Meditations in 1 Peter : 41 : The Heavenly Watcher
1 Pet 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The biggest lie that Satan tells people is that they are alone in life – that there is no God, and if there is one He doesn’t care about them. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the witness of the whole Bible – that God IS there and He is active! One of Francis Schaeffer’s early books was called, “The God who is There” and it was all about knowing that this is true. The Bible never explains it; it takes it for granted that God is there and He moves and does things and communicates with people. Take God’s movements and activities and words out of the Bible and you will have nothing left; it is that simple!
Yet again our verse above starts with a ‘For’, a connecting word. Peter has just quoted from Psalm 34 and the prior verses give guidance for living a good life and it then concludes with a word of motivation which could have started with the word ‘because’. In its shortest form this could be put, “Do those things to live a good life because God is watching and He responds to what He sees!”
Now the actions of God in this verse are not what you might expect. They are responses to the righteous and those who do evil; two groups of people who evoke two different responses from the Lord.
First the Lord is watching and listening to the righteous: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” The Lord sees the righteous and He listens when they pray, i.e. He is attentive to them and the implication is He is doing this in order to bless them. The Lord is positive about those who are righteous. That may sound an obvious thing to say but it is true. That is the motivation, in Peter’s mind, for us doing good and seeking to be righteous, because the Lord responds well to such people and blesses them.
The other side of the coin is slightly strange at first sight: “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” This rather suggests that He turns His face away from such people and leaves them to their own devices. Now why should such a thing be? It is, I suggest, because Scripture testifies again and again that the wrong things that people do come back on them. It is like a form of judgment but it doesn’t need God to take action for He’s already allowed for it in the way He’s designed the world. We often think that God has to act against evil people but the Bible testifies that they will get what it coming to them simply through the way that the world works.
For example, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7), i.e. what he sows, his bad actions, will eventually develop and grow into something that will come back on him. It’s a simple law. Of course there are also Paul’s famous words in Romans: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (Rom 1:26 and “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) In each case God just stood back and did not try to restrain them but allowed them free rein to get deeper and deeper into sin which was destroying them. His judgment is already built into the way things work. Unrestrained sin brings destruction. You see this especially clearly in respect of sex and of taking drugs. Unrestrained expression brings destruction – literally!
It is possible that the latter part of this verse can mean that God does act, for “the face of the Lord” being against someone can also mean He does act against them. It can be taken both ways, and there are times when the Lord stands back and lets evil destroy itself and there are times when the Lord steps in and brings action that prematurely destroys it or even brings someone to their senses. There are examples of both in Scripture. The Lord is not bound by a situation but exercises His knowledge and wisdom to decide the best course of action to be taken in the light of the sort of people involved.
This concept, of alternative responses from the Lord, is seen throughout the Bible. For example, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isa 1:19,20) There was a clear warning to Israel: obey and be blessed, disobey and be destroyed. Sometimes it is a simple word of encouragement through the promise of blessing for obedience: “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” (Lev 25:18,19) At other times alternatives are given: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God…. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut 28:2,15) Promises of blessing and warnings against destruction abound in the Bible. God’s desire is to bless us but if we refuse to heed His guidance, then the alternative is there and no one should complain about it. We choose the path we take and what goes with it: “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” (Mt 7:13,14) Choose rightly.