The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 34:6-8 ESV)
God presents himself to Moses in response to Moses’ request to see His glory. When He does, Moses worships. It is an intimate revelation of Himself and I cannot help but think Moses was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event. How could he do anything but worship? The words God utters too are revealing and present us with somewhat of a quandary. God reveals himself as a God who “is forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”
That seems contradictory, though we need God to do both. We need God to be just otherwise we have no hope for justice in the world. We are left with Everyman to himself – anarchy. That is not a comforting thought. Knowing that God will not clear the guilty also allows us to let go of taking up justice for ourselves. Miroslav Volz, a Yale professor from Serbia explains how life in a land of violence and all kinds of injustice in the name of “ethnic cleansing” left little hope other than violence as a way of bringing justice to the wrongs done to family and friends and others. Faith in a just God, rather than leading to violence as many accuse, is actually the only thing that allowed him (and others) to not take up violence, because they knew that God’s justice would not be escape.
On the other hand, a just God who will not clear the guilty leaves us afraid, for we too are guilty of falling short of God’s glory. We need God to be a God who forgives our sin for us to have hope! So we need a God who will not clear the guilty AND a God who will forgive our sin. How do we have both?
The dilemma is solved in Jesus. God’s justice was poured out on Him as He hung on the cross. It was poured out for all who believe upon Him. God’s justice is not bypassed in order to forgive. It is meted out in full. And it is this Jesus that is how we meet God as Moses did, even more than Moses did. In Jesus we see God face to face. What can we do but bow down and worship.
Lord, you are our hope and our friend. You forgive and you guarantee justice. We need both! We need to know your forgiveness that our guilt may be taken away. And yet, we need justice to let go of vengeance when wronged and forgive others. May we praise you as you deserve!