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Deuteronomy 27-28:  God's Love vs. God's Judgment

             Have you ever heard that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God whose wrath comes in judgment and the God of the New Testament is nice and comes with a message of love?  Reading the Scriptures, particularly Deuteronomy, can leave us at the sharp contrast of the two, and we as the people who follow God seemingly have to choose between the two: a judging God who condemns us and a loving God who saves us, with us preferring the latter rather than the former.  We favor the loving God so much that often we neglect to see the judging God.  There is a problem with any of this line of thinking.  The fullness of who God is contains both love and judgment, punishment and mercy, etc.  God is not some split personality being who conducts Himself on the whims of His moods.  God desires to save all out of His love for us and the graces He pours into our lives, but He will judge us according to our actions and seeking to do His will.

              This apparent dichotomy comes into focus in Deuteronomy 27-28, which begins with the twelve curses followed by the blessings for the obedience to the Lord.  Looking at the curses in Chapter 27, many of them coincide with condemning a commandment already given.  The curses outline punishment against a person who commits these sins (or really any sin).  Each time, the people respond with an ‘Amen’ attesting to the reality that if they commit the sins, then they can be condemned for them.  It is a harsh passage, as are the other ones in Deuteronomy that look at condemnation.  But we need to look at condemnation sometimes.  We need to know that there are consequences for immoral behavior.  It is like a parent with a child.  Even though the parent places a rule before the child, if the child does not see any deterring consequences for actions, then what deters from the behavior? We do need that in our own spiritual life.  God is like a good parent that sometimes has to use rough treatment to make sure we are following His path.  He does not do it to be mean.  He does it because He desires for us to find the salvation He offers to us.  Something that we cannot find if we live a life of sin.

              Deuteronomy does not only focus on punishment and judgment.  Immediately in Chapter 28 there is a proclamation to all those who obey God’s commandments.  Blessings come upon the person.  The blessings, on the surface, appear to be prosperity in this life, but the reality is that these blessings reflect the beatitudes of the Gospels.  The blessing for obeying and following the Lord is to be great in heaven, but we feel the effects here.  Even though life is filled with hardships and struggles, following the will of the Lord enhances our lives, makes things more than bearable, for everything in life has deeper meaning.  God’s love pours out into our lives.  The love of God does not pour into our lives as a reward.  God always pours His love into our lives.  God always pours His graces into our lives.  However, we only see and feel the effects of His love and mercy when we open ourselves to obedience to Him. 

              In this, we can see that God’s love and judgment are intertwined with one another.  This reality is most apparent on the Cross.  Christ came into the world to save us because He loves us.  His great desire is that we dwell with Him in heaven.  Ultimately, that love takes Him to the Cross, which is a punishment for our sins.  He takes all of our sins, the sins of the world, upon Himself because He does indeed love us.  But those sins are just not forgotten.  There are consequences for those sins, and the ultimate price was paid by Christ.  It is just for there to be condemnation for sin but it is also merciful for God to take our sins upon Himself.  God’s love does not mean He ignores our sins, it does not mean that He overlooks them, and it certainly does not mean He does nothing about them.  God’s love means that He wants to do something about our sins so that we can find salvation.  But we have to take that step.  We have to heed His commandments.  We have to seek His forgiveness, and if we do not seek it then the most loving thing God can do is condemn the action. 

             That balance is something we should strive for as well.  As the Scriptures state, “you shall be only at the top…if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left” (Deuteronomy 28:13-14).  Can we find that balance between God’s judgment and love?  With the awareness of God’s judgment and condemnation, we have a heightened awareness that there are commandments and requirements of living the moral life. Healthy fear of the Lord is meant to keep us in the right direction.  We do need to be careful not to go to the extreme with God’s judgment.  The extreme is how we live life with a great deal of anxiety and stress.  Paranoid at every moment if we are doing things right.  The extreme can also lead us to a sense of self-righteousness where we condemn others on behalf of the Lord.  As Christ warns us, “do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Awareness of God’s judgment shoves us into God’s joy.  It is not pleasant and there is tension in thinking that God can ‘judge me’, but it is just an aggressive way of God calling us to come to Him. 

            The other extreme can be found in God’s love.  God is love, but many times we go to the extreme and define it as an understanding that alleviates the previous tension.  We WANT to define God’s unconditional love to mean that everyone automatically goes to heaven, He loves me as I am thus that means I do not have to change, or His love makes me feel good but places no obligations on me.  God does indeed love us with unconditional love.  There is nothing we can do to cause God to stop loving us.  But the love is not forced upon us.  The love is not something with which God smothers us.  God’s love drives Him to seek to do anything, even dying for us, to save us.  But God’s love is not something we can take for granted as a magic resolution to all of our misdeeds.  We must accept that love for it to fully affect our lives.  God desires to forgive us, but we must ask for forgiveness.  God shows us great mercy, but we must also live our lives in response to that mercy.  God’s love knows no bounds, but we are active participants of that love and not passive beneficiaries. 

             Deuteronomy focuses a lot on the judgment and condemnation of God.  It’s not something we like to associate with God, because we often do not think of it as having a place with love.  But God’s love is intertwined with His justice.  Mercy with condemnation.  Let us heed the commandments of the Lord out of fear for His judgment, but also run towards His love full of hope and mercy to us. 

- Fr. Rusty Vincent

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