Wednesday, December 4, 2013

why judgement?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

This evening we turn to the second of our series on the four last things titled 'Why Judgement?' (the first, Why Death? is here) Scripture makes it very clear that at the end of days the living and the dead will be judged. That might not sound too serious, if it wasn't for the fact that it is also made equally clear that after judgement comes either punishment or reward, hell or heaven. And even that might not be too worrying if we could convince ourselves that almost everyone goes to heaven, and hell is reserved for the most terrible of men: people like Stalin, Pol Pot, or Hitler. But that is not what we are warned of in scripture. When Jesus tells us of the last judgement, he talks of people being damned for not helping the poor, feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked; he speaks of facing judgement for anger and lust, and for leading people astray; for things that are quite mundane really.

This all makes one thing perfectly clear: an unfavourable result at the final judgement is not reserved for those who have caused the death of thousands or millions. It is possible for those who lead ordinary lives, those whose lives will never earn so much as a footnote in the history books, people who lead their lives in such a way that they barely cause a ripple in the lives of those around them, those who think of themselves, and are thought of by others, as being 'not too bad really.'

But why does God have to judge us? Why can he not simply forgive us? After all, the Bible speaks of God as being love – isn't that what a loving God would do? And Jesus died to save us from our sins – why then do we have to face judgement for them?

The simplest way to answer that, I think, is to ask ourselves why do we ourselves have courts and judges and the like. And the answer to that is so that we may have justice. And God, as Scripture endlessly tells us, is a God of justice. Think of all the places, particularly in the psalms and the prophets, where we hear the voices of the poor and the powerless who are being oppressed by the rich, the powerful, and the wicked. And the Bible assures us that even though in this world they may seem to get away with it, ultimately they do not. God created us with free-will; and if that is to have any meaning, people must be allowed to choose to do bad as well as good, but ultimately there is justice in the universe. And that justice is God's judgement at the end of time.

And because God is just, we must be judged: for the way we have treated others; the way we have behaved towards God; and for the secret thoughts of our hearts, those sinful evil desires within us that we do not try to conquer and that we fail to act upon only out of a fear of being caught or a lack of opportunity.

God's justice also demands that he judge between those who have used their free-will wisely and those who have used it not so well, if for no other reason than out of respect for the choices we have made. Where would the justice be if those who chose to love God with all their hearts and minds and souls and bodies and their neighbour as themselves were treated the same as those whose lives were a testament to how they hated God and/or despised their neighbour?

God's justice does not stand in contradiction of his love for us, but is complimentary of it. True love respects the choices of the beloved; because he loves us, he will not force us to love him, and will allow us to reject him.

But – and this is an important but – just because God will judge us, does not mean that he will judge us harshly. Because the one who is to be our judge is also the one who came to save us from our sins, Jesus Christ. The one who judges is also our mediator, the one who pleads on our behalf. That does not mean that if we have rejected God in thought and word and deed that he will over-ride our rejection and simply ignore our sins. Rather, the scenario will reflect very much, I imagine, the exchange that took place between our Lord and the Good Thief on that terrible and wonderful day at Calvary. 

The Good Thief, you will remember, rebuked the other criminal that day for mocking and deriding Jesus, and said that they had earned the punishment they were suffering. In other words, he accepted that he was a sinful man who had done wrong. But then he turned to Jesus and said: Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. That is how I imagine the day of judgement – just as on Calvary, some will be on his left, some on his right; those on the left will be unrepentant to the end; those on the right will in great humility accept that they are sinners, and humbly throw themselves on God's mercy. And he will reply to them, as he did to the Good Thief that day: Truly I tell you, you will be with me this day in paradise.

I pray that on the Day of Judgement you will also hear those words; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

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