God and Judgement

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Икона "Страшный суд"

Икона “Страшный суд” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today many people desire a God who is nonjudgmental. This God will not judge anyone for their behavior. Even if He does judge, He always forgives, whether or not a person is repentant. He never condemns any act as intrinsically wrong. If the Bible or church teaching that something is essential for salvation, this God says, “Religion gets in the way of a relationship with me. Be spiritual, not religious.” This God demands no religious duties. This God is easygoing when it comes to moral rules. For this God, Hell is an impossibility. All people will spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

One of the amazing facts about contemporary America is that some people will actually worship a deity like the one described in the above paragraph. This pusillanimous being is as worthy of worship as Santa Claus dropping down a chimney. A God without judgment is no God at all. He can be merciful–and mercy only makes sense in the context of judgement anyway.

If God is our Creator, it is reasonable to suppose that He would reveal Himself to man, not only though natural revelation but also through special revelation. He would have further reason to reveal Himself if human beings are fundamentally flawed. Now human beings are fundamentally flawed–it does not take the mass killings of the twentieth century or the conflicts of the twenty-first to see that this is the case. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Gulag Archipelago:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

God would, if He is the personal God in which Christians believe, provide information essential for deliverance from this flawed state. For Christians, God reveals Himself in Holy Scripture (in Roman Catholic thought, through Holy Tradition as well). Both sources of authority for Christianity reveal a God of both judgement and mercy. God holds people responsible for both their moral and religious lives. Humans all sin–they all do things morally wrong–sometimes not knowing an action is sinful, sometimes being controlled by a force such as lust, and sometimes they plan to perform an action they realize is wrong. All sins are forgivable under the condition of repentance. An obstinate lack of repentance yields the judgment of God, and Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition make is clear that God will allow those who wish to sin to keep to themselves. It is not as much that God withdraws from them–He allows them to withdraw themselves. Since God is the source of all being, goodness, and happiness, their state can only lead to misery. Saying to the sinner, “THY will be done” is a form of judgment, for it says that the sinner cannot live in the presence of God. The attitude of rebellion against God can be fostered by a rebellion against the moral law (which is a subset of the natural law that is available to all people who are able to use their reason). Rebellion against religious limitations, especially against the “scandal of particularity” of Christianity, can also influence someone to stop following God’s revelation to man.

The Church sets theological limits through the Creeds, short statements of belief that summarize the fleshing out of Scripture via Holy Tradition. There are certain beliefs Christians must affirm–if a Christian openly denies these key beliefs (the bodily resurrection of Christ, for instance) and teaches that error, he is liable to be excommunicated. This does not imply he is going to Hell, but the attitude underlying heresy, a pride that refuses to submit to the Church’s teaching, may reflect a character that would not enjoy being in God’s presence.

Holy Scripture and Tradition also make moral demands–no one can keep them perfectly, and they are challenging. “Love your enemies” is almost practically impossible to follow, though some Christians have done so. Avoiding hatred, envy, spite, jealousy, and excessive anger are imperative on the Christian, but no one avoids practicing at least one of these flaws at some point in one’s life. The church states that abortion and active euthanasia as well as physician-assisted suicide are morally wrong–and there is an arrogance to the claim that “I have the right to determine the time and manner of my own death.” Such arrogance is spiritually dangerous. The refusal to follow the Church’s sexual morality can occur due to weakness–or someone may be sexually immoral on purpose yet realize it is wrong. There is spiritual hope for such individuals. But God’s judgment may fall upon those individuals who say that “wrong is right” and “right is wrong” concerning the Church’s sexual ethics. This also reveals an arrogance, a refusal to submit to legitimate authority. Such arrogance may result in God’s judgment in the sense that God may allow those people to do what they will on their own. I am sure He will always be open to receiving them, but they, due to their free will, could decide to eternally reject God. “The doors to Hell are locked on the inside,” said C. S. Lewis.

The Christian God is worthy of worship not only because He is Creator of all things, but also because He is our ultimate judge. He is also a God of mercy–but mercy extends to those open to correction and repentance. Others will refuse to receive such mercy, and God’s judgment is to allow them to live in such a state in their own world–that is, Hell. I personally do not want to worship Santa Claus. God in His glory, justice, and mercy is the only being worthy of worship.

On Looking through Time as Well as Through Space

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English: Lipscomb University in Nashville, Ten...

We are temporal creatures, living in a world of time as the measure of change. When we experience the world, we experience it in terms of space and time–Kant was correct in at least that portion of his philosophy. People do not experience time in the same way–some people focus on the present, others are future-oriented, and still others live in a world of images of the past. All human beings consider past, present, and future in their experience. Now science tells us that when we look into the night sky we are looking back through time as well as space. If I see Sirius, I am looking 8.6 years into the past, since it takes 8.6 years for the light from Sirius to reach the earth. Most stars are far more distant, and telescopes can peer billions of years into the past.

The past two days I have been attending the Christian Scholars’ Conference at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, my Alma mater, from which I graduated with a degree in Biblical languages in 1983. Although my parents live thirty miles from the school, I am staying on campus to avoid rush hour traffic. The campus has grown so much that parts of it are difficult to recognize. The older buildings remain–Sewell Hall, where I stayed in the dorm during the week, driving home to Smyrna every weekend; the parking lot by the dorm where I would return from Sunday dinner at my grandparents; the old Student Center; the auditorium where I attended chapel; the Burton Building, which houses health sciences today, was where I took my Greek class under Dr. Harvey Floyd. As I looked at the buildings and the parking lot, the experience was so emotionally overwhelming that it brought me to tears. As I looked at the campus, I was gazing through time and space, and memories from the past flooded back in a series of photographs and moving images. I felt the extreme loneliness I had felt as a student, socially awkward and from a working class family, among students who were more socially astute and from very different backgrounds. All I had wanted was to find a good Christian woman to marry, and I was so awkward that dating, such as it was, was not a successful venture. Thank God I have a wonderful wife now. I remembered the walk I would take from the side of Sewell Hall to go to class, to the Student Center, or to the Tuesday night singing led by Mack Wayne Craig. The parking lot was poignant, which may seem strange, but the memory of driving home to find Granddaddy worse every trip, and worst of all, driving back to school after his funeral in late November of 1982, was so vivid that I was reliving the event. Perhaps that is an Asperger’s trait–to have such a vivid memory that the past seems as present as the present moment. That can be both a blessing and a curse. I had also had some good times and met some friends for life, and for that I am grateful.

I have quoted Peter Kreeft on this blog before on memory–that memory makes past events sacred, and I added that it can also make past events more difficult to bear due to the pain of loss. Even if you have not experienced time in this way, this experience illustrates why a good God would create a Heaven for people to live forever as embodied creatures. Perhaps one reason that human beings live in time is for them to learn how precious relationships are. Once this lesson is learned and we have nurtured virtue, then living forever without worrying about loss will not make us take relationships for granted. We will remember, I think (although God only knows) the pain of loss on earth so that in the New Earth, the heavenly realm, we will appreciate what is restored and praise the God who grants the gift of transcending the limitations of time. Perhaps looking through time as well as through space will be accentuated for all people in Heaven, but only what is good in human relationships will be in memory to be recalled as a whole whenever we meet a loved one. Now love of God is always primary, for it is only through His grace that we are granted eternal life in the first place. The hope of orthodox Christians is that through our primary love we can love those people we lost in life more deeply than before. We will never lose temporality entirely, but redeemed temporality will transcend the fabric of losses peeled from our earthly lives. Thinking of looking through time and space in this way makes that ability a gift rather than a curse.

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