Blogging toward Sunday

May 25, 2008

Luther contemplated the righteousness of God, and recoiled. “Love God?” he wrote years later, “Sometimes I hated Him.”

It
won’t do to tell Luther not to worry because we’ve discovered that God
is cuddly after all. Brother Martin knew his Bible too well to fall for
that kind of subterfuge. The God revealed in scripture is a God of
flood and fire, whose storm tears down houses built on sand. Luther was
right: to speak of the righteousness of God is to speak of judgment.

What
Luther couldn’t see was how God’s righteous judgment could be good
news. The story of Noah tells us this. The world has become so full of
violence that God regrets having made it and determines to blot it all
out, turning the world back to the watery formless emptiness of the
primordial creation. If ever there was righteous judgment, this is it.

But
the flood isn’t the end of Noah’s story. Noah’s ark, measured like
sacred space and covered with pitch, is like an escape pod from Star Trek, a tiny cosmos preserved to be the seed of a new world.

When
the rain stops, when God divides the waters again as he did on the
third day, Noah steps out into a fresh creation and takes up his role
as the new Adam. He will multiple and rule the earth just as Adam was
to do. Yahweh judges righteously, clears the decks and begins again.
The re-creation too expresses God’s righteousness, his passion to
preserve and fulfill creation. Eight were saved through water, saved to
renew creation, just as baptism now saves us to be new Adams and Eves
beautifying the earth.

Paul too sees God’s judgment as good
news. In Jesus, God has condemned sin, and acted to restore the human
race and the world. Those who enter the ark of Jesus, the ark of his
body, are preserved dry and safe, called to see to the creation’s
flourishing.

• Habakkuk sees a flood coming in the idolatrous
Chaldeans who would overwhelm Israel. Habakkuk questions God’s justice,
but Yahweh tells the prophet to stand firm. On the other side of the
flood is a new world for Israel, as there was for Noah. By the end of
his prophecy, Habakkuk praises God for His faithfulness.

• Paul
asks the same question: Where is the justice of God in a world of
violence and corruption? Where is God’s justice if Israel refuses her
Messiah? His answer is Habakkuk’s answer: The one who is just by faith
shall live, the just shall live by faith. God condemns sin in the flesh
of Jesus, and through that judgment God reveals He is just and the
justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. (There has been much discussion of Paul’s understanding of “righteousness” of late).


Jesus has been instructing his disciples about a righteousness that
surpasses the righteousness of the scribes. Anyone who hears and obeys
will be preserved, as Noah was, from the coming floods. Jesus’ words
are specifically directed to Israel, then in the midst of a
decades-long temple construction. The Jews were building on sand, and
when the flood of Romans came a generation later, their house
collapsed. (N. T. Wright’s discussion in Jesus and the Victory of God of the parable in Matthew 7 is illuminating.)

God’s
righteousness is good news. God cares for the world—He cares enough not
to let our folly and sin spoil it forever, and in Jesus, God fully
shoulders the burden for putting the world right. Not only is God
righteous, He displays His righteousness by becoming, as Karl Barth put
it, the Judge judged in our place.