Lenten Devotional: March 12th
And will come again to judge the living and the dead
Every so often I will get a comment like the one I got at the back door of our church a few years ago. It went something like this. "Brent we always talk about grace. Do we not talk about judgment anymore?"
The answer depends on what you mean by judgment. In a court of law and everyday conversation justice primarily has to do with punishing evil-doers. If a robber is condemned to jail we say that justice was done. In everyday conversation we equate justice as someone getting what they deserve. Justice is when bullies get bullied and a cheater gets cheated. He or she "had it coming to them" we say. In everyday language justice is also rewarding the good. Justice is when a hard worker gets a raise or the best team wins the game.
That is not the biblical understanding of justice. The word justice in Hebrew is mishpat and it means to put things back in their right place. Notice the relationship between "justice" and "adjust." Adjusting things to their proper place and function is a sort of justice. The great theologian Karl Barth once said, "In the biblical world of thought, the judge is not primarily the one who rewards some and punishes others; [but the one] who creates order and restores what has been destroyed."
If order could be created in this crazy world, if what has been destroyed could be restored, wouldn’t that be good news? Wouldn’t that be grace?
Justice is when no one oppresses another and the world is ruled by peace and wholeness. That is what some of us mean when we say we are working for "social justice." A just ruler will not only make sure that laws are obeyed but also that the laws themselves are just and do not prey on the weak, poor, or disenfranchised. This kind of justice is not contrary to grace but a form of grace. Shirley Guthrie, before his recent death, was one of our very best Presbyterian scholars and one of my favorite professors at Columbia. Shirley reminds us that, in the end, the biblical view of judgment is this: "Evil will be condemned and rooted out of God’s good creation once and for all!"
That’s good news. That’s grace, but there’s more: the judge is Jesus! The one sitting on the throne to judge is not a cruel, harsh judge. At this point in the Creed we know that the One coming again to judge is also the one who was born, lived, suffered, was crucified, dead, buried, and rose again on the third day. He is the One who loved us so much he became one of us and then died for us. He is the one who is trusted with the job of judging the world, the only one who knows what it truly means to "make things right."
He judges us not out of anger, but in grace and love, and if there is any penalty to be paid, he willingly offered to take it on himself. As Guthrie once said, "this is good news, not bad, and if this is what God’s judgment looks like then I say bring it on!"
Today, I encourage you to do at least one thing to promote God’s kind of justice. And sometime during the day, if you feel yourself judging others – or if you are like me and love to judge yourself – try leaving the judgment to Jesus, the most loving judge there is.
Rev. Brent Barry, Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church