Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Paradox of Judgment

Several weeks ago, a friend shared a question with me and made this comment:

“For a while in my life, I simply journeyed--walking by faith but not asking a lot of questions. However, as I get older there is tremendous value in asking the difficult questions. This new journey-- although it has more rocks-- has been a deepening faith experience.”

These are brave words. Nobody likes questions, especially when the questioner is challenging conventional beliefs and pushing us to reexamine our boundaries. As I have been reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith and discussing it with a group of friends, I have found myself uncomfortable with both the questions and some of his responses. One of these has to do with the final judgment.

The traditional approach to the final judgment of God, usually seen as one of the functions of the Risen Christ, is that it will be a time to settle up accounts with humankind. This is the point when we will be asked to answer THE question. Now the nature of that question is a bit ambiguous. Is the question, “Did you profess me as Savior and Lord?” Or is it, “Did you do unto one of the least of these?” Or, “Is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life?” Or any number of others that you and I have heard from pulpits and well meaning friends down through the years. The traditional idea is that if you answer correctly, you enter into eternal fellowship with God. If you answer incorrectly, you are cast into outer darkness, eternal damnation, and suffering.

McLaren provides an insight which reframes the discussion. He writes,

“God’s judgment . . . is not merely retributive—seeking to punish wrongdoers for their wrongs and in this way balance some sort of cosmic equation. No, God’s judgment is far higher and better than that; it involves “putting wrong things right.” It means reconciling and restoring, not merely punishing; healing, nor merely diagnosing; transforming, not merely exposing; revaluing (or redeeming), not merely evaluating.”

In other words, the just judge may dispense not only judgment but deliverance. We always assume the worst outcome in a judicial proceeding, but after weighing all the facts, the judge’s decree may be, “I find you not guilty of all charges.” In the final judgment, we come before One who has (in McLaren’s words) “beautifully and fully integrated” those things we see as opposites—justice and mercy, kindness and strength, grace and truth. We stand before One who wants the best for us—all of us. In that final judgment, our judge will look for mitigating and extenuating circumstances that may temper the decision and will seek to redeem the good things found there. The wisdom used in that decision is far beyond anything that you or I can comprehend.

I must say that this approach—involving hope, anticipation, and participation—puts the final judgment in a new perspective. Perhaps God does not give up on us as quickly as we give up on ourselves and our peers. If so, this is indeed “good news.”

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