The world we live in is not a world of justice. We strive for justice, we seek for it, we need it, but we are always left feeling that injustice retains its overwhelming presence in this world.
Why do we feel the need for justice? What is it within us that cries out when justice is not done? While we live in a world that believes that no one is truly wrong or that no one should ever be truly judged, deep down we desire justice to be done. We can easily recognize when injustice is playing out before our very eyes.
We all know this. At times we deny it in the face of a judgmental crowd that is eager to judge our insensitive and unreasonable judgment. However, as much as there is an inexplicable desire in all of us to love, there is equally a desire to see justice done when something or someone is left unloved. The Gospel of Jesus promises many things, but with the grace of God also comes the judgment of God that is not only justifiable but necessary in the world that lacks justice even by our imperfect and fallen standards. We need God’s justice. The Gospel of Jesus promises that justice will ultimately be seen and done.
There will be a time upon Christ’s return when all will have to answer for the life they lived and for the lives they took. There will be a time when excuses will no longer be worth anything, and fruit of the spirit will mean everything. As a result of sin we have all contributed to the injustice in the world. What’s important is not how much. The point is that we have all inescapably contributed. For this reason, the only acceptable decision is to face a perfect God, admit and take ownership of our injustice, ask for forgiveness and then, with the spirit of Jesus Christ, heal the world and put right what was once wrong. With Jesus we can see justice now, and those still suffering have the eternal hope that justice will be done. There will be a time when they will live under the reign of the King of Kings who will administer the only perfect justice this world has and will ever know.
As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.
The judgment of God has been a stumbling block for many people. Many people never make it to the cross of Christ before turning back at the sight of a God who judges. We prefer a God who supports us, encourages us, forgives us, loves us and provides for us. Not a God who will judge us. We perceive His judgment to be unfair or unnecessary. We believe that to be a good person and to love your neighbor as yourself is the answer to the ills of humanity and the suffering of this world.
But why hasn’t this approach worked? Have we reduced suffering in this world? Why is the golden rule truly not sufficient for the world we live in? The answer is sin. Sin is not a comfortable word, but in the context of human history, it is the most sufficient explanation for the trajectory of our world’s suffering and pain.
Within us is a desire to be the judge but not to be judged. Therefore, due to our innate sinfulness, God has no need to judge us according to His standard of holiness. With our overconfidence in our own authority and righteousness, God simply lets our own standard be the standard we are ultimately judged by. Every time we think that someone ought to do this or that. Every time we think that someone should have done this or that. Every time we make private proclamations to ourselves that we will never do what he or she did. In these moments we construct our grading scale. This is not a new perspective on God’s judgment. This is verse 15! These are God’s words. When left with this prospect of judgment, what we see is not a God that upholds a standard too high for humanity to reach, but individual men and women with such an inflated view of their own perfection and such a limited ability to exercise grace and forgiveness that none can stand to be judged according to their own standards.
According to verse 15 and an honest reflection of the self we are truly in need of a savior. We have failed to maintain our standard of righteousness from the very beginning, and we will never successfully uphold it. Never. We need a mediator. We need someone perfect. We need someone to go before us and plead our case. Verse 15 has nothing to do with people doing Christian things or not doing Christian things. Verse 15 has everything to do with people. It has everything to with the human heart. It has everything to with our collective sin. We are all guilty of judging those we have no right to judge. The perfect God has always had the right and authority to judge an imperfect creation. We are nowhere as good as we think we are, and God is so much more perfect than we think He is. How hard is it for you to forgive someone who lied to you? Just one. How many more times has God been lied to by His own children? And is the end now? No. Verse 15 says, it is near. He has waited and waited and waited for us to turn from our diluted state of self-glorification back to His holiness and perfection, as the only means for us to survive our own judgment. God is not the one with a short fuse and a readiness to judge. We are. God is not the one that established unrealistic standards for others to abide by while never consistently abiding in the standards Himself. We are. The judgment of God is terrifying, but nowhere near as terrifying as our own.
18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
Judgment is swift and final. In court, the gavel falls, in one fell swoop the verdict is announced and the sentencing established. No more arguments. No more pleas. No more discussion. Final.
This is not an easy teaching and only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we understand the justification for judgment and eternal sentencing. We often cannot fathom a judgment so unfair and cruel. However, that tells us not that God’s judgment is unfair and cruel but that we also cannot fathom God’s holiness and our sinfulness. If I only eat sweets from birth, I will never understand how sweet “sweet” actually is until someone introduces me to salt for the first time. The judgment of God will come, but many even at that time will not believe and will not turn from their sin to submit themselves to a holy and good Abba father. All will be judged and many will fall on the side of the guilty. The world has never seen a judgment like the one that awaits it. Our minds cannot imagine it and it is by the grace of God that it has only been revealed to us in small doses, for the reality of what will transpire would be too much for us to bear. It is also by the grace of God that we look around us today and see that the day of God’s judgment has not yet fallen on this world.
It is tempting to view Christianity through the same lens of escapism that often accompanies other religions, philosophies or worldviews. Christianity does not consist of waiting patiently and righteously until the last day. The Christian abiding in Jesus Christ will live every day consumed by two thoughts. Am I loving God with all my heart, soul and mind? Am I loving my neighbor as myself? In other words, am I doing everything I can to love God and make my election and calling sure? Am I doing everything I can to proclaim to the world through my words and deeds that Jesus is the only way through the impending cauldron of judgment?
It will truly be a glorious sight to see Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven. However, His return ushers in the time of death, grief, suffering and sorrow that even Heaven was perfectly silent for 30 minutes at the opening of the seventh seal. We have been given the charge to save the lost, heal the sick, free captives and preach good news to the brokenhearted through our devotion to Jesus Christ. God does not desire that any should perish; neither should we. The non-believers in our midst are our brothers and sisters in creation. They are loved dearly by our Father and we are to show them the way of Jesus, saving them from eternal damnation. There will be a day of no more second chances. This will be a dreadful day. As children of God we should never wish this day upon anyone nor refuse to save as many as we possibly can from it. Justice for the wicked will be just and God’s creation will be made new. However, we must understand that His justice is often more far-reaching than we imagine. His judgment will fall upon every person and “good” will not be good enough. There is only Jesus on that day.
“Punishment” is often attributed to God long before “love” or “grace.” The wrath of God is far more interesting a headline than his humble sacrifice and endless love for those who have not loved him. For many, the creator God is an authority figure to his inferior creation, small beneath his heavy hand. In this vertical perception of holy hierarchy, there is far too much room for rules and consequences and far less room for love and grace. While God has established his law and standards and there are indeed consequences to breaking them, the punishment of God is often misunderstood. As most of us experience punishment, an act of disobedience is swiftly followed by an act of punishment intended to end the disobedience. This is reactionary punishment. While this approach to punishment is effective, the punishment of God is typically far more lesson driven. God’s desire is not limited to putting an end to our misbehavior, but shows us how our misbehavior has terrifying effects on not only our own lives but others as well. When punishment is associated merely with our own actions, isolated to us as individuals, we learn obedience and punishment in a system of self-preservation and self-service. Godly wrath and punishment is far broader and more terrifying. God’s punishment intends to show us that with freedom to seek the satisfaction of our human desires, we are capable of far more destruction than one single act.
Will a child learn and understand the consequences of stealing the car keys and driving the family car more if stopped before leaving the driveway, or if allowed to drive around the city for a single hour? The first is a warning of things that could have been. The second is an experience of consequences. The second leaves no room for hypotheticals or what ifs. It locates the disobedience directly within the consequences. Therefore, the punishment of God in terms of letting us carry out our desires without correction is far more terrifying than a direct rebuke by the Lord Almighty before a false step is taken. However, in this way we are better able to understand the purpose of his law when we face our own destructive tendencies. Only by experiencing the dangers of our own nature can we not only accept but desire his laws, decrees and protection from ourselves. Save us from ourselves, Lord God Almighty!