God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.

a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

truth will prevail

If truth does prevail, then what about God’s judgment? Of course we do well to shudder (Romans 2 and 3), since we indeed are all sinners. But without God’s judgment, how will justice, and yes, truth prevail? That is part of God’s atoning work in Christ, to take the judgment of sin upon himself in his death. So that all can be forgiven and given new life, justified in the sense of given status in God’s covenant family and thus made right, and reconciled to God and to each other in Christ. The final judgment is the purging of evil from the world to bring in the final and full salvation.

In the meantime we often find in this present life untruth and evil having a heyday. Untruth and evil do seem to go together against truth and goodness. It seems like the universe is wired, or at least ought to be wired for truth and goodness. Without a doubt we’re all in need of God’s grace in Jesus. If truth prevails, again, we’re all in trouble, since we have been and can be full of falsehood and the evil that accompanies that. And again, a big part of the good news in Jesus is that God took that evil upon himself on the cross in the Person of his Son, Jesus. The result of that is that by faith we’re forgiven, and given a passion for truth in the Truth himself, Jesus.

We have a passion for truth, while at the same time always and forever, along with the rest of the world being in great need of nothing less than the Truth himself. In the Truth, truth will prevail even here and now in the grace of God in that Truth himself. And we find out again and again that God does not condemn us in Jesus, but in and by Jesus- the Truth, God helps us to look for and see, even if seemingly only by faith, a better day, the day when all truth prevails, and to experience a true measure of that even in this present evil age when truth seems irrelevant to so many, and all but lost.

And so that is where we in Jesus hang our hats, not in a supposed progressive order in which the world is getting better and better on its own. But only in Jesus, the Truth himself, which should and can give us heart in the promise of God for the future beginning even in the present- in the here and now, in and through Jesus.

do we really believe?

In liturgical churches every Sunday, worshipers recite usually the Nicene Creed, which begins with:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.

I like that practice, though it’s seldom used in churches we’ve been a part of. It is suggestive of the reality that our faith is not just an indiviudal faith, but communal. Like Paul said, we can be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. And it is about what we believe in terms of what God has revealed in what theologians call general and special revelation. Fulfilled in Jesus and the good news in him.

The intellectual belief shouldn’t be underplayed; it is important. But if we really believe that, it means we’re taking God at his word, and therefore trusting him. It is a personal, experiential faith which concerns all of life. We believe in and trust the God who created everything, and promises to make all things new in the new creation in Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, our faith is pretty well worthless if it doesn’t involve the nuts and bolts of where we live, and if it doesn’t get beyond just our concerns to concerns for others, to God’s concerns, the interests of Jesus. Faith isn’t some mere religious belief which is nice for Sunday at church, but is hardly an afterthought in real life. It is about nothing less than all of life, or it is nothing at all since it’s not living up to what it is said to be.

We believe because of God’s testimony to us in Jesus, in the gospel, and because of God’s grace through that testimony. We have the witness in ourselves by the Holy Spirit, that even as the gospel accounts compellingly make clear, Jesus indeed rose from the dead, a bodily resurrection. And God’s promise in him won’t stop until all evil is judged, and all things are made new. And that hope begins in this life, with the faith and love which accompany it.

What we truly believe because of God’s grace in and through Jesus.

love is not enough

This post from a professor and scholar in Ireland, Patrick Mitchell, on a book entitled: Love: a History, by Simon May, along with the post’s apt title, “The idolisation of love,” looks promising. This reminds me of the Beatles song with typically great music and empty lyrics, All You Need is Love. Love per se (by itself) is not enough.

Yes, “God is love,” as seen in 1 John 4. But the context itself gives the lie to the statement that love is enough, or even that love is the gospel. Compare what is meant by that, with the picture as given in scripture:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

And this, from 2 John:

The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

Read 1, 2 and 3 John, those three letters (not long) for a more contextual and fuller picture.

And to help make sure there’s no mistake as to what’s meant here, Romans 13:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

While there is overlap in the love of God, and the love we see in creation, according to scripture that’s not enough. We need the new creation love in Jesus and the gospel, which is to heal and put together the brokenness of the old creation, which for all it’s devotion to love, fails to worship the One-in-Three, or Three-in-One, the One who is love.

The true love is a gospel love, no less, grounded in the crucified, risen Jesus, and in the truth which includes absolutes such as “Thou shalt not kill.” It is not enough to think that love is all we need, or that love is the gospel. We turn to the one God as revealed through scripture, and in actual events, in Jesus. We find the one true, lasting love there, from which all other loves come, and are judged.

 

when who judge others we condemn themselves

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2

It is interesting how often it is apparent that the very thing we see wrong in another is something we practice ourselves. We need insight from God to be able to see that. Jesus doesn’t tell us to quit judging as in having discernment in the Matthew passage quoted above. Rather he tells us to make sure we are scrupulous to take care of the sin in our own lives,  before we think we can help someone else with the sin in their lives. The crux of the matter is that we’re not to condemn others in a kind of final judgment which only God can make.

I think Paul is saying much the same thing in the Romans passage quoted above. He is challenging Jews who think that just because they had the Law/Torah, they were a cut (circumcision) above the rest. But Paul makes it clear in that letter that just like the rest of humankind, they too were under the power of sin. So that again, an emphasis is made on judging one’s self with reference to that Torah, and becoming obedient to the Law’s requirement, which is love for God and for our neighbor from the heart by the Spirit.

James has some good words for us related to this:

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4

Simply put, we’re not to put ourselves in the place of God. And here:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2

Finally, in a sense bringing this to full circle, back to our Lord’s words:

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

John 7

I am very wary of topical studies such as this one, because they too often don’t do justice to the context of each passage, and are summarily slapped together in a way which ultimately often fails to support the main point, or at least is simplistic, failing to take into account the whole. Of course we should compare scripture with scripture, no doubt, while letting each passage and book within scripture have its own voice to be appreciated within the mix of the whole.

Today the point is that we must beware and at least be wary of judging others, since only God can see and judge, and since we are sinners, too. But as by grace we do judge ourselves, God will give us insight to help others judge themselves by God’s grace on the path of righteousness. And in the end, we should apply mercy, remembering that mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment. In other words, God’s salvation in Jesus overcomes the judgment and brings mercy in and through Jesus. So that we should learn to see both ourselves and others in light of that great reality and hope.

 

relying not on worldly wisdom, but on God’s grace (background: this American presidential election)

We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.

2 Corinthians 1:12

Paul is speaking here of their conduct in the world, and especially with those who had believed. We in Jesus come from and go after it in life with a different perspective, and indeed heart, than what the world offers. Maybe we need to especially take that thought seriously in what is probably the most divisive and troubling election in the United States of my lifetime. It seems like some of my friends are intent on bringing their godly wisdom and knowledge to bear to influence this election a certain way. I have actually joined with them a little, because I see a real danger to the American republic.

And yet I wonder. Maybe this is God’s judgment not only on the nation, who would have two candidates considered evil and bad depending on which half of the publc you’re talking to. And if one of them is elected, there will be “no joy in Mudville,” and if the other one is elected, half of the nation will live in nearly an apocalyptic fear over what is to come, and with some justification, I might add.

But what’s a Christian to do in this mess? Maybe we do what likely Paul would have done in his following of Jesus and proclamation of the gospel, along with his planting of churches, he at the lead of that along with his associates (of course God used others in far flung places).

I certainly believe God’s hand is in the affairs of the world, but usually in ways we can’t trace well, or comprehend, except to guess in line with scripture what actually might be happening. And that’s far from foolproof. Not to mention just how much scripture is arguably, and to some extent surely misapplied in the attempt to do so.

But just maybe God is not only continuing to judge the United States, but is also, and probably more importantly- my guess, judging his people, judging the church. After all, both the religious right and religious left have given a piece of their hearts and souls, in some cases practically all of that to the American political process, as if that’s where the battle for God’s kingdom and his kingdom work are at stake. That’s a fundamental error on one basic levels, which is negative in a good number of ways, I think.

We too often are too much like the world. We probably often think that the best in the world by common grace is not unlike the best in Jesus, in God’s kingdom, since God’s hand and kingdom work is in all of that. While God’s hand and work can be in some of what the world is about at times, consider the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by and large our activity and heart must be elsewhere. We are to be servants of the gospel, in the sacramental and common life of the church, and as witnesses of Jesus and this gospel to the world. Period.

But the history of the church since Constantine has involved a church-state relationship in which when push comes to shove, the state always has the upper hand. Though God in grace still working his purposes out in the midst and even through the mess of it all. Imagine Paul being known as a supporter of one American candidate or party, or even being in that process at all. Not. Instead he would be at the heart of what God is doing through the gospel, showing the world the difference faith in Christ brings in terms of changed lives, the gospel worked out into the fabric of all of life, but never from any entity as its base: the gospel and the church.

And so we might do well to lay low this election, to learn to do so, to not do the usual, and to live out our calling in Jesus as lights in the world, not with the wisdom of this world, but by the grace of God. In and through Jesus.