You’re at a restaurant, stacking up the last of your dirty dishes, secretly hoping the bill isn’t as high as your mental estimation tells you it is. You were famished. But your wallet is getting very slim (although you’re likely not), and now that you begin to consider the situation, you realize you don’t actually have enough cash on hand to pay for what you bought.
You hold your breath as the waiter approaches. He walks up to your table, and you expect him to hand you the bill. He doesn’t. Instead, he tells you that the man across from you has paid the full price for your meal. You look at the man in amazement, then back at the waiter. You want to pay it, you say. The man at the next table, overhearing, confirms that he has paid the bill. You don’t need to pay anything, he says. The transaction has already gone through. It’s done.
But you insist. You won’t take money from someone else. It suggests weakness. Dependence. You’ll pay your own way, despite the fact that you’re literally buying something that’s already been paid for. The waiter replies that he simply can’t take the money. The transaction is closed. You can’t pay for it again. Frustrated, you whip out your wallet, throw the little money you have onto the table, and leave.
Just in case you weren’t quite sure…this is absurd.
We’re reasonable creatures, if the choice is obvious enough (at least, I would like to think we are). I don’t think I have to point out how ludicrous this scenario would be. And yet, it is exactly what we do to God most of the time.
He’s saying, “Look, I have your life right here. Yes, I know you owed it to Me, but it’s okay. I used Mine instead. I bought yours back. Here it is, you can have it.” And for some reason that defies reason, we don’t want it.
He fulfilled the outstanding debt that we all created for ourselves, and He holds out the compensation for us to take, no strings attached. We reach out gratefully and take it…right?
Nope. At least not usually. Usually, we turn around and walk away. He runs after us and pleads with us again. We push Him aside. We kick and scratch and fight for our own way, and He is perfectly justified in letting us have it.
I hear people ask, “How could a loving God punish people for choosing the wrong religion, or no religion?”
Several things. First, God isn’t punishing anyone — He already took our punishment on Himself. Punishing us willfully in light of that would be redundant and injust. He isn’t keeping a master list of all our blunders so that He can stick us for them when we die, and there is no reason for Him to do so. He has made punishment obsolete. We choose the punishment for ourselves.
Second, God isn’t interested in our religion. At least, not in the stiff, moralistic, politically correct sense we are familiar with. He didn’t say, “Come to religion, all who are weary and heavy laden, and it will give you rest.” No, He said, “Come to Me.”
“Religion” as most of us know it is self-seeking, self-inflating and self-righteous. In the final analysis, it gratifies and glorifies the self. The problem is, we all know that something is definitely lacking in our self. We may be too proud to acknowledge it, or we may have no idea what that something is, but doesn’t change the fact that we need it. Because God didn’t make us to be complete in ourselves. He doesn’t want us to follow our religion. He wants us to follow Him. The religion He desires is simply that we love Him, and accordingly all the imperfect people He has put on this earth alongside us to enjoy and to glorify Him. And when we love Him, obedience is natural. We do what is right not because we’ll be punished if we don’t follow the rules, but simply because we love Him.
Finally, God’s rules are not arbitrary. They are in place for the express purpose of His glory and our satisfaction in Him — the only true satisfaction. They are happiness. They are peace. They are knowledge. His exhortations to us are a reflection of who He is. And the more we grow to understand Him — His perfection, His completeness, His wisdom — the more profound and staggeringly beautiful they become.