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  • Writer's picturePastor Hans Fiene

Matins Devotion: August 31, 2023

1 Kings 16:29-17:24

One of the tougher biblical concepts for us to wrap our heads around is collective guilt–the idea that God judges all the people of the nation to be guilty of sins that not all of the people are committing individually. This is something we see in our text from 1 Kings today, where God pours out condemnation upon the nation of Israel because King Ahab builds altars and idols to the false gods of his Phoenician wife Jezebel. He heaps more idolatry on the foundation his fathers have built. So, as punishment for his sins and the sins of the people who have followed him, God sends a drought and famine upon the land, a punishment that ends up afflicting not just the faithless but also the faithful, as we see in the example of this poor widow and her son.

Of course, the widow and her son are spared from starvation and her son’s life is given back to him by the hand of God. But at the same time, there were certainly faithful believers who perished in this time, just as there have been faithful believers who were caught up in the condemnation poured out upon the entire nation at other times.

So how do we make sense of this? How can we say God is just if He is pouring out punishment upon the innocent? Well, first off, that’s not really a question we need to wrestle with because there are no innocent. While Ahab may have been more egregiously guilty of idolatry, there was no one on earth who wasn’t also guilty of the sin just as there isn’t today. Whenever we have feared, loved, or trusted in anything more than our God, we are guilty of building altars to Baal in our heart, which means we have earned the full and fierce wrath of God. So when God refrains from punishing us the way we deserve, we should take this to mean that God is unjust when He finally pours out the wrath we merited. We should not mistake the mercy God gives us for what we’ve supposedly merited from Him.

But the other thing to remember about collective guilt is that getting caught up in the earthly punishment of God does not negate His eternal promises. As we see in the case of the widow and her son, the same God who is afflicting them loves them, calls them His own, and clothes them in the promise of the resurrection that He has given us as well. So even if God sends famine upon us today, even if He destroys us with nuclear explosions, or a thousand other destructive forces, even if God pours out wrath that consumes the egregiously guilt and the not-so-egregiously guilty alike, God has also promised His children that nothing can separate us from His love. He’s promised us that the instrument He uses to put men in the grave can be the same instrument He uses to deliver us into paradise and into His arms. So be at peace. Even if there are five million reasons to fear, you have nothing to fear. Because, in the blood of Christ, God has given you more than five million promises of salvation.

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