Devotion for the Week...
Have you ever met someone new and then gone to someone who knows that person well and asked "Is she really that nice all the time?" Or asked something similar, just to see if your first impression of the person was accurate? I do it sometimes with teenagers I don't know well. I'll ask my husband, who is a high school teacher and so sees them on a regular basis, if so-and-so is as good a kid as she (or he) seems.
We all form opinions of others based on what we know of them, what we have heard about them and what we expect them to be. We form opinions about ourselves too. With ourselves, though, we tend to focus on our failures, our fears and our shortcomings. We remember negative things people have said about us and take them on as part of our identity, while having trouble believing praise from other people. Because of that, many people have a distorted image of themselves as being less capable, less likeable and just generally less than they really are.
God's view of us is never distorted, though. I've said before that Romans is my favourite book of the Bible, and I've been reading it lately in The Message paraphrase whenever I'm waiting to pick up one of the boys. Last week this verse jumped out at me: "God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind" (Romans 2:11) It was the 'or what you think' part that really got my attention. How many people have trouble believing God loves them because they think they're unworthy of His love? How many can't believe He wants to use them because they don't think they're good at anything? Of course, The Message is a paraphrase, not a direct translation, so I checked out some translations to see how they translated this verse.
First, though, a little context. In this chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul was writing about those who judge others as sinful, while they themselves are also sinning. He then goes on to say:
because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are
storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism" (vv. 5-11 in the NIV translation).
'First for the Jew, then for the Gentile' means that God's judgement is impartial, with no distinction made based on race, nationality or anything else. Each person will receive 'trouble and distress' or 'glory, honor and peace' based on God's righteous judgement of their life.
Other translations render verse 11 as "For there is no partiality with God" (NKJV), "For there is no preferential treatment with God" (Phillips) and "for there is no respect of persons with God" (ASV), all of which agree with the NIV 'God does not show favoritism.'
At first glance, it may seem that Eugene Peterson has gone astray with his paraphrase, since "God does not show favoritism" doesn't seem to mean the same thing as "God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind." But the more I think about it, in this context, the more I think Peterson got it right.
God doesn't look at the external markers of who we are. If you were to write the bare facts of my identity, you would say I am female, Canadian, a wife and mother, a quilter, a writer and a blogger. All of which is true, but none of which makes any difference to how God will judge me at the end of my life. If we were each to write out a list about ourselves, we would add characteristics like shy or outgoing, along with things maybe no one else knows about us, like private struggles we share with no one but that affect our perception of who we are. But again, none of that affects how God will judge us.
God knows the truth about us, without needing to check in with others to see if His impression is right. He doesn't need to ask us if we're worthy, or hear reports about our behavior from the town gossips. He knows us. He knows whether our hearts are turned towards Him, or whether we reject Him even while we pretend to be one of His own.
However others may define you, or whatever they (or you) may say about you, God will judge you by your heart.