Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wisdom of Deferral in Judgment

“But even Michael, the archangel, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ ... But these people scoff at things they do not understand... they do whatever their instincts tell them.”

—Jude 9a, 10 (NLT).

The context of the above dispute between two heavenly beings, one still in residence, the other thrown out long before, is illustrative for us. They both haggled, apparently, over the body of Moses.[1] Michael, the archangel, models for us an appropriate approach to judgment.

Up front, there’s true, well-founded wisdom in deferring to the Lord any rebuke of judgment we might otherwise issue in his name.

Nonetheless, the devil will want to at times entice us into playing his game, the seriously flighty game of accusation. In this we’d accuse the accuser. Yet, Jude’s point is not even the archangel Michael succumbed to such a brazen thing we’d perhaps tend to think nothing of, in our unschooled thinking.

Michael would not be tempted to curse the devil. He just didn’t go there, not out of fear of the devil, but in the wisdom of respect for God’s role as Divine Judge, and probably also because the devil had once been a heavenly being—thereby acknowledging God’s stead in issuing the rebuke directly.

Michael the archangel is seen here to be prudently cautious in the realm and distinction of the things of God. He takes not lightly these matters of eternity.

We’d not have a full analysis of what took place here without suggesting the role of false teachers in the church to wantonly accuse and condemn—and that, in the holy place of God! (I refer to the role place of God, not the physical place of the church building.) In doing this very thing, these do not wisely consult with the Spirit of God; instead they follow the whims of their own instincts, scoffing at things they plainly don’t understand, for they do not truly know the Spirit. The Spirit gives us proper understanding, but only as far as we actively and humbly seek it.

And when we accuse the devil, or anyone else for that matter, we accuse ourselves. It flips back and smacks us straight upon our faces. Would we wish to attract the wrath of God?

The archangel’s model of rebuke is advisory. The Message’s rendering of, “The Lord rebuke you,” is simply, “No you don’t. God will take care of you.” This follows very closely behind the wisdom of Proverbs 20:22 (TNIV):

“Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”

Furthermore, Paul reissues the charge from Deuteronomy 32:35:

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

—Romans 12:19b (TNIV).

Potential Consequences of Blasphemy

Most people won’t think of judging others as blasphemy. But Thomas Aquinas remarked that blasphemy is a sin committed directly against God[2] and judging others is not only a sin against others, but it’s also one against God in usurping his role as Divine Judge.

But, we will all do it, if not in action, by pure thought. Praise God for his grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at this point for any transgressions past, now or in future.

Still, the matter remains. We judge inordinately and we risk the swinging back of the axe (in this life); it falls potentially straight back on us.

© 2009 S. J. Wickham.

[1] This is one of the passages in Jude that caused early compositors of the New Testament canon some consternation as Jude had used information contained in the non-canonical book, The Testament (or Assumption) of Moses. Yet, ironically, its theology is sound in the context Jude uses. Refer also to Deuteronomy 34:5-8 for the death and burial of Moses.

[2] “Blasphemy in Christianity.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 20 December 2009.

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