November 13, 1985
Armero was a vibrant little village of some 28,000 residents. It was nestled in the shadow of Nevada Del Ruiz, about 60 kilometers N/W of Bogota, Columbia. Minor earthquakes and steam had been disturbing the quietness for almost a year. But, unknown to anyone in the area, things were about to change!
The initial explosion began shortly after 3 p.m. on November 13, 1985. Nevertheless, the residents remained calm. They had been assured by the mayor and a local priest that the ash and pumice raining down on them posed no imminent danger. They were told to remain in their homes.
Six hours later, as most had prepared for the night, the volcano exploded with violent force. Molten rock began to erupt from the summit for the first time in 140 years. The heat from this explosion melted the glacier, a 25 square kilometer ice cap at the summit. Heated water mixed with ice, pumice, rock and other volcanic debris began to flow to the river, the valley and the village below. Traveling at nearly 50 kilometers per hour, the mudflow reached Amero shortly after the eruption began. Nearly three quarters of the villagers were buried or swept away in just a few short moments. The 23,000 death toll quickly became the second most deadly volcanic disaster of the 20th century. Only Mt Pelee in 1902 (30.000) surpassed this tragedy.
The morning news brought views of the devastation to the world. We watched the people in their shock. Aid stations, hospitals and supply depots were quickly overwhelmed. But there was one additional gathering place that morning. A very religious people, the villagers rushed to their churches. Some with very thankful hearts their lives had been spared. Others were in deep sorrow as they began to count their loss.
I saw a third group gathering with their fellow villagers that day. They were people experiencing neither thankfulness nor sorrow, but in search of an understanding of…
Why their God was punishing them.
I watched closely as an elderly woman walked barefoot up a rough and rocky path three miles to her church. It was a walk done in penance – an attempt to please an angry God. If only she could make restitution for her sins, perhaps she and the rest of her family would be spared from the next explosion of wrath that was sure to come.
There are those who believe the Cross of Christ provides the people of the world the opportunity to “make restitution” for their sins and shortcomings. They think the cross is a new beginning that allows them to start again,
“Only do things right this time!”
It’s like a man standing before a judge. The judge pronounces sentence: “You have been found GUILTY as charged and have been sentenced to death! However, I suspend that sentence, and order you to:
1) Make restitution.
2) You will be in prison for the rest of your life in payment of your penalty.
You will have NO CHANCE of parole!
3) If you EVER come before me again, I will carry out that sentence.
You WILL be put to death.
This man feels the judge spared his life, but he will now live under judgment.
Many Christians live their lives with this understanding of God.
They realize He spared them, but believe He says:
1) Make restitution.
2) Do penance for your sins.
3) Don’t EVER come before me again!!
Is this an accurate picture of God’s Grace?
Is this an accurate understanding of what our relationship with Him is to be like?
More than ever before, I am recognizing that the Cross of Christ makes us new; not reformation, but transformation. Not a repairing of the old life, but a new creation.
That same man stands before the judge and confesses that he is, indeed, guilty as charged. He fully expects the worst, knowing the distinct possibility that he faces the death penalty. At the very best, he’ll have a lifetime of confinement, penance, and judgment. He waits with anxious heart to hear the verdict announced.
Will the Judge say:
“Depart from me! I never knew you; your executioner awaits.
I will have no further part with you!”
Or will he have compassion and allow me to repay my debt to society? I must confess, though, even death today may be easier than spending an entire lifetime under the judgment I know I deserve. Perhaps death would be the easy way out. Why face a life of defeat, discouragement, and despair?
If only there were some hope… If only I had not done such a disastrous deed… If only I had a way out… If only I had done things differently… If only I’d made other choices…
If only!… If only!… If only….
Knowing the only possible results are death or punishment, I stand before the judge…
I glance at His face and peer into His eyes for a quick moment, expecting to see judgment and condemnation, anger and wrath. I… I don’t understand… His countenance… His eyes are soft. I’m bewildered… It’s almost as if He understands my predicament. What’s that I hear? His voice… It’s… No! This can’t be… Surely I didn’t hear right! I thought He said: “My son.” I dare not look at Him again… I’ll waken from this dream and finally have to confront the wrath I know will surely be mine.
There! I KNOW I heard it this time! I KNOW He said that! But it can’t be! Never before have I heard a voice so full of Love. His eyes… There really is no condemnation! But… He speaks… He… He knows my thoughts!
“My son,” He says, “I have known from before the beginning of time this moment would come when you would stand before me and I would hear you confess your sin. And yes, the penalty for your guilt truly is death. But, you see, many years ago, there was a man… They call Him JESUS… That man was God… There was a Cross… That Cross was death… That death is the payment of your penalty. You confessed your guilt, you confessed your sin.
You are my son. I am not your judge,
I am your Father!”
Oh, there seems to be so little I understand about this. FATHER??! I don’t deserve this. FATHER?!! Dare I call you… Father?? Let me ask, Sir, what must I do to be worthy of this? How can another’s death pay my penalty? Who did that? Even if it were true, how could His death spare me from death? Even if I could understand this, I know I don’t deserve it. I have so many questions! Tell me, Sir, what must I do to be saved? I know the only possible choices were death, or punishment, penance for my guilt, and judgment… If I’m to be spared from death, then what is to be my punishment? How do I pay penance?
“First things first, my son. Your understanding of ‘how’ is not important. But let me help you understand ‘why’. It’s quite simple, really. I Love you. I Love you so much I sent my Son to die for you. His death was the total payment of the penalty for your sin. There is no punishment. There is no penance. There is no judgment. I give you the Gift of this relationship freely.
Don’t try to pay again the price that has already been paid!”
Well, OK, F… Fa… Father, but give me a moment to ask just one more thing. What if I fail? What if I fall? What if I do it again? Must I live in fear that I will sin again? You see, I know my weaknesses. I know my secrets. At times I’m strong. At times the desire to move into that area again is far from me. But yet, at other times it comes upon me so quickly. I find that that which I want to do, I cannot do and that which I know is evil, I find myself doing…Oh, wretched man that I am! Father! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
“My Son, let me explain one more thing to you. That death of my Son on that Cross set you free! Not only from the penalty of your sin, not only from the punishment of your guilt, but also from the power of sin. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. There is therefore no condemnation for you. Will I accuse you? Listen close to what I am saying to you! My SON died for you! Will I bring a charge against you? I justified you!”
“This is the covenant I make with you. Your sins and your lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now, where there is forgiveness of these things, I no longer require a sacrifice for sin! Therefore, my son, you now have confidence to come into my presence with freedom and boldness. Please, don’t ever allow your awareness of your sin to keep you out of my presence!”
“From this moment and forever, you do not come before me to be judged.
You come to me as my son!”
Father, you called this a Gift. I’m amazed! How may I learn more about this? Freedom? Boldness in your presence? Peace in the midst of my pain? Do you have any idea how much pain I’ve had in my life? I’ve longed to live in freedom from it. Everything I’ve ever received I had to pay for. I need to learn more about this. How do I learn to Love you?
“I have written a letter to you outlining our relationship. In it I tell you how sons are to live. But don’t get the wrong idea. I give you my word – not to describe how you are to perform in order for me to be pleased with you. I give you my Word because it is the lifestyle I know will bring you the greatest joy. I understand your weakness. You will falter. You will fail. You will not always (ever) be everything I want you to be. But… you are my son! In your weakness I will be your strength. In the darkness, I will be your light. I will live with you, loving, protecting, guiding, sharing, and giving. Yes, even perfecting. But my presence in your life does not depend upon your perfection, but upon your acceptance of my Love. As long as you allow me to, I will live with you. I will give of myself to you – and to others through you, simply…
Because I love you.”
“Please, when you read a portion of my letter and see something you have failed at… realize… I do not reject you! Your failure does not affect my love for you. My only requirement is that you do not run from me. You see, at times, because you are my son, I will discipline you. Learn to accept it. If I do not discipline you, you are not truly my son. However, my discipline is not to punish you for a deed of disobedience, but to reveal to you the depth of my Love.
My son, my greatest desire is that you would let me
help you understand the depth of that Love.”