We now move from grace to judgment, from God the loving Father about whom songs are written extolling his graciousness,
Great God of wonders! all thy ways
Display the attributes divine;
But countless acts of pardoning grace
Beyond thine other wonders shine;
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Great God of Wonders – Samuel Davies (1723-1761),
to God our judge who is able to see the innermost workings and very essence of our being.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
As we prepare to examine this most difficult element (for most of us) of God’s nature remember, if you are new to this study, that you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com.
Most of our public outpourings, which are best reflected in the songs we sing, shrink back from this aspect of God’s nature. The song All My Soul To God I Raise by Bortnianski and Dudley-Smith is a good example.
Graciously my sins forgive
Help me by Your truth to live
In Your footsteps lead me Lord
Joy renewed and hope restored
Knowing every sin forgiven
Learning all the ways of heaven
Mercies manifold extend
Not as judge but faithful friend
O my Saviour hear my prayer
Pluck my feet from every snare
Quietude be mine at last
Rest from all my guilty past
We seek a faithful friend who extends many and varied mercies rather than a judge and in so doing diminish one fundamental aspect of God’s nature at the expense of another. As Packer notes and our popular worship music reinforces, we want a God who is a Father, friend, helper, healer, giver of strength and encouragement, and generally supportive good guy. But as Packer also notes, “there are few things stressed more strongly in the Bible than the reality of God’s work as judge.”
Now I know there will be some people who will immediately posture that this judgment talk is Old Testament thinking and we Christians live in the Church age, the age of grace. Yes we do live under grace, which Paul makes clear in his letter to the Galatians, but that doesn’t mitigate God’s role as judge. Think about Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) or Elymas and his opposition to the gospel (Acts 13:8-12), or the Christians at Corinth at whose feet Paul laid the responsibility for their illnesses and death due to their not properly discerning the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). Paul specifically talks about God’s judgment to the Corinthians. We could go on but I think a verse from Ecclesiastes (11:9, 12:14) puts it all in perspective.
God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Even the Nicene Creed, which is recited (however rote) in most liturgical churches and in some other settings, makes this significant point about the Son:
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
Yes, judgment and especially the judgment of God is not a popular subject in today’s Christianity or in the world at large. Anyone talking about hell and judgment is seen as decidedly radical and populating the fringe, and dare I say it, “unloving”. It has gotten so bad that the apologist for apostasy, retired Episcopal “Bishop” John Shelby Spong wrote the book, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love in which he continues down his long-traveled road of the denial of any judgment by God, going so far as to deny even the historic understanding of theism itself, the idea that God possesses any personality or personhood. If God is not a person and takes no cognitive and rational action then of course he cannot act as a judge and sin has no absolute meaning. However, I find it oxymoronic that one who vehemently denies sin at every turn suddenly finds it relevant when it suits his own twisted purpose (see his title).
The real issue as I see it is the statement of Paul in Philippians 2:10-11
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Spong and those who move in his direction are doing everything in their power to avoid the bended knee and confession of Lordship. Submission is avoided or unacceptable. Rather than agree with Job that God has all the rights, after all he IS God, they want to transfer the power of choice and decision to themselves, in essence recommitting the first sin. Eve was tempted by Satan to “be like God, knowing good and evil.” She could then choose and arbitrate. Are not those who resist God as judge doing the same thing, accruing to themselves the right to decide. How sad it will be when they, like Adam and Eve, try to hide from the overwhelming presence of the one true Lord and Judge of all creation, while we, those who both bend and bow, proclaiming Christ not only Savior but Lord, sing with heartfelt thanksgiving the words of Rock of Ages with which Packer closes this chapter.
Whilst I draw this fleeting breath;
When my eyelids close in death;
When I soar through tracts unknown,
See thee on thy judgment-throne;
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
May God give us the grace not to shrink back from his judgment but in submission and repentance, as saints and his adopted children, to continually seek his forgiveness, so that by judging ourselves we would not need to be judged by our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 11:31).