
I know I’m only scraping the surface of this millenia-long conversation, and for the record I am not even trying to reconcile these dogmas here. But I had one thought tonight while I was singing.
For all of you, my friends: What if you’re all right? I mean what if you’re both right at the same time?
I was just thinking about a few of the people in my life who I tend to feel hopeless for. Smokers that I can’t imagine ever quitting. Obese people that I can’t imagine losing the weight they long to lose. Relationships so broken I can’t imagine ever being friends again. People so stuck in their ways I can’t imagine them ever seeing any light.
But then I look on that one person. The one chain smoker who did it, who actually finally gave it up for good. The one overweight guy that found himself hiding behind all those pounds. That one friendship that actually reconciled. That one stuck person who “came-to” and is now basking in the light. I look on them and pardon all the others. I look on them, not in disgust with all of the still-dysfunctional people, but to give me Hope for all of our still-dysfunctions. I look on them, not to avoid looking at the still-dysfunctional people who make me so furious, but to remind me of Love and Forgiveness and the steadfast Salvation of God. Still here; still winning.
Maybe that’s what hymn-writer Charitie Lees Smith had in mind when she wrote “for God the Just is satisfied / to look on him and pardon me.” You never know.