This Week in Scripture, 12/4/11

A little late, partly because reasons and partly because there was so much to work with this week that I had trouble deciding where to focus.  A lot of good lines in this week’s scriptures, particularly famous ones and ones I know from classical music pieces. “Comfort, O comfort my people” and “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (both from Isaiah 40); “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

But what I really find myself thinking about is the reading from the second letter of Peter 3:8-15a, so much so that I am going to give it in its entirety:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

This is the passage that always comes to mind for me when I hear or read about the sort of Christian who seems to form the popular opinion of what Christians are today: the one who wants this to be a “Christian nation,” not in the sense of promoting love between neighbors or aiding the poor and oppressed but of making sure no other voices are heard and people who stand out or commit “sin” by their definition are punished. The one who, far from holding out the promise of grace from a loving God to others, seems creepily gleeful at the prospect that those different from themselves will burn forever, hopefully starting as soon as possible. The one who prays for Judgment Day to hurry up and get here.

There are, of course, lots of places in the Bible I would take to imply that God does not endorse this kind of attitude in His followers, that what He wants as our guiding principle is love, not vengeance.  Likewise there are lots of places where He warns us that if we are hateful in our condemnation of others, it will count more against us than them. But this from Peter is a particularly direct and, bless him, tactful reminder that this warning applies to our thoughts on the Judgment itself. Even if it ultimately means an age of righteousness, dude, the elements will melt. What kind of person wishes that on anyone?

It sounds in this passage as if Judgment is something of a last resort: perhaps (in fact certainly, in context) He would prefer for us to do at least some of the work of saving the world ourselves. And “saving” anything in the New Testament, at least, almost always involves things like healing and feeding and forgiving. Things many of us sadly remain bad at, particularly those of us who get the most excited about condemning each other to fiery judgments.

God is waiting, and the patience of the Lord is salvation. Maybe He is giving someone time to have a change of heart – maybe the person you’re yelling at or about. Maybe you.  Maybe you’re getting a minute to think about whether you really are without sin before you cast that stone. Maybe you’re being given time to ask yourself whether you really know better than God who needs punished and when it needs to happen. Whether it really is holy, or even decent, to hurry toward the end of the world.

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