20 The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse,
but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.
21 Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished,
but those who are righteous will go free.
If we find ourselves perplexed by the Lord’s personality, it is a confirmation of his authenticity. No person can fully understand another, indeed most of us don’t fully understand ourselves – we should expect the true God to elude comprehension. Here we are told that “the Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse,” and we may be tempted to see him only through the lens of justice. But he is also merciful, as the story of Jonah tells us, it was Jonah who became a caricature of judgment in the face of God’s mercy.
This complexity applies also to the second clause, “[the Lord] delights in those whose ways are blameless.” One may be tempted to use such verses to “prove” that life is about staying on God’s “good side” and avoiding his “bad side.” But surely the creator of all things has more than two dimensions. The story of Job challenges such naivete, he was “blameless and upright,” but his life was no walk in the park. If we read the scriptures with the hope of confirming our assumptions, we shall be sorely disappointed.
“Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will go free.” There is more to righteousness than good behavior, just as there is more to wickedness than bad behavior. The defining characteristic of the great biblical figures is not perfect behavior, it is trust in the Lord. It was this by which Abraham was credited with righteousness (Genesis 15:6), in spite of his many errors. And he was no exception to the rule, but one of many examples, a handful of which are mentioned in Hebrews 11. If we must reduce this verse to a simple rule, it is that actions have consequences. But thankfully there is more to it than that.