I’ve gone back to Ecclesiastes for my devotional time in the mornings. This morning I read chapter 8, verse 11 (LEB), “Because sentence against an evil deed is not carried out quickly, the heart of humans fills up within them to do evil.”
One of the complaints against God is that he doesn’t take quick action against sinners. We often hear the handwringing lamentations: “Oh God! He did this against me and you did nothing!” “If God were there He wouldn’t allow that to happen!” “If God were truly just he would strike such evil people down!” “Where was God when such a terrible dead was committed?”
Have you ever noticed that such statements are always about other people’s sins? No one ever concludes, “I did this and God didn’t strike me dead, so he much not exist.” No one ever complains about God not punishing their own sin. It is always the sins of others; the sins committed against us; the sins we find offensive rather than those we find pleasurable.
Imagine for a moment that God set aside, like we do, a special set of sins which he would punish immediately. Let’s imagine that punishment as something universally terror inducing—death. We could all make a list to include here—even those otherwise against capital punishment could list crimes they would like to see God punish with death. We all imagine those who do these crimes quickly being taken out of the human race; those left behind would be too fearful to commit them.
However, now suppose God said “I am going to expand the list to include not only the sins that offend you, but each and every sin that offends me.” How many would die? How different would the world be? The world would be a place of constant fear. Rather than fearing the tyrant down the street we would regard God as a tyrant. This is because such a situation may inspire obedient behavior and a change of actions, but it does not change the heart. We would still be sinners inside, while outwardly looking good—at least good enough not to die.
Sin is a condition of the heart. God is not interested in simply changing our behavior—at least not primarily. He works to change the heart which inspires and animates sin. This is why rather than swiftly punishing sin he is merciful and gracious, giving us what we do not deserve while refraining from giving us what we do deserve. God changes what we are, not just what we do.
So, the next time you wonder “Why doesn’t God just smite those sinners?” take a good look in the mirror and thank him for not smiting you.