Taking the Bitter With the Sweet

eat me cake

Yesterday, our pastor was preaching out of Revelation 3.  This is the “you’ve left your first love” passage.  The first part of the chapter is about repenting and stirring up the good works that kept us loving Jesus.  He then went on to touch on more points within the book of Revelation.

What I remember, though, is when he got to Revelation 10.  John sees an angel coming down from heaven, nimbused by a rainbow and a cloud.  He planted one foot on the sea and one foot on the land and gave a mighty shout like a lion (Rev. 10:1-3).  Apparently, he had an open scroll in his hand.  The voice from heaven (presumably God) told John to go to the angel and take the scroll.  This, you may recall, is a trippy book, full of visions and symbolism.  Hang with me here.

“Yes, take it and eat it,” he said.  “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach” (Rev. 10:9).  At this point, I always think of Alice in Wonderland and the cake that said “EAT ME”.  Only this scroll doesn’t cause John to shrink or grow.  The point our pastor made is that we read the Bible and we take it in and it’s sweet to us. We say, Oh wow!  That is good.  Mmm-hmm. I need more self-control in my life.  Yep.  There it is.  But then we walk away and God provides places for us to exercise self-control and grow that fruit and we dodge it. We make excuses.  We fail to make the connection.

Or maybe we read what Jesus says about forgiveness:  “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).  We think, Thank You, Jesus, for forgiving me! Hallelujah! (wave your glory flag here).  And we totally miss the conditional nature of that promise. We recall instead all the other promises about the total expiation of our sins provided by Jesus’ sacrifice.  I had never heard that scripture explained this way before, but it clicked.

Both concepts are are true.  Jesus paid it all.  Ephesians 1:7:  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  Isaiah 1:18:  “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow, Though they are red like crimson, I will make them white as wool.”  Yet, we must do our part.  We slam up against this gem:  “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive you your sins, too” (Mark 11:25).  Jesus said that, too.

Forgiveness is not fun.  Sometimes we have to pray to be made willing.  Sometimes, we want to punch people in the stomach first, then forgive them.  Can I get a witness?  Just one teensy gust-busting sock, a sort of “right hand of fellowship”?  No?  All right.  I tried.

This is where we get bogged down.  We would rather mete out justice than let God do it.  See, if we forgive people, we get out of the way.  God can handle the justice part. Deuteronomy 32:35 says ‘I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them.’  God said that.  I don’t have to defend myself or make it right.  Forgiving others and staying in right relationship with them is keeping to the good works.  It keeps our love for Jesus and others alive.  In due time He will make it right.  And make *me* right in the process.