Not far from where I live is a nationwide (I think) drive-in, no appointment necessary, oil-change business. I regularly drive and jog by this place and have even succumbed to having my vehicle serviced there, on desperate occasions.
Every day, employees stand out in front, holding a sign that proclaims oil changes for $19.99 and beckoning people to stop for service. It’s the classic bait-and-switch. The parameters under which one can actually get an oil change for that price are so narrow as to be virtually impossible. But, hey, they got you in the door.
Worse, once they’ve captured you, they try to sell you stuff you don’t need. I’ve always serviced my own vehicles, but, as I said, occasionally, I’m desperate and too busy to do it myself. One time I was in this store getting the “$19.99” service job that actually cost me $35 and change and, during the ordeal, the service manager came into the waiting room to tell me that I needed new windshield wipers. I couldn’t believe it. He did not bat an eye when I informed him that those wipers were brand new because I had changed them myself two weeks earlier. He had moxy, I’ll give him that. As you might imagine, I have not frequented this place of business in a long, long time.
When I jog or drive by this place and see the poor employees standing out in the heat or the cold, I feel genuinely sorry for them. They need the job. I feel for them, but I still withhold my business.
Which makes me think of God’s wrath. Maybe there is an analogy here, even though, admittedly, my little scenario is trivial. It points to an important truth. A merciful/just God eventually withholds benefit in the face of persistent injustice in order to bring about change. It’s not a passive inactivity. It is an active withtholding of blessing; God’s wrath revealed against all unrighteousness…
I think this point important for two reasons. First, I work with students who often exhibit the attitude that their actions (or lack thereof) deserve no untoward consequence. It’s easy to dismiss their assumption that they’ll get a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th chance on the basis of the immaturity of adolescence, but the truth is, humanity suffers from this disease, especially American humanity. Within the church the sappiest of notions of divine love prevails, a view in which God’s love always trumps God’s wrath.
Partly, I admit, we think this way because some Christian leaders have overworked and distorted the impact of God’s wrath. I for one don’t want to go around consigning people to the outer darkness. That said, our shallowness on this point is truly shocking. Maybe our society is caught in the arrested development of perpetual adolescence.
Secondly, this analogy bespeaks the real emotions of God who loves the world and suffers its waywardness. As I mentioned, I genuinely feel for the guys who work in that oil-change shop. I wish them well. But I don’t take my business there. Does God genuinely feel the world’s pain while at the same time withholding blessing because of our sin?
If so, those of us who are Christian leaders ought to help people grapple a little more seriously with their own sinfulness. Instead of noticing the sin in “the other” we ought to consider our ways in light of God’s nature. This is theology at its most practical: helping people think about God so that they can walk in faith and obedience.