I have often wondered how God will balance judgment and mercy for us when we have done so many things so badly. This is not about “falling short” or just making mistakes. This is about evil in the world . . . and in our hearts.
Jeremiah spelled out some comfort for dads and moms who have messed up: “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:29-30) Ezekiel some 50 years later expanded on this theme concluding, ““What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die . . . Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:2-32)
Yet it was this same Ezekiel who warned, “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 3:18)
The biggest interest I have had over this passage is the ripple effect. When you throw a stone in a pond, you see how it ripples out. When a boat makes a “track” of wakes in the sea it spreads out a long way from the narrow passage of the craft. Our actions are like the boat traversing the ocean. Behind us we leave “tracks” not only in the lives of those closest to our engine, but spreading out for some time and some distance.
When I think of the times I failed to do the right thing for different people God brought across my path, I not only hurt them, but those who they then failed as a result of my failure to help them be what God wanted them to be. Like a wake traveling out from the motor of my boat, my sins affected many others whom I never met.
In the same way, when I did what was right to different people who came under my influence, the “tracks” of my faithfulness spread out to others whom they were then equipped better to help.
How long do the tracks in the trackless seas of our lives go on? This thought came to me as I watched the boats racing across the Adriatic Sea between Croatia and Italy. The wakes spread out behind each watercraft; wide and long if it was a catamaran or ferry; narrow and slight if it was a dingy or sailboat. And eventually the tracks were gone. Lost again in the trackless sea. There are those whose tracks are longer lasting and effective for generations, whether they be Friedrich Nietzsches or A.B.Simpsons, Pharoahs or Moseses. And there are those of us who are small skiffs whose wakes will only affect a few blog readers.
So there is that relief for those of us who have spread “tracks” of sin; the effects will not go on forever; there will come a time when each one must give account for his/her own actions and reactions to what we did. And the blessing will only go so far as well. Each generation must take up the responsibility to renew the “tracks,” creating new wakes behind each one, to extend the good things we may have done.
Only One knows the answer to how far our “tracks” will influence others, and He has promised to be merciful. “Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ezekiel 33:13-15)
This is simply to affirm that 1) Only God can judge such matters. 2) He will judge, but not according to our standards. 3) He longs to be merciful if we only repent. This is at once the easiest and hardest thing in the world to do. Faith in Jesus is so simple a child can exercise it and find love and favor in God’s eyes. Yet it requires giving up everything I want in every way I want it, doing life His way, not mine. But once surrendered, He gives SOOOO much better in return.
We do not know how long the effects of our lives will last, and eventually the sea will forget our “tracks” but we should still leave the best that we can behind us in this trackless sea.