I’ve been really frustrated lately. Unrelated situations have wounded several people I care about. Our own choices often cause the suffering we experience. But anger stirs within me when someone I care about suffers the needless anguish of others’ foolish choices. God has been teaching me how to deal with my frustration, but He has also revealed other, darker issues in my heart that needed His infusion of truth and fresh perspective.
Several days ago, as I finished journaling, I wrote, “I have to step away from the trouble in all these others’ lives.” God then interrupted: “Tammy, can you love these people without trying to fix things for them or judging them in your heart?”
OUCH!!!! Fix things? Okay. It’s hard not to try to fix things, at least in small ways, but okay. But judging them? But God, weren’t their ACTIONS clearly worthy of judgment? Paul says we are to judge people’s actions and treat them accordingly… How do I love them when I thoroughly disapprove and all I want to do is distance myself from them? How do YOU, God, see, know, and still demonstrate love? How do YOU, God, extend kindness rather than contempt?”
“Because My judgment, Tammy, has already been meted out.” Through several pages of processing these thoughts in my journal, God gave me a vivid picture that I hope I never forget. But then again, any of us can forget what God has previously shown us if we gradually close our eyes and ears to the smaller things He urges us to do, to surrender, to stop doing (Luke 8). Through this vivid picture of His justice, God showed me that they have been judged guilty. They didn’t get off the hook. We didn’t get off the hook. I didn’t get off the hook. We weren’t just pardoned. “Guilty, but that’s okay, it’s all been taken care of. I’ll let you go.” No. Our death penalty was executed.
I saw then, each of us stands handcuffed and shackled together, in our prison garb, standing before the Judge. On either side of me are two of the people I’ve recently wanted to strangle. And there’s another one down the row on one side of me, and another one down the row on the other side of me. Foolish… selfish… willful… damaging God’s beloved– every single one of us are guilty of this. We are all shackled together before the judge. Our heads hang low because we know we are all guilty. We are all condemned to die. We are all led out to the gallows, shuffling slowly in our leg irons… our final footsteps… our final breaths. We stand on the platform, ready to be hanged, hoods over our heads, nooses around our necks– all still shackled together. The wooden floorboards strain and the prayer for our souls is over. We await the deadening drop.
But then Jesus… on a separate post, all by Himself, alone and innocent– He is ready to die for us. The judge halts our execution but transfers it to the willing recipient. The guards remove our hoods and leave us to helplessly watch as God’s own Son, the pure Jesus, is executed in our stead… in my stead… in these people’s stead. We are all still shackled together, all still completely guilty, all riveted in horror as our death penalty is meted out. We watch His blood and His life drain away, when it should have been our life, our blood, my life, my blood. Once He is dead, and not before, our chains are finally unlocked; they fall to the ground with a heavy thud. We step free, released to live even though we had been condemned to die. The penalty has been paid. And we can never again be charged with the crime of being a sinner. Once for all time. Every sin, even future ones, covered in that one death.
I cannot judge them as a person because I stand as condemned as they are. Yes, I must evaluate their actions and make appropriate decisions, including how to relate with each of them; where my boundary lines must fall. I must remember their weaknesses so that I can be mindful while dealing with them. I must not forget what I know… but I must not condemn. For we are all condemned together.
Watching their sins play out (and my own) is like watching video footage that the Judge had already seen at the trial. We hadn’t seen all the evidence of our sinfulness yet, but He had. I am watching it unfold, but He has already dealt with it in penalty. Now, as our lives unfold, He is dealing with those sins, and with our character, in practice.
Then I hear Him say to me, “When you choose to set that knowledge aside and love them… act respectfully… treat them with dignity… show kindness… be gracious…. BLESS them – bring MY goodness to them – when you do this, Tammy, you remind them of their freedom and of My love.
“You are an ambassador of My love, My goodness, and My blessing. They are no longer cursed, but instead they are blessed. You remind them. You remind yourself. As you do, you bring My kingdom to them in greater reality. You bring My manifest presence to them as Jesus did.”
The condemned cannot condemn. How foolish and prideful could I be? Those who have been set free, however, can help bring that freedom to others who have forgotten… who have been led by self rather than by God’s Spirit … who aren’t experiencing God’s flow of life to all the areas of their lives where they are still broken. They have created a mess because somewhere inside they are still a shambles, and they are covering it with pride and willfulness. Me, too. I have a judgmental heart that would condemn someone I expected more of, and now deem untrustworthy. My prideful and foolish heart has seen the light fall upon it in glaring nakedness and brilliance. May God’s truth excise the malignancy therein, wash away the debris with His Word, and then flood His divine life into those previously hateful, sinful places. An ambassador of God’s love and goodness? How wrong does that seem? How divinely upside down is that? The previously cursed now sent to bring a blessing. God help us all.