You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities. Amos 3:2
“You should have known better.” “That is not how I raised you.” “Don’t you play innocent with me. You know the rules.”
Words of parents when their older children do something wrong. Growing up as the child of a judge, I felt as if the eyes of the community were especially on me to walk the straight and narrow. Now, I have another judge and I bear His cross around my neck. Throughout my adulthood, people have watched to see if I am still walking the straight and narrow, to see if the storms of life have rocked my faith boat enough to topple it. God is watching as well.
We often concentrate on the loving, slow to anger God who comes to our rescue in times of need and holds us together when the world is crumbling. But God is also a stern judge. We, who have the Holy Spirit as our guide, know the rules. We are to be the light of Christ to a dark world. We are to bear the fruits of the Spirit.
When one of us stumbles, the cynical world is there to point fingers and make sure it makes headlines. The letter of James states that those who teach, in other words have a clear understanding, will be judged more harshly because they knew better and deliberately decided to go against those teachings. (3:1) God will punish us —like a good parent, He will bring us, who claim to be His children, to our knees to confess and plead for His mercy and guidance. It is for our own good, and for the good of others, that we do so.
But, the next verse in James’ letter speaks to the heart of the matter. “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) We will stumble, because we are human. And, because we have all fallen short of the glory of God, we are not to judge when others stumble in the faith who also “knew better”, but leave that up to God.
Jesus said He did not come to judge but to save. He died on the cross for our sins so we could reconcile our poor judgments and return to a right relationship with God. We are to do what we can to help fellow believers back on their spiritual feet and off the path they veered onto because they followed temptations instead of Christ. And when we stumble, we need to ask not only God, but for our fellow brothers and sisters to help us. If not, God will punish us in order to turn us around.
That does not, however, erase the wrongdoing or its consequences. It does lead to healing, restoration and renewal. Yes, God may punish us, but it is because He loves us enough to do so. He will also take us back into His arms and forgive, if we confess. And that, is what a cynical world must see. Then, just maybe, they will want to do the same.