Judging the Judge
Who's judging who?
When God doesn't deal with criminals and dictators or perpetrators the way we think they should be dealt with, how does that make us feel about Him? Do we feel a little bit resentful that those vicious people did not ever receive at least some of the pain that they inflicted on others or maybe on us?
Religious piety may tend to mask over our real feelings about situations like this, but when something happens very close to us it usually becomes impossible to hide our true feelings any longer. Just about every one of us has a point at which we might snap and become furiously angry at injustice. And behind our rage at injustice by others is an even deeper resentment that God has seemingly done nothing to prevent it or stop it from happening.
In theory we often say that God is the great Judge of all the earth. But what do we really mean when we say that? Don't we secretly at least, hope that being an all-powerful Judge that He will at some point give our enemies their just desserts? Don't we weave into our theology and social beliefs many ideas based primarily on our own desires for revenge, to inflict some level of pain and shame on those who have done so much to ruin the lives of others?
These emotions lie at the very foundation of our whole sense of justice. Our laws are written largely with this in view. Our opinions about other countries or religions revolve around our own feelings about what is fair and righteous. But just how valid are all of these beliefs in light of the way that the Bible presents a God who claims He is not like us, who does not think or act like us and is not subject to our demands or protests?
Every time we listen to the news some new injustice is bound to surface. In fact, most of the media in this industry thrives on digging up injustice and eliciting as much outrage from the public as can be extracted. Large corporations stake their profits and existence on how well they can spin the news to keep people angry about injustice in the world. But are all these supposed principles of justice the real truth or are we basing our assumptions on false premises?
How do we really feel deep inside when it becomes obvious that God does not deliver justice the way we intensely feel it must be delivered? Do we count on the hope that in the future, at some time called 'judgment day' that finally we will get to see these scoundrels treated harshly like they so much deserve? Do we expect God to finally come to His senses in the end and deliver all the pain and torture and punishment that we are confident that our enemies so richly deserve while rewarding us according to all the good things we have done by comparison?
When the element of forgiveness is introduced into the equation, our minds and emotions immediately are challenged and disturbed, particularly when it involves someone who has done unspeakable offenses against children or society at large. And yet forgiveness is actually taking onto one's self the responsibility of the pain from all of the atrocities that someone else has committed against us. Because God has already forgive all of us, that makes Him ultimately responsible and liable in some sense for all of the sins ever committed. Does that sound familiar? But it also puts God on the hot-seat of judgment for all of those sins that have been forgiven.
I just watched a documentary on the horrible effects on millions of people in Kazakhstan (I think that's the right country) because of the Russian's decision to use their territory to repeatedly test nuclear explosions both above and under ground. To this day the water and land is all contaminated and the horrendous physical effects are expected to blight the population for at least ten generations! Meanwhile, the Russians still are in massive denial that they had any responsibility for any of this disaster.
How does it make people feel when they see these images of deformed bodies, ruined landscapes for miles around and people and animals condemned to sickness and early death for generations to come for something they had no responsibility in? How do we feel when we see people openly lying about their complicity in bringing suffering and death to so many innocent people who were supposed to be their own allies? These reports are designed to produce within the viewer a sense of outrage, and it seems that this is easily justified. As the facts emerge more completely it can be seen that the cover-ups were intentional and deliberate.
But where does God fit into all of this? Many are ready to question, If God is so good and so powerful, then why does He allow such tragedies to continue on this earth? Where is God anyway when we need Him the most?
Sometimes we think we get fleeting answers. But many times we resort to making up our own answers and shaping our pictures of God and justice according to our own intense desires for what we believe is justice. Most of the teachings of religions all over the world are based on various culture's assumptions about how God should handle things. The Christian religion is no exception.
Job had this problem with God too. He and his friends had various beliefs about how things should be done and how God should handle His job. But when God finally did show up and condescend to address Job personally, the answers that came out seemed to be almost totally irrelevant to the questions that Job had demanded to be answered in his long speeches about justice. His friends fared even worse as God instructed them to make sacrifices for themselves and ask Job to pray for mercy on their behalf. Their views of God and how He ought to do His job were even worse than Job's.
But are our pictures of God and of justice much better than Job or his friends? As I have looked into the discussions laid out in this book I have been surprised at how many of the concepts promoted by Job's friends are stock merchandise in many of our common teachings today. Few realize when they quote from the book of Job to justify their opinions about God, that they are in fact quoting ideas that God did not approve of. Just because something is in the Bible does not mean it is a positive belief to embrace about God.
When I have intense desires for revenge, whether it is against someone who has hurt me personally or it is someone who is obviously a perpetrator of evil against others, I am actually engaging in the practice of judgment myself. And when I feel resentment whenever my feelings of justice are not satisfied, in reality I am choosing to set myself up as a judge of God Himself. I am believing that my version of how to handle things would be more effective than the way God handles things. If I had access to all the power and influence that God has, I would certainly not allow things to go on as loosely as the way God seems to handle them.
But when it starts to come into the open to this degree, obviously I can start to feel uncomfortable. Who wants to be found judging someone who is already a competent judge? Especially when that judge has all power, all wisdom and access to all the information that we cannot see. But wait, there is still more involved in this.
What if God's version of justice and the way He intends to resolve this whole issue of sin and suffering and death is going to be done in such a way that it violates what I feel is just and right and fair? This is not just a hyperbole or a side issue; this is in fact why it is really God who is on trial far more than any of us no matter how wicked and evil we may have been in our lives. Ultimately it is God who is the one who is being judged right now and that is evidenced by the constant barrage of questions and doubts that all of us have about the way He handles things on this earth. It is our opinion about God and His version of justice that lies at the heart of whether we are going to be able to live in His presence throughout eternity in happiness or whether we will find ourselves furious with His seemingly weak ways of dealing with evil.
What if we were to discover in the judgment that Hitler and Stalin were found in heaven and Mother Teresa ended up outside the gates as lost? I am not suggesting that this may be the case, but what I am saying is that from our perspective we have some pretty strong opinions about who ought to be where and we expect God to generally follow our ideas on all of this. But if you study the Old Testament carefully you will discover that some of the most despicable characters in history who did some of the worst atrocities against other people very well may be found within the gates of the New Jerusalem. Now how do you think that may make those feel who were on the receiving end of all their madness?
The fact of the matter is, God's ideas about justice and mercy start to become suspicious and even scandalous in our opinion when we begin to investigate them more thoroughly as presented in Scripture. When God begins handing out tickets to the New Jerusalem, there are millions who are going to be surprised and even shocked on both sides of the issue. The revelations about God that Jesus exposed when He was here on this earth scandalized the majority of the religious establishment and nothing has really changed yet today. Religion and God have generally never been too close to the same page in most of the eras of history.
The way that we do justice here on earth is a far cry from how heaven views true justice. And the interrelationship between mercy and justice is far more intimate than any of us have ever suspected. Lucifer proposed the belief that justice and mercy are at odds with each other, but the God in whose heart both of these are perfectly one has never embraced that false teaching. But since He has to speak to us in ways that we can relate to, He uses language that is sometimes confusing but is designed to lead us back to the original truth that at this point in our understanding may be very foreign to us.
When it comes to choosing where to acquire our definitions, I would suspect that we might best give God the opportunity to define His own terms. Even though the Bible has gone through several transitions with various translators coloring into it some of their own prejudices, the truth is still in there and can be found by anyone sincere and open enough to allow the Spirit of God to reveal it to them. When it comes to justice and what it really looks like, I think we would be safe to let God speak on the subject as the primary author of the idea to start with.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
And immediately following this verse I find a surprising definition of what God's wrath and vengeance might look like.
No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21 NRSV)