Eyes for Judgment
Ever struggle to see judgment as a good thing? It scares us, we fear it, and it feels antithetical to a “good and loving” God. But why is this? I would argue that we have a distaste for judgment because we are scarred by our guilt. Because our sin runs deeper than we wish it did. Because we are still influenced by the satanic doubt implanted in our flesh that causes us to question whether God is truly good after all.
Perhaps most poignantly, we have a distaste for judgment because we all know that, deep inside, we deserve it.
Yet. As people transformed by the gospel to see reality through God’s eyes, we are able to see judgment in a new light. But we can only see it once we are safely “outside” its reach; once we are declared “not guilty.” When this happens, however, we can understand that God’s judgment is precisely what gives us hope in this world. We live in a broken place, full of broken people with broken hearts, broken desires, and broken minds. It’s a terrible place most of the time.
Let’s define God’s judgment as the intersection of God’s unique holiness and love for justice with this broken world. In other words, judgment is what happens when this God intersects with this world.
Now, if there was no judgment, there could be no hope for us. For God would exist in His sphere, and our world would forever exist in ours. And we could see no end to the evil. No end to the damage. Miroslav Volf writes to this end:
“I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”*
In other words, God’s breathtaking goodness, His unique and glorious holiness, His perfectly pure righteousness, and even – as Volf argues – His love cannot exist in conjunction with a world that is hell-bent on rejecting these very qualities. Not, that is, without judgment at the center of the collision. The alternative is an apathetic God. And I know that God is anything but apathetic.
My hope for a world where things are not broken is bound up in His judgment. My hope for the desolation of the perpetrators of evil is bound up in His judgment. My hope for a world where love not just “wins” but reigns is utterly bound up in His judgment. Without it, I face an eternally unresolved tension.
So why do we feel distaste? Because we empathize with the condemned of the world. Because we were the condemned of the world. And now experiencing His mercy, we face two perilous mutations. On the one hand, we must never self-righteously gawk at the sinners of the world while wagging our fingers (“I can’t imagine anyone being that bad!”). That would be to forget entirely from whence we came. However, the opposite extreme is likewise problematic. If we cannot imagine a God who is angry with sin (“Why can’t we all get along?”), we have forgotten both the magnificence of His goodness, and the utter horror of our sin.
The answer, then, to a heart wrestling with God’s judgment, is not to turn away. Just the opposite. We must gaze deeply at His glory. Because it is precisely as we see more of God – His goodness, His love, His holiness, His righteousness – that we see more of our sin – our selfishness, our badness, our filth, our corruption, our destructive and consuming desires. And as we get eyes for just how bad this world is, and how good God is, we cannot help but to be shaped into God’s image: aching in love for the world that hates the God we now see, and eager to see this God put down the evil and put all things to right.
* Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), pp. 138-39, quoted in Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 119.