Friday, June 08, 2018

He will come to judge the world

My guess is that nothing serves as a better barometer of the spiritual climate than the sorts of thoughts we entertain about God's judgement.  I've been struck particularly over the last week or so by the way in which many people, even Christians who are committed to their Bibles, are uncomfortable with the thought of God as judge.  In particular, we struggle to square our commitment to the idea that God is love - and the NT certainly does say that, in so many words, and means it too - and the idea that God will come with fire and a winnowing fork.

And yet the Psalms paint a different picture.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
A joy that fills all creation, and all because God is coming to judge!  And sometimes this is directly linked to God's love.

So what makes the difference in perspective?  My guess is a couple of things.

Most fundamental, I suppose, we - or at least many of us - have become far too accustomed to living in the world, such that we no longer notice its corruption, the evil all around us.  We're okay with the world carrying on as it is, pretty much indefinitely.  Or we've bought into the secular idea that things aren't that bad, and it just needs a little human effort to bring in the future utopian bliss.  This is probably only something that happens when Christians are comfortable, both in terms of an absence of persecution and a good provision of worldly goods.  My guess is that the best way to counteract this is to think about others a bit more.  For myself, remembering that in our peaceful and prosperous society the unborn can be freely disposed of brings it home that this world needs judgement.

I think as well that the standard image we're given of God's judgement in much contemporary teaching, in which we believers stand on the right side of judgement and everyone else goes down, makes us quite uncomfortable.  As well it should.  If we know anything at all, we know we're at least as bad as those around us.  It smacks a bit of that most contemporary sin, privilege, to claim that we'll make it through the judgement and everyone else won't.

There is a strand to the biblical picture of God's judgement which looks like this: God rescuing his people by judging the world.  But there is something more fundamental, I think.  When God comes to judge the world, he comes to make things right.  That is why all creation rejoices.  Can we just think a little more about the sin of abortion?  Who is promoting abortion rights in our society?  It's not the baddies.  It's the decent, progressive, nice people.  The people with whom we could stand shoulder to shoulder to protest the abuse of the poor, or the dehumanising of immigrants.  And yet these same people believe strongly in their right to expose infants (for that is what it is).  What do we do with that?  Who can unravel these strands or right and wrong, see to the heart of it, make sure everyone gets justice?  Only God, surely.

That's why creation rejoices at the coming judgement of God.  His judgement is the final dividing of light from dark, order from chaos, good from evil.  In the Genesis story, a provisional and primary division is made as the good creation is brought out from the darkened chaos.  In Revelation, that division is extended to the moral and personal realm and made final.  And this is good!  Just as the morning stars sang together at the first dawn, so all the trees and mountains and rivers will rejoice at that final definitive dawn.

And what a depth it adds to this picture when we understand that this judgement has been entrusted to our Lord Jesus!  But that is a whole different post.

1 comment:

  1. Similar things have crossed my mind recently. Laregely in response to those chilling pictures of many (probably) nice and well-mannered people (including a family member) celebrating the fact that many more babies can now be killed.

    Of course, another invisibly sinful aspect of our society is its prosperity built off the back of overseas exploitation. Many who go on about social justice probably pay into investments and pensions and buy products that fund a huge amount of suffering and bloodshed (even an 'ethical' fund I looked into recently has holdings in Nestle and Apple). James 5 was straightforward when oppression was fairly direct, but now we put money in a pot and don't think about exactly what's done with it. Scarily enough, ignorance seems to be no excuse when it comes to God's judgement in such matters.