2 Kings 24
Since I’m writing this blog with the aim of finding out what every Bible chapter has to say about God, I’m always looking for any specific "God statements" that the Bible writers make. And boy, did I find a doozy of one in this chapter! Did you catch it? Here it is: "The Lord sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against [Jehoiakim] to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive." (vs 2-4)
Whoa. That’s a pretty direct statement about God, and one that sort of goes against what we normally think of Him! This is the God who says He has washed us as white as snow. This is the God who says He will bury our sins deep in the ocean and remember them no more. This is the God who says that as far as the east is from the west, that’s how far He has removed our sins from us. Have we been wrong all this time? Is God really unforgiving?
You might be able to understand why this was a hard thing for me to read. I toyed with the idea of making the title of today’s blog God is not willing to forgive. But I think, in the end, that would have given the wrong impression. Because there is no doubt in my mind that God is an immediate forgiver—always and forever—and that He has forgiven us even before we ask Him. However, while God forgives our sin, He never overlooks our sin. And I think there is an important distinction to be made there.
God forgives because He is a forgiving person. The clear message of the Scriptures is that when it comes to God, He is not harboring a grudge against us because of our sin. However, the problem with sin is not that God is offended and we have to find a way to get Him to forgive us. The problem with sin is that it is self-destructive. Thus, God can forgive us all day long, but our sin still has to be addressed.
What I think the writer of 2 Kings is trying to get us to understand is that God’s forgiveness doesn’t cause Him to overlook or ignore the problems that come from our sin. It’s just as if you went to the doctor because you were a heavy smoker and had developed lung cancer. And the doctor might say, "I’m so sorry that you have chosen to keep smoking. I have been warning you all these years about your health, and you haven’t trusted me. It makes me feel bad to know that you have rejected my advice... but I forgive you." And what if, after offering this forgiveness, the doctor closes up your chart and says everything is now fine? You would still want him to get down to the business of addressing your cancer!
That’s just what it’s like with God. He forgives us for His sake (or because that’s who He is), but for our sake, He doesn’t overlook our sin. When we have made a mess out of things, and especially when we are still headed down a dangerous path, He doesn’t say, "Well, I forgive you, so now I’m going to ignore all these problems." No, He wades right into the middle of the mess, rolls up His sleeves, and gets down to the business of addressing the problem. Sometimes it’s a painful process.
But Paul, in the book of Hebrews, advises us to rejoice in this aspect of God: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate children at all. Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! Our parents disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:7-11)
I’m glad that God is unwilling to overlook our sin. I’m glad He takes our problems seriously and does whatever is necessary to make sure we can be healed from all the damage done by sin. I’m glad that, because He loves us, He both forgives and disciplines us. When we need to be taken into captivity, He will not downplay the seriousness of our condition. He will let us be carted off! And He will be waiting, as the father of the prodigal was, with open arms when we arrive back home.