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026  Comforting Judgment

Last time, I wrote about "terrible grace," the grace of God that should lead us to repentance. I promised to follow up with a discussion of God's judgment, which ought to be a source of comfort for us.

Judgment, a source of comfort?

Absolutely. The Hope of the Church is the return of Jesus, the Messiah, who will set all things right. All will be judged. Some who are last will be made first; some who are first will be set last. And then there will be a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness lives, there will be no crying or sadness, no children will die prematurely of wasting diseases, and... no fools.

If you'd like to review the topic briefly, allow me to recommend Isaiah 65:17-25, which is echoed and expanded in Revelation 21:1-8 and summarized thus in II Peter 3:13 (ESV):

"But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."

This illustrates both Old and New Testament theology, familiar to Jesus and His Apostles and taught by them basically unchanged from the 2nd Temple version of Judaism that they all practiced.

Notice how Peter emphasizes, regarding what is new, "righteousness." That's what this is all about; God created humans and heavenly beings to behave righteously. When He comes and corrects the corrupted earth, that will be the object of His correction. Never forget it.

In order to accomplish this, one of the necessary things will be the removal of the wicked from among the righteous. As with the new heaven and new earth, removing the wicked is an Old Testament theme asserted unchanged by Jesus and His apostles. Passages discussing this directly include Psalm 37:8-11, Revelation 21:8, Matthew 13:47-50, and Matthew 13:24-30, which Jesus explains in Matthew 13:36-43. There are oodles and oodles of indirect repetitions of this theme as well: the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the earth swallowing Korah's rebellion, Joshua's genocide against the Rephaim, and so on. 

Jesus' parable about this in Matthew 13:24-30 is instructive. He tells of a farmer who planted good seed (God is not the author of evil) but in whose field weeds grow up because of the acts of an enemy. He permits the wheat and weeds to grow together until they are mature, at which point it will be easy to distinguish one from the other. Then he sends his servants (angels, in Jesus' explanation in Matthew 13:36-43) to sort them out, discard the weeds, and bring the wheat into the barn.

The result of doing this appears in Jesus' explanation:

"Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Matthew 13:43 ESV)

Notice that it is the presence of the wicked that prevents the righteous from shining. The Apostle Paul says the same, referring to God's wrath aimed at all the unrighteousness among humankind, "...who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18 ESV). God's righteousness is hidden by wicked behavior.

Take the next two paragraphs slowly and ponder them a while.

It happens that the main thing that makes it difficult for humans to see God in His creation is the simple fact that God, Himself, is the entire background. The proper functioning of nature is an ongoing act of God (no, He didn't just set it in motion and then step back, despite how some read Gen 2:2; that would be Deism, and Christians are not Deists). Humans asking "Where is God?" are like fish asking for evidence that there exists such a thing as an ocean. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts 17:28  ESV). The correct answer to "Where is God?" is "Where is He not?", because He really is everywhere we look, and sustains us all with His presence, all the time. Were He to look away, if that were possible, we would simply cease to be.

And the correct answer to "Where is He not?" is "In human sin, and demonic events." God did not create bone cancer in children; the demons did that, and we empowered them by worshiping them in exchange for knowledge (a broad topic for another day.) So that's our fault, not His.

If we want a new heaven and earth in which righteousness lives, God must remove the wicked. All the frustration that we all feel regarding the injustice, atrocities, and suffering of our sad world will be resolved in this manner. God's judgment is the very thing that will relieve all the suffering.

So why are we afraid of God's judgment? (The author chuckles wickedly. Ok, here comes the curve ball...)

We're afraid of God's judgment primarily because we're guilty.

Jesus is alarmingly clear about this:

"...this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:19-21 ESV)

There's no way to misinterpret this. It's a general principle; those who shrink from the light, do so because they view their own deeds as too wicked to bear examination. Even if you are Christian, if you feel fear when considering God's judgment, it means you feel guilty. (See also I John 3:18-20, I John 4:17-18, and their surrounding context, where the Apostle John discusses this problem.)

Of course, we all have a distorted notion of God's judgment here in the West because we imagine it as a criminal court; the court in Jewish theology is from the ancient world, a ruling King who settles all disputes. Yes, He hands out punishments where appropriate, but He also hands out rewards, removes oppressors, requires those who stole to repay what they stole, and so forth. So judgment is not necessarily a bad thing. Quite the contrary, if you've been suffering due to injustice, God's judgment is the very thing you need in order to remedy that.

So, rejoice! Judgment is your friend! Unless you're one of the oppressors, you're doing unjustly to someone else, or you're suppressing the truth by your indecent behavior, in which case...

The very point of God's grace toward us is to make sure that when the Judge comes, we end up on the right side of judgment. That will the topic of the next RfMemo. And if you think, as so many Protestants have been taught incessantly, that the answer rests entirely on what you BELIEVE, you're in for a rude surprise. What you believe is NOT what God judges; He actually cares very little about theology. What you believe is supposed to produce the behavior that God judges favorably.

Wrestle with that for a few weeks, and I'll be back with some explanation. In the meantime, submit any concerns you have to God directly, so that He can fix them. We really are saved by grace, which comes from God...

Phil Weingart

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