Jesus tells us that the time of his second coming will be much like the days of Noah, that is, people going about their daily lives, buying, selling, marrying, and giving in marriage. Most people will be caught unawares by the destruction, if you can call repeatedly being warned to repent and constantly ignoring those warnings being caught unawares. Maybe it’s better to say that most people will claim to be caught unawares.
We know that God is patient. But there is a certain measure of evil, the threshold of which God will not permit to be surpassed. It’s like an hourglass that has only a certain number of sand grains. When all the grains pass through the conduit, there are no more grains left to pass through. Time is up. No matter how much you wish there were more grains, there are none. The hourglass must be turned upside down for the grains to pass through again.
The exact measure and threshold of evil in a person’s soul is known only to God. But we can still know two general things about it: 1) The measure and threshold are perfect in their formulation, and 2) the measure and threshold are mitigated by God’s mercy. There is room for God’s mercy as long as there is time. But when time is up, mercy is no longer an option. You can no longer appeal to God’s mercy.
I mention all this not to teach you anything that you don’t already know, but simply to remind you about it. We all need reminding every now and then. God’s mercy is available to anyone who asks sincerely, but it is a time-limited offer. The people in Noah’s day found that out when they were drowning in the tsunamis, and the people in Sodom found that out when they were incinerating in brimstone.
There is an expectation (even among some of God’s own people) that God should fix everything for everyone all the time, without limit, but scripture is very clear that there are provisos and time limits to God’s help and mercy. Scripture tells us over and over again that you must seek the good to get the good. You can’t live a sinful life, purposely breaking Commandments and refusing to repent, and then demand that God heal all your wounds and prevent all calamities. It doesn’t work that way. Even those who love God and follow Jesus are still subject to pain and suffering. Their pain and suffering are, however, mitigated by the presence of God’s Spirit, a blessed balm that is not available to those who reject God.
Destruction comes in an instant, but it never comes without warning. God doesn’t just one day get up on the wrong side of the throne and decide to mess up people’s life on a whim: He gives them fair warning. In fact, he gives them more than fair warning, until the threshold of evil is reached, and there is no more sand in the hourglass.
When the end comes, it will seemingly come without warning to those who defy God, though those of us who love God and keep his Commandments will know somewhat in advance, the way Jesus during his ministry years always knew somewhat in advance what was coming. We will know because God will tell us, just as he told Noah, and just as he told Lot.
The old and new Testaments are full of warnings about what happens to people who defy God and his Commandments, and the world is full of old and new Testaments and of people teaching from them. No-one can say they weren’t warned. Even if people claim they don’t have access to an old or a new Testament or to hearing people teaching from them, God has put his Commandments in everyone’s heart, so they know right from wrong even without someone teaching it to them. If they are old enough to know how to defy the right, they are old enough to know right from wrong.
I guess you could say this Sunday sermon is in defence of God and his Way. I get tired sometimes of hearing people asking why God permits evil and destruction, as if God were some kind of spiritual anti-virus whose whole purpose is to prevent and eradicate all evil all the time. But God invented evil. He uses it as a testing tool and as a reward for wrong behavior.
The world is fallen and cannot be fixed. Only individual souls, one by one, if they embrace Truth and choose the good, can be fixed. Otherwise, the world is the valley of shadow and death, and was made to be such.
I get tired of people who openly and purposely and consistently defy God and then petulantly demand that he help them when they need help, all the while refusing to repent or in any way change their evil ways. Knowing what they do is evil, consistently choosing the evil, and then demanding that God help them even when they remain defiantly unrepentant – this is the worst kind of human behavior and deserves the worst kind of punishment.
God shows mercy to the merciful. That is scriptural. But mercy has to come first from the merciful before God imparts his mercy. We are always to take the first step. God will not override our free will. We are always to take the first step and make the first gesture, like the prodigal son who realizes he would be better off living as his father’s servant and so makes the long journey home to his father to tell him that. The son makes the first gesture, and then his father joyfully races out to meet him and shower him with gifts. God is ever-ready to shower everyone with gifts, but they must take the first step, make the first gesture, and it must be sincere.
Even so, there is an expiration to God’s mercy. When the time of mercy expires, those who love God will know, but those who hate him won’t know what’s going on. For me, some of the most poignant words in scripture are those describing people crying out for God’s help and mercy too late. They left it too late. And God could no longer help them.
What do you say to those people? They will only curse you and God all the more, blame you and God all the more. So when people ask you “Why does God permit evil?” or “Why has he done this to me?”, tell them what Jesus said during his ministry: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” If they don’t want to repent and believe the Gospel, then they don’t want to know the Truth or to be set free from lies, so nothing you say will make any sense or any difference to them. They are blind and deaf and going the way of all blind and deaf. You must let them be. As hard as it is, you must respect their free will right to choose evil and to earn the rewards of that choice. You must let them be.
But if they do choose to repent and believe the Gospel, you have won a friend.
One spirit unites all true believers – there are different talents, different opinions, different likes and dislikes, different hair and skin colors, but the same Spirit of God unites us all, and so we share the same values and are all friends. You cannot but be friends with those who sincerely love God and follow Jesus. I have yet to meet a true believer I haven’t felt an instant and overwhelming connection with, even if I don’t know anything about them, and even if our contact is just for a few minutes. There’s something about the presence of a true believer that makes me respond like John the Baptist jumping for joy in his mother’s womb when he hears Mary’s voice, knowing Jesus is right there beside him.
The time of the end of God’s mercy will come, and we as true believers will know that time has come, but until and even after then we must continue to treat everyone as we want to be treated. As long as there is time, we need to be like Jesus and point the way home. When time is up, we still need to be kind, even to the condemned, and even amidst the unleashing of Hell on Earth.
And that, my friends, will be our greatest test of all.