Friday, May 06, 2005

Judgment - Part 1

I've been thinking about judgment lately. Many people I know put a lot of stock in 'judge not, or you will be judged.' This text speaks more about hypocrisy than anything else, i.e., 'Don't judge UNLESS you're prepared to be judged yourself.' But really, I've been thinking more about God's judgment.

'You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.' This is the line from the UCC Statement of Faith. The Apostle's Creed includes the line that 'he will come again to judge the living and the dead.' What sort of a God is that, I ask myself. Can judgment get thrown out with a Jesus who proclaims forgiveness (and repentence, ahem)? There's a place for judgment, of course there is. One of my foundational texts is Matthew 25 ('when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me'), but I admit more difficulty when fessing up that 1) it's in the context of a judgment scene and 2) there's a downside portrayed in the story. I'll forego historical-critical speculation for just a moment, as there is something else I really want to address.

Here's why an inordinate amount of time on God's judgment is a bad thing: it frames God, first of all, as primarily in the reward and punishment business. As a result, actions by us are framed more in terms of what I get out of it. What I do becomes a matter of heaven and hell and not about love.

Jesus is asked in Luke, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' He answers with the two greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor. BUT....keeping these commandments so I can get to heaven makes it about me, not God or neighbor. It's the antithesis of what the commandments are about. Suddenly Jesus' message of regarding others has been shifted, thanks to theology that is dangerously over-fascinated with heaven and hell, onto me. It's love God and neighbor AS yourself, not love yourself, so you better love God and neighbor too.

I'm moving on, else I let a full-blown rant emerge. So what's the purpose of judgment? The Israelites on numerous occasions, are judged. Their enemies prevail over them almost every other week in the Hebrew scriptures (love hyperbole as yourself), only to be renewed. They return to God after a time, more committed than they were before. But at the same time, it's not really until the book of Daniel that we get any sort of allusion to heavenly judgment. And then this heavenly scenario is played out occasionally in the Gospels, in Paul, and in Revelation. But for the most part we have an Old Testament devoid of any sort of heavenly throne where God whips out a list of who's been naughty and nice (Jews don't really have that concept in their belief system). Instead, it gets played out on earth through the exodus scenario and Sinai, the judges (whodda thunkit), and the exile. We need to deal with the New Testament texts of heavenly judgment because they're there, even if it is a more Hellenistic concept.

What I've settled on is the idea that god's grace and love is a judgment of sorts. We stand convicted of God's love for us and realize how much better we can be. We can be renewed and transformed. Such judgment can serve to discipline and purify us. To one who believes that Jesus was serious about what he taught regarding the two greatest commandments, it makes sense to think that God takes our actions seriously as well.

'Judge not, or you will be judged.' Our actions are counted one way or another. But I don't know what that really means in an eternal sense. And if I take my own words seriously about not making it about me, I don't really have to.