Both/and can seem like a cop out. In human nature our draw toward security makes us oversimplify life into either/or, black or white paradigms. Paradox is not the friend of someone that does not want to get out of the oversimplifying bubble.
Such is the problem one could have when reading about Annanias and Saphira if you want to see God only as giving mankind teachable moments. For those of you not familiar with the story, Annanias and Saphira came into the early church with their communal living. By living communally, they could be counting on communal support to the highest level. In keeping up the 100% dedication appearance, they said they were giving all of the proceeds of their land but they did not really. Peter got a line on this through the Holy Spirit and both spouses dropped dead the same day.
Acts 5: 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?…11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.”
But it does not end there with fear. The story goes on to show really good things.
“12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.”
Are the two streams, one of wrath and one of grace, a contradiction? I think they would have to be without the role of holiness. In Peter’s epistle that he wrote decades later, he says that the Church is a holy nation. In the Acts passage, Peter does not make the lying an offense to him personally but all to and about God. The church is holy not by personality or hierarchy but by the infused work of the Holy Spirit on the individual and the group. A natural nation you may feel entitled under carnal rules to try to scam and work around, but for a holy nation you do not. A holy nation always would have a north star to keep their bearings in, and the living work of the Holy Spirit by the intercession of Jesus perpetuates the deposit of truth and holiness in ways we like and ways we don’t.
But where does this leave Peter? Throughout the scriptures we know two things: he was very good at being flaky and he was also called as the chief of the apostles. So how could those factors help Peter when he is delivering news of God judgment and of His healing? Jesus said that for those who have been forgiven much will love much. I can hope that Peter was grieved that his brother and sister in the faith suffered such a consequence, but knew that the mission had to be fulfilled of this holy nation reaching out to very unholy world. And the people that were of the Church and from outside saw a dynamic going on of consistency of discipline. This created the right environment for holiness to be shown in the “fun” context of miracles.
The environment that is touched by this sense of sacredness, or holiness, speaks to all the persons in this story that it is really not about them. The married couple thought that the Church could be a business, and Peter could have been tempted to see the Church as his own cult of personality. This holiness calls us beyond the head scratcher paradox directs us to look beyond ones self at God’s larger agenda. A verse that comes to mind for me that influences me to become a Catholic was, “Thy kingdom comes, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That kingdom on earth is to be “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church”. These characteristics are intertwined always. If we pray and live humbly with that impulse, we will avoid sin and be instruments of Jesus’ grace beyond our wildest dreams.
Hebrews 4: 12 “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”