Second chances

Second chances are perhaps not so evident in today's psalm ("I now arraign you and set my accusations before you." 50:21), but does not the language of trial proceedings point at a process -- a chance, at very least, to explain -- and not to arbitrary punishment and rage? And though the next sentence has some strong threats, they are framed as a warning: “Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you: Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation.” (50:22-23).

In Deuteronomy (9:23-10:5), we see a clear example of second chances, as God turns away from destroying the Israelites, and gives the commandments for a second time. I always wonder about these passages that talk about God changing his mind. Do we believe he really changes in response to human pleading? I'm not sure whether that's an attribute I want in an all-powerful God. In an elected official, a judge, even a parent -- yeah, I can see eventual capitulation in the face of earnest pleading to be a good thing, but does an all-knowing God really need to take instruction from me?

Is it simplistic that I figure this must be the culture and worldview of the writer speaking? Do I lack sophistication if I explain away God's mind-changing as a figure of speech, of sorts? Is there in fact any more comfort in thinking it's a test for the beseecher; that God is using whatever given challenge to teach a lesson? Having observed (but not much experienced) how hardship and challenges often make us stronger, more trusting, more loving people, I don't object (theoretically, anyway) to the idea that Moses' pleading for forty days and forty nights before God was actually for Moses' sake, not God's. That's dedication -- and to lead God's wayward, obstinate, frustrating people to the Promise Land, Moses needed it. Maybe he needed to prove to himself just how committed he was. Maybe these forty days and nights prostrate before God were actually about wrestling with himself over how much he loved the Israelites, and how much he was willing to put himself through for their sake, and in obedience to God.

Whatever the reason for "giving in," God gave Moses and the Israelites a second chance.

In Hebrews 4, we're talking about Sabbath rest -- a dicey subject in our fast-paced culture where we're constantly busy, if not with work, then with leisure. Guilty as charged here. We're just too busy to rest in God. But that's a whole subject for another day. The second chance here? “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”(vs 7).

And John 3:16 and following. We love the "born again" language we get from the preceding, and John 3:16 is of course such a favourite, but the beautiful words that come after are often forgotten: God didn't send his son into the world to condemn it, but to save it! (vs 17). The message sometimes gets a little lost in some of our hellfire and brimstone preaching. We've condemned ourselves, but Jesus came to save. Light came into the world -- do we walk toward it or away from it? Stemming partly from these verses, I've long believed that hell isn't about punishment so much as it is being completely left to the result of our own choices. It's not that God longs to punish us; it's that at the end of the day, he lets us choose how it's going to be, and if that is a life completely apart from him, he'll respect that. Where the anguish comes in is that being completely apart from God cannot be a good thing.

So I'm not wringing my hands about Rob Bell suggesting maybe hell isn't all we've imagined with flames and torment, and all the heathen suffering for what their sins deserve. I tend to agree with him! God's love, mercy, and grace is what we want to focus on; his second chance for anyone who turns toward the light is good news for everybody, and far be it for me to dictate to whom God can extend himself.


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