He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. [Psalm 103:10-12 (NLT)]
The question was asked, “How different would the world look if everyone got what they deserved?” and so I started wondering.
When I was ten, I watched on television as nine black students tried to enroll in an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas; they were blocked by the National Guard and an angry mob of 400 angry whites. Two years earlier, on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. I grew up in Detroit and, while discrimination and segregation were more subtle than in the South, it existed. I lived in a large home with a big yard on a tree-lined street but any trip “downtown” told me that most children of color didn’t live in homes like mine and their dads didn’t get to wear a suit and tie to work or drive shiny new cars. There may not have been “colored” drinking fountains or “white only” bathrooms but there was a six foot high, foot wide, and half-mile long wall segregating one black community from a neighboring white one; many other invisible and more impenetrable walls existed within our divided city. Even as a child, I knew no one deserved prejudice, discrimination, injustice, or poverty. I saw that my color gave me advantages that I hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve. Seeing no children of color at dance class, theater school, or summer camp, I thanked God that I’d been born a white American so that I had those opportunities. I realized that I lived a better life than did most people of color in my country and the majority of people in the rest of the world. I also knew that I was no better than anyone else; I wasn’t prettier, smarter, more talented or more deserving than any other race or nationality. By an accident of birth, I simply was more fortunate.
I’m not sure what the rest of the world would look like if everyone got what they deserved but my first thought was that Detroit would probably look a whole lot better than it does right now. Then I remembered that the Christian way isn’t giving everyone exactly what they deserve. It’s not an eye for an eye or a slur for a slur. It’s not blows and counterblows, attack and reprisal, or forgiving only if we’ve been forgiven. It’s not helping only those worthy of help, squaring accounts, or turning the tables. It’s helping the undeserving, forgiving the reprehensible, loving the heartless, accepting apologies, and burying the hatchet. It’s going the second mile and giving more than we got, bearing no malice, and praying for our persecutors rather than evening the score.
When asked how they’re doing, many Christians reply, “Better than I deserve.” The answer may be a bit of a cliché but it’s true. Just as I did nothing to deserve the advantages my race gave me, mankind has done absolutely nothing to be deserving of God’s blessings. Regardless of color, as recipients of God’s unmerited grace, we all have gotten more than we deserve (our salvation) and, as recipients of God’s mercy, we haven’t gotten what we do deserve (God’s punishment)! Certainly, God didn’t give us what we deserved when Jesus paid the penalty for our sins!
Upon second thought, I realize that, if everyone got only what they deserved, Detroit would look different but not any better (and probably worse). The world won’t improve if everyone gets exactly what they deserve. It’s not until we give everyone better than what they deserve that the world will ever truly change for the good.