Fear Balancing

I attended the Justice Conference last weekend. The first speaker I heard was Gary Haugen, a rep of International Justice Mission, saying something like this of his efforts to free slaves: “The perpetrators aren’t afraid, but the victims are. What we hope to do is shift that, so that the victims aren’t afraid, but the perpetrators are.”

I love that—fear balancing. Reading the Bible does that for me. For instance, the Book of Revelation, where the martyrs end up in paradise and the murderers in hell. I admit I enjoy, as most do, the classic protagonist/antagonist narrative where the good guy wins and the bad guy dies.

Speaking of narratives, some of you know I’ve been working on a narrated musical recording of songs based on Revelation. I’ve come to regard Revelation as the social justice book of the Bible. Why? Because among other things it moves the fear off the victim onto the perpetrator. Perhaps no book in the Bible contains more vivid pictures of retributive justice than Revelation. You name it, everything from painful boils to hailstones to bloody seas.

But, wait. Several people I know say they’ve been traumatized by the book; one even claims recurring nightmares. As I’ve written songs for this recording, I’ve remembered these fearful ones. I’ve tried to present a loving Jesus at the center of each song without denying the reality of punishment, wrath, and justice. It has been difficult, really difficult. But my difficulty in presenting the blend of love and justice pales in comparison to God’s difficulty in blending love and justice within Himself. That was difficult enough to kill Him: “He has poured out his soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12.

I know. Big subject. Too big for a book, much less a short blog. But here’s what I want to say: In all our need to present a loving God, in all our enthusiasm to make sure God doesn’t look too fire-and-brimstone, too vengeance-is-mine, let’s remember that He is, among other things, a Cosmic Hero. He’s the ultimate Social Activist, shifting the fear off the victim and onto the perpetrator. Many of us question why God pours out plagues and throws sinners in the lake of fire. But the sex slave, the victim of inhumanity, the dying mother holding a dead baby, the believer smelling his own burning flesh, cry out, “ “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10.

They don’t wonder why God brings retribution. They wonder why He doesn’t.

It’s good to be biased toward mercy—God is: “Mercy triumphs over justice,” James 2:13. But let’s not be biased toward mercy in a privileged, upper-class, lily-white way. Let’s not be biased toward mercy out of ignorance of, and indifference to, the horrors endured by the little people of the world. God is love enough to lay His life down for every evil man. He’s justice enough to, as part of that love, finally destroy sin and the sinners who won’t turn loose of it. And He’s honest enough to admit all of this, even if we happen to loose a little sleep over it.

Please check out this video: The Lamb Wins Promo

12 thoughts on “Fear Balancing

  1. Bridget Casselman Reply

    Wonderful conclusions… Read this to my husband as our Sabbath devotional…we wept and shouted hallelujah concurrently!

  2. Sally Atari Reply

    Cried as I read this ending. Yes, He is our cosmic hero and we can trust Him to temper Mercy with Justice as He sees fit. And we have 1000 years to come to understand His thinking and find peace with His justice. I too buy into Hollywoods rendition of fair play with movies Like, Jody Fosters, “The brave one” and Mel Brooks, “Brave Heart”. These movies find me chearing for Justice for those who have been so mistreated; the suspense drawn on revenge being met despite the fact that it’s against the law! But, with God, I often push down the sad fact that He is merciful and that my idea of justice may never be met and here, you have again reminded me that Our God sees all and He too, desires Justice. I can trust him to tip the scale of fear and bring about the Justice so many of us, while focused on forgiveness here and now, can and must trust Him to bring about. And so, as a hospice nurse, we must not only trust him to awake his sleeping beauties (Dan 12:1-5) on that last day, we also must trust Him to change the Beasts within us (beauty and the beast) and send to the Pit (Gaston) those who are unchanged and unwilling to come to Him, to turn to Him for grace. Some day my prince will come. 🙂

  3. J. Bailey Reply

    I am looking forward to your new musical project – The Lamb Wins! Praying for each of you now to be used by God in His perfect way.

    Thank you for reminding us that, with God, we can have fear-balance! May each of us focus on Him who does reveal to us His love(mercy) and justice. And may we have faith to trust where we are not able to “see” right now. He IS the hero!

  4. Leroy Moore Reply

    It is vital that we know God as a God of love. But do our human sensibilities fully take in the breadth of God’s love? Can we understand the depth of God’s love in light of its active justice in dealing with evil? Perhaps your musical will provide insight. I like the centrality of the Lamb, which is itself the answer to the union of mercy and justice.

  5. Jennifer JIll Schwirzer Reply

    Amen, Leroy Moore. Thanks for the needed encouragement. I put that essay up on facebook and have over forty very long comments.

    The Lamb Wins will correct some of this. Let me share with you my process in the creation of this musical. I have written probably 85% of the songs (its a collaborative effort of myself and mostly young folks here). I determined from the beginning to 1) raise awareness of the content of Revelation; 2) convey the CONTENT of the book more than my interpretation or response to the book.

    That latter goal became more difficult as time went on. The content of Revelation is sooooooo heavy. It’s the justice book of the Bible, really. So I bent a little and interpreted a bit more, inserting some ideas to focus on God’s love. For instance in the song about the seven plagues, I inserted the line “no other way.” The wicked leave God no other way than to destroy them. If He by nature of His love must ultimately destroy sin, the ravager of the universe, and they ultimately won’t let go of sin, well then, they leave Him no other way than to destroy them. So as the process continued I tried to place the actual content of Revelation in the context of the Cross and the love of God.

    Anyway, I’ve put the lyrics here, or some of them, so you can see what I’m doing.

    The baby starves, the wounded dies
    The poor toil on, the martyr cries
    Entering the ears of Sabaoth
    The tyrant rides upon the back
    Of slaves, and plans his next attack
    Leaving Him who loves His children no other way

    The tyrants feed their greedy hearts
    And sell their sons for body parts
    Creator’s own creation turns to foe
    Pimps scan the streets in hot pursuit
    Force little girls to prostitute
    Helpless cry of pain leaves Jesus no other way

    His holy place, His temple-heart
    Open as if torn apart
    Strange act of the one who loves us so
    The wrath of God, the painful dregs
    Out they flow the seven plagues
    Down upon the ones who gave Him no other way

    He died upon a Cross of hell
    Felt His soul torn from itself
    Went where no one else will ever go
    Now worthy is the Lamb the slain
    Worthy is the prince of pain
    Worthy is the One who could find no other way

  6. Leroy Moore Reply

    Yes, indeed. The cross provided the way for all and is the only defense God needs. Our efforts to defend Him against His own Word cannot define the measure of love. The cross has already done this. And for its rejecters, there is “no other way” than that declared by the Lamb that was slain that in Him we might meet the demands of justice. The wrath of the Lamb is the final defense of the justice of the wrath of Him Who sits upon the throne (Rev 6:16-17). To demand a “higher” human standard of love is to depreciate the cross and sentimentalize its mercy by denouncing its justice.

  7. Neville Peter Reply

    I really appreciate this article. I was witnessing to an atheist a few months ago and shared something very similar with him. I like to think about it like this. god is love and love demands justis but love also demands mercy or forgiveness. Justis demands judgement. Perfect love will always have these three characteristics. thank you for such a thought provoking article.

  8. Juanita Kretschmar Reply

    Happy to watch for this developing and greatly needed thrust AGAINST un-truth/partial truth messages!

  9. Jennifer JIll Schwirzer Reply

    I love this quote by G.K. Chesterton: “Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.” Not sure we’ve actually gotten over the difficulty–he’s optimistic–but I like the idea.

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