“For the day of the Lord is near, against all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Because it occupies such a big place in the halls of pop culture, I’m going to assume you’ve heard of the principle of karma. The basic idea of this Buddhist teaching is that whatever we do in this life will eventually be visited back upon us. If we do good things, then good things will happen to us. If we do bad things, then bad things will happen to us. Somehow, the universe will balance the scales of justice. Now, as theological concept, karma is a mess that Christians cannot endorse in any way. The basic intuition behind it that has been common across all human cultures and religions that justice will eventually be done, however, is not only one we can encourage, we see it right here in the Scriptures. Let’s talk about this for just a minute.
I talked about the background of Obadiah yesterday, so I’m not going to spend any time there. Let’s jump straight to the point this morning. What the prophet declares here to the nations is that judgment and justice are coming. And, this judgment is going to be rooted in their own behavior. The implication is that they have behaved poorly and can expect some rough days ahead of them for it.
As much as we might want to recoil from this kind of judgmental language in the Scriptures, however, there are a couple of assumptions behind what Obadiah says here that are pretty hard to deny.
The first is that there is some kind of a standard external to us that serves as the means by which we evaluate whether a certain action is right or wrong. Furthermore, this is a standard that we did not play a role in choosing. It’s just there.
Now, before you go to reacting against this idea as so many today are wont to do, think about it. Have you ever experienced or witnessed something happening and thought or even said out loud, “That’s not fair”? Says who and on what authority? If you’ve done that, you have appealed to some external-to-you standard of behavior in order to judge what you believe to be the rightness or wrongness of that particular situation. We may disagree over exactly what the details of this standard are, but that there is one is a basic human intuition on which we all agree whether we’re willing to admit it or not.
The second assumption is this: If we deviate from this standard, there will be consequences for that. This may be a point of contention too—especially when it is said in the context of talking about the Bible—but think again about karma even in its pop culture version. Bad things happen to bad people and that’s the way it should be. Again, there is much there that as Christians we cannot swallow directly, but the basic idea we can support.
One of the fundamental ideas about judgment that we find throughout the Scriptures is that God’s eventual judgment of this world will be based on what we have done. At the end of time He will hold our actions up to the standard of His perfect holiness and if there is any deviation we will receive the punishment of eternal separation from Him. That is, we will be delivered to Hell.
But wait! Isn’t that the Old Testament idea? What about Jesus and grace and all that stuff? Didn’t we move from simply “getting what we deserve” to something better than that after Jesus came? Nope. Read your Bible. The standard is clear all the way through Revelation. When it comes time for judgment, we will be judged based on our actions. Jesus’ coming does not have any bearing on that at all. In fact, He’s the one who will be doing the judging.
Let’s just state the obvious here: this fact is terrifying. If the only way to get out of Hell is to meet with the standard of God’s holiness, none of us has a chance.
Welcome to the Gospel.
This is why Jesus matters so much. What God offers us in Christ, is hope in the face of judgment. When we put our faith in Jesus, what happens is that when judgment comes, we will be judged on the basis of His deeds, not ours. When we are in Christ, we get what He deserves. If you think about it, this is ridiculously unfair, but that’s grace.
Our heavenly Father loves us way too much to leave us sitting subject—even deservedly so—to a judgment we can’t possibly survive. So, He paid the price for us and offers us a way out in Him. The hard truth is that you and I don’t have a chance on our own. But Jesus makes life and salvation possible. Receive Him and get what He got. What you deserve just won’t cut it.