In his book on the psalms, C.S. Lewis commented on the difference between the Jewish view of judgment and the Christian view. The Christian, he said, thinks of judgment as a criminal trial with himself in the dock. The Jewish mentality thought of it as a civil proceeding, with himself as the plaintiff. This explains why the Christian instinct is to avert judgment, to seek a solution for it, which of course is ultimately found in the cross. The Jewish instinct is to pray for judgment to come, for God to intervene, and the sooner the better.
Our last Wednesday night's bible study was on the grim little book of Nahum. Pastor Terry noted these points, speaking of Nahum 1:4-10, where God comes across alternately as a God of love and compassion, and a God of wrath, anger and judgment:
This destruction of the wicked is not as black and white as we sometimes make it out to be. We can make equal and opposite errors here:
- Minimize or deny the wrath of God on the wicked and make a "pink" god of our own imagination
- Self-righteously call down wrath on all the sinners, "out there" and delight to imagine God wiping out the wicked.
His reference to a "pink" God comes from G.K. Chesterton, speaking of Christianity's ability to keep two seemingly opposite notions held in tension.
It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray. (Orthodoxy)
In this case, I think of the God who has revealed Himself as a God of both judgment and a God of mercy being replaced by a bland and insipid god. A god like the effeminate teacher who threatens discipline but never carries it out.
Justice and mercy. Neither can be compromised. Both are necessary. How can they be reconciled? I have heard it said somewhere that Justice is God giving us what we deserve. Mercy is His not giving us what we deserve. But between these two, separating these two, if you like, as a membrane or a force-field between two incompatible and potentially explosive reactants, is grace. Grace is His giving us what we don't deserve, and that is mercy. Justice, mercy, grace -- God is a God of all three, and all three meet at the cross.
Because judgment, for the Christian believer, has already taken place -- at Calvary. The sentence, a sentence of death, was passed; the penalty was assessed and borne by Christ on behalf of all who would believe. Without Christ our own death would have been permanent, our eternal future hopeless. But because of his resurrection we too have been raised to newness of life. This is perhaps hard to put into words, but when we are reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit; when God brings us into a relationship with Himself, we become a new person. Everything is new; everything is different. We die to ourselves and our old life, and are made new and alive in Christ.
...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
But the one not covered by Christ's sacrifice needs to be careful in asking for justice. The human tendency is sometimes to yearn for God's judgment upon the wicked. We long to see injustice punished. But the final judgment is just that -- final. Judgment will come. It will come in God's own time. But come it will -- it is inevitable. And when it comes, that's it. As C.S.Lewis said, "...when the author walks on to the stage, the play is over."
We as Christians know that the final judgment will determine everyone's eternal destiny. That is why we should be reaching out to all we can with the good news of Jesus Christ -- the good news that they may have eternal life, starting now, by placing all faith and trust in him.
We may yearn for this world to be over, but we must realize that when it is, there is no further hope for those, even those we may know and love, who do not know Christ. We should be careful what we wish for.