Punished by Your Sin
The notion of the retributive irony has to do with being punished by means of your own sin. I want to address two things here. Can believers suffer this kind of retributive irony? First of all, let’s focus a little bit more on another example of being punished by means of your own sin—the notion of idol worship. Psalm 115, and its parallel in Psalm 135, says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold. They have eyes, but they can’t see; they have ears, but they can't hear; they have mouths, but they cannot speak. Those who make them will become like them, even those who worship them.”
A New Testament scholar shows how God has used irony throughout history in order to put his own wisdom and glory on display, using what is weak and foolish to accomplish his purposes.
So the idea is the nations are building these idols that look like people or animals. They have eyes but they can’t see ears but they can’t hear. That’s even true spiritually, not just physically. In the ancient world, the idea is that if you worship idols and you think that’s going to bring you blessing, it will only bring you death. Behind the idols, it’s not just nothing, it’s spiritual death and demons.
Paul says in Deuteronomy, “So you will begin to have eyes but not seeing and ears but not hearing.” He’s referring to spiritual eyes that aren’t seeing and spiritual ears that aren’t hearing. That’s what Isaiah means in Isaiah 6:9–10. It says, “This people, they have eyes but they can’t see and ears but they can’t hear.”
Why is Isaiah saying that? Because generation after generation, Israel has been recalcitrant and they have not repented to the prophetic warning. “Stop the idolatry and trust in me!” the Lord says. So God says, “You love your idols? I’m going to hand you over to them. You’re going to have eyes but can’t see and ears but can’t hear. Not in the sense that you’re going to become petrified stone like the idols, but you’re going to become as spiritually lifeless and spiritually inanimate as the idols. You like them? Okay, you’re going to become just like them.”
When we’re committed to something else that doesn’t have the Spirit of God, we become as spiritually inanimate as that thing to which we are committed.
The Effect on Others
The other question I want to pose is Can believers be affected by this? I wouldn’t say that believers are ever under the judgment of God after they believe because Christ has taken that judgment. But there are disciplinary measures that God puts us through. We can be idol worshippers and we can undergo damage—all of us. In fact, I would say a principle of sanctification is that we won’t be fully sanctified until we die or see the Lord when he comes back.
The principle of sanctification is that all of us, to one degree or another, are idol worshippers. Calvin said the heart is an idol factory—and that’s true to one degree or another. There are subtle ways that we can worship and be committed to other things instead of the Lord. And when we’re committed to something else that doesn’t have the Spirit of God, we become as spiritually inanimate as that thing to which we are committed.
Maybe it’s a girlfriend, maybe it’s a boyfriend, maybe it’s a job, money, a hobby, or sports. Whatever you’re committed to, if you’re committed to that more than the Lord, then you’re going to become—to some degree, depending on the degree of your commitment—spiritually lifeless and inanimate.
The Lord needs to break through if you’re a believer. How does the Lord do that? Through his word. You come to his word. It’s a living word, and it can break through by the Holy Spirit to us and shock us back into the reality of our relationship with the Lord.
G. K. Beale is the author of Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom.
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