Sometimes, I treat God like a gun.
When I want to approach him, when I feel the need to be close to him, I imagine there is a waiting period, much like buying a handgun.
I can’t go right in. I need to string together a good week first. I need a month of clean living. I need to not look at porn or lie or get angry or any other long list of sins for at least a few weeks before I go back to where he is.
In my head, I imagine that God wants me to return to him redeemed. The prodigal son did not just come home, he came home with a plan. And like a boss who wants me to provide solutions, not just problems, I must do the same.
This is how I think sometimes, when the world is quiet and I’ve already read all the shampoo bottles in the shower and there is nothing else to distract me. And I have thought this way for years. But, I think this might be wrong.
I’m starting to believe this because the Bible is such an overwhelmingly powerful redemption story. That is the drumbeat message that sounds out again and again and again.
One of my favorite examples is the story of Judah. He was one of the older brothers of Joseph. And his life, like many of the lives we see chronicled in the Bible, was a mess.
He sold his brother into slavery. This is a tremendous act of betrayal that sometimes gets lost in the general wildness of the Old Testament. But think about it this way, have you ever had a fight with a family member? You gossiped about them or missed their kid’s recital or some other offense? It was tense and ugly and made Thanksgiving a little awkward. But you didn’t sell them into slavery. You might have sworn in front of their kids too many times, but you didn’t make some cash by selling their body to some slave traders in Ohio.
The second part of Judah’s life is even less glamorous. He’s the worst parent on the planet. I know your kids might lose the chapstick top in the car all the time and probably make a Mexican restaurant just look disgusting, like a grenade of rice and chips went off, or they refuse to put their shoes on at the most inopportune times, but they’re better than Judah’s kids. I promise.
Here’s what we’re told in Genesis 38, which is one chapter after Judah has sold his brother into slavery. (Is there a worse double header in the Bible for anybody?)
“But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.”
How bad do you have to be for God to just kill you? Just flat out kill you? If it happens once, Er was just a punk. Maybe it wasn’t the parenting. Maybe Judah was not to blame for some of the problem. Oh, but then we come to Judah’s second son. And, “What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.”
I don’t care if you think you’re a horrible parent, you’ve never had God say, “Wow, I didn’t even know that level of wickedness is possible. I need to take that one out. Yikes!”
So far, Judah is not that much of a hero and the third strike is possibly the worst.
In the same chapter the Lord has killed two of his kids, Judah goes to a prostitute. (We’re not even told he mourned the loss of his kids.) He sleeps with her and gives her some items as a down payment. Only it’s his daughter in law in disguise and she gets pregnant. When he hears she is pregnant, and does not realize he is the father, he proclaims, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
Is there anything more vocal and neon than the righteousness of folks leading secret lives? He wants to kill her. His daughter in law, who he failed by not finding her a husband. He wants to burn her.
This is Judah. A failure. A mess up. A train wreck of Biblical proportions. But he is not alone.
King David murdered a man after having an affair with his wife and ended up getting a village of priests killed because of his lies.
Gideon was hiding in a hole from his enemies when God approached him.
Paul held the coats of the people who stoned Stephen.
Peter denied Christ three times after promising undying love.
Moses was a murderer.
Adam and Eve broke the only law they had.
Samson took a blessing of strength and corrupted it.
The list of lives God redeems in the Bible is long and exhaustive. If the Bible was just a book, a publisher would read it and say, “It’s a bit repetitive. Lot of people getting redeemed over and over again.” If the Bible was a song on American Idol, Simon would say, “We get it. You like redemption. That performance felt a bit indulgent.”
Over and over again we see it, and we see it clearly in the final chapters of Judah’s life. When faced with the prospect of losing his younger brother Benjamin, Judah puts himself in harms way:
Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.”
Can that be? Is that really Judah? Where is that nobility coming from? How did he change And what does it mean for me?
I think it means we serve a God who loves redemption more than we can possibly imagine. We may feel disqualified for his mercy. We may feel too dirty for his grace. We may feel only a series of white knuckle works will open back up his gates.
But, that’s not what his love letter says. We are not shown a steady parade of heroes who became even more heroic in the hands of God. We are shown a parade of failures who found forgiveness. Losers who found love. Hopeless who found hope.
Christmas is a loud season, but hopefully, you’ll hear the real song.
It’s one of redemption. My redemption. Your redemption. Our redemption.
The God who loved Judah and David and Paul, loves you. And that’s a very redeeming thought.