I’ve only ever once had someone tell me to ‘go to hell’. They were angry, perhaps with good reason. Still, their words stung and wounded. For a time our relationship was distant and strained.
Words about hell and judgement can do that. Spoken carelessly or in anger, they can give the impression that we are using God’s judgement to distance ourselves from ‘the others’ who are somehow less deserving than we are.
There can be yet another way in which talk about judgement divides us. Here, we distance ourselves from other believers on the basis that we wouldn’t talk or write about judgement in the way they do.
Either way, we can find ourselves using God’s judgement as a tool for drawing lines and building walls. But what if there is a way of speaking about God’s judgement that can actually unite us? What if we were to begin, not with what God’s judgement means for the other person but with what it means to us? Here’s my attempt to do just that:
God’s judgement reminds me that I am responsible and accountable.
At my ordination as a priest I was challenged with these words – ‘Remember that you will be called to give account before Jesus Christ: if it should come about that the Church, or any of its members, is hurt or hindered as a result of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and the judgement that will follow.’ I take it that the compilers of our liturgy had something more than denominational discipline in mind here! In the gospels Jesus is clear that judgement awaits those who claim to act in God’s name but instead exploit and mistreat God’s people. That could be me. It could be you.
God’s judgement reminds me that I need grace and mercy.
God judgement is more than calling out a few poor lifestyle choices. It is the maker of our universe bringing down the curtain on the old, broken order so new creation can take its place. Even in what I think are my better moments I align myself with that old order in so many ways – in my casual greed, in my assumption that I should be at the centre of the universe, in my neglect of others. I desperately need the grace of Jesus. Perhaps you do as well.
God’s judgement assures me that I can live in hope.
Justice matters to us. It matters even more to God. In Romans 12:19 Paul urges us not to seek justice through vengeance, but to leave room for God’s final judgement. We are not to be like Jonah, watching our world from a distance as we wait for that judgement to come. Instead, we enter into that world with compassion and blessing, knowing that one day God will set all things right. That gives me hope. What does it do for you?
If you’d love to continue this conversation please email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.