Who Needed to be Reconciled? God or Humankind? (Thurs. July 1)

The word of the day is “reconciled.”  It is possible to find those who consider themselves enemies of God.  But most people would deny it.  Instead, many may admit that “God” does not mean much to them.  They harbor no ill will toward God as long as He doesn’t interfere with their lives.  Today in our reading of Romans 5:1-10, Paul writes that “If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…” (OSB Romans 5:10).  Today we will explore what it means to be an enemy of God.  From this study, we can gain a deeper appreciation of our reconciliation with God.

One question sets the direction of our thought.  Paul charges that we were enemies of God.  Was it God who is the enemy of humankind?   Or humankind who was the enemy of God?  Or both?  The answer determines our understanding of the reconciliation that the Cross of Christ has accomplished for us.

Who Changed Their Mind?

A way to understand the question is to ask if reconciliation is a change of mind and heart; who altered their thinking and attitude?  God’s love is steadfast (Psalm 86:15).  His faithfulness is everlasting (2 Timothy 2:3).  His mercy endures forever (Psalm 136).  Therefore, we cannot say that the Almighty was the enemy of the human race and then changed His mind.

In Micah, God asks plaintively, “O My People, what have I done to you?  How have I grieved you? Answer me”  (OSB Micah 6:3-4).  Likewise, St. John Chrysostom asks,  “And yet what has God not done, to be beloved of you?  What hath He not devised?”  What hath He omitted?  We insulted Him when He had not wronged us in aught but even benefited us with blessings countless and unspeakable” (NfPf1.11, 366).

God  Has Always Sought to be Our Friend

In the light of His forbearance and ardent for His creation, God can hardly be said to be our enemy.  Chrysostom says that even His threats of punishment are attempts to win us back to Him.  He states, “He [God] keeps on both threatening hell and promising a kingdom that even so He may draw us to Himself” (NfPf1:11, 366).

The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “God has not ceased to be our friend.  For He is unchangeable.  Thus His wrath is His unchangeable love for us spurned” (OSB comment on Romans 5:12).  The Almighty expresses His hurt feelings when He recounts how the injustices and immorality of the people continue to affront Him.  And He says, “Therefore I will begin to smite you and destroy you because of your sins” (OSB 6:13).  He will turn against His people not from hatred but disappointed love.

Thus we see that animosity does not motivate the Almighty in His dealings with humankind.  Rather His motivation is His love’s desire to be loved.  Accordingly, the Gospel of John proclaims, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”  (John 3:16).

Indifference is the Benign Rejection of God

On the other hand, does the Passion of the Lord change the mind of humans?  Some would say, “No: the human race has never declared war on the Almighty.  We have insisted on going our own way without bothering with the will and ways of our Creator.”

Yet this attitude is the bedrock of human sinfulness.  From the initial sin of Adam and Eve, humankind has declared its independence from its Creator.  But this desire to be one’s own god has led humanity farther and farther away from the source of life and goodness.

Indifference is a benign form of the rejection of God and everything that He represents.  The hatred that underlies this uncaring attitude was revealed whenever God tried to win humans back to Him.  When the Creator has tried to reveal His good for human persons, they have bristled with indignation.  Accordingly, Paul said, “By the law comes knowledge of sin” (OSB Romans 3:20).  The law commands, corrects, and holds humans accountable to the divine will.  And so, it stirs up animosity.  Man willfully subjects himself to corruption rather than acknowledge His dependence on and responsibility to His Creator.

The Cross Is the Divine Response to the Hatred of God

The Cross is God’s ultimate response to human rejection and hatred.   Paul writes, “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (OSB 5:10).  The Greek word is derived from the idea of the exchange of currency (Strong’s #2644).  Accordingly, by reconciliation, enemies are changed into friends.

Clearing Away the Past Animosity

God was not reconciled to humans, but humans were reconciled to God.  The Cross exchanged the human condition of alienation from God into the possibility of a loving relationship between humans and their Creator.  The Son of God took on our fallen state and our subjection to corruption.  When the Lord overcame sin and death by His crucifixion and resurrection, He gave humans a fresh start.  The age-old animosity that humans had toward God, the alienation between God and the human race that began with the sin in the Garden, the rejection of God by humans, sin’s affront to God’s goodness and holiness—all that the Cross cleared away like a table is cleared of dirty dishes.

For Reflection

The Orthodox Study Bible summarizes, “Those who accept and appropriate Christ’s love are reconciled to God, being restored to peace and communion with Him.  God has not ceased to be our Friend, for He is unchangeable.  We are the ones who have changed and thus need changing.  So while we were still rebellious enemies of God, God was working in His love to restore us” (OSB comment on Romans 5:10).

Think what a gracious offer the Cross sets before us.  We are invited to be friends of the Creator and Ruler of the Universe.  This invitation is a free gift of grace, an ultimate act of love that turns hearts of stone into hearts of love for God.

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