Saturday, November 17, 2012

Judgment: Bad or Good News?

So, I have historically had some trouble getting up in the mornings. While a mystifying problem, we think it has something to do with my brain muscles being paralyzed upon waking, and needing a few cups of coffee and about 30 minutes to fire up before I can consciously do anything. And my husband is very prompt. (Can you see where this is going?) We are supposed to leave by 7:35 am in order to be at work "on time" in his mind-- 8:00. To me, 8:03 is on time and in fact an accomplishment! But he feels that he's not living up to his commitment if he's walking through the door by then. 

How this happened is a blog post in itself, but through prayer and some very specialized tactics (namely light and coffee shock treatment earlier than I'd like) I've started getting up in time to not be late. Recently, I've even had time to  do things other than just get ready in the morning! It's a new thing for me. So this morning I flipped to Psalm 98. I love the psalms, because they're accessible--  honest thoughts and feelings before God-- something I am practicing as well. But every now and then I read something in the Psalms that doesn't make sense, that seems awkward, that I can't relate to, and I feel "stuck." 

This morning, I had an experience like that. I read the first 9/10ths of Psalm 98 and could readily "sing along"-- things like, "be joyful in the Lord! Sing to Him a new song! The whole earth has seen His salvation" etc. etc. Then came the end, and I scratched my head. 

"Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth." I had to stop there and question. Excited about God's judgment? Hmm. My feelings about God's judgment are often more along the lines of subconscious fear and anxiety-- or at the very least, discomfort. A Holy and Just Judge pouring out His wrath against the sin that has wreaked havoc on His beautiful earth and its people does not initially sound like the kind of thing that should excite someone who is in fact guilty of the sin that offends Him so. His judgment doesn't seem exciting because I know that I deserve His judgment. 

But then I realized that if I really believe God is God, and that He is holy and good and beautiful and lovely; and if I really believe that sin is evil and a distortion of what He created, and toxic and destructive and a slap in God's face; then His judgment-- His setting things right-- is a good thing. According to the psalmist, that's obviously how the hills and rivers feel. They know they've been "subjected to futility" because of sin and that all things-- including inanimate things-- have been damaged because of sin. Romans 8 says that when God comes to judge the earth, "creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption." Judgment means God setting things right. It's making new all that has been bruised and broken by sin. That's something to rejoice in, even if it means I will have to answer for my own part in how things went wrong. 

But then I realized something else-- something even more surprising. My "judgment" has, in fact, already happened in a sense. It happened on the cross. When Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life before God, willingly died a shameful death, He was taking my place. I, who deserve judgment, stand free and clear before God because I stand with Jesus. In dying in my place and being raised again, Jesus took my judgment upon Himself and accomplished for me-- invites me into-- His new life. In a sense, Jesus being raised from the dead is a glimpse, a snapshot, of the new and "death-defeating life" that is to come over all the earth when God comes to judge. That is why Jesus is called the "firstfruits" of the resurrection; He's our first picture of new creation. And through trusting in Him alone, I get to be a part of that; I'm invited here and now to participate in something (new creation!) that hasn't come in its fullness yet.

Because of Christ, God's coming "judgment"-- His setting things right, making things new, wiping out the destructive effects of sin-- is something that even this guilty one can be excited about, because it's through Christ that this guilty one is now free. Not just freed from judgment, but free to be a part of new creation.

Do thoughts of God's "judgment" make you fearful? How does hearing about Christ's work on behalf of guilty ones change that?

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