Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Good Judgment

No one wants to be thought of as “judgmental" these days! And yet the Bible seems to emphasize that God is our Judge and that he does pass judgment on sin and evil. But is God's judgment as laid out in Scripture, well, too judgmental? Some say so. Take the book of Revelation which is filled with pictures of God's judgment on the world's sin. That judgment is likened to golden bowls filled with God's wrath that are poured out upon the earth (Revevlation 15: 7, 16:1). How can a loving God be wrathful? I found it interesting to learn that the word “wrath” (Greek: thumos) also means passion and intense feeling. It makes sense that if God is truly good, than God must be passionately opposed to evil, in whatever form it takes. This passionate opposition to evil in all its forms the Bible calls God’s wrath.

Even so, people have suggested to me that, "Jesus was never judgmental or wrathful. He was kind and loving!" I would disagree that Jesus was never judgmental or wrathful. The gospels tell us that Jesus was angered by satanic forces and powers (Mt. 4:10); that he was angered by disease (e.g., leprosy in Mk. 1:41); that he was angered by the evil nature of human beings (John 8:44); that he was angered by religious hypocrisy (Mat. 12: 34), that he was angered by those who persisted in unbelief (Mt. 17:17); and that he was angered by those who acted without mercy (Mt. 18:34). Jesus’ anger revealed his passionate concern for humankind; that God is passionately opposed to evil, and will tolerate nothing but the best for us.

In John's Revelation, the angels cry: “Yes O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!” (Revelation 16:7) God's judgments are true: in other words, they are self-authenticating. They validate themselves over time by experience...even if they go against our intuition. Rev. Earl Palmer often pointed out that it is counter-intuitive to lean on one's downhill ski...and yet that's exactly what is required if you don't want to fall down the mountain out of control. The law of putting one's weight on the downhill ski may not feel right...indeed, what feels right is to shrink back and try to hold on to the mountain for dear life. But it's still the right thing to do. Years ago, when pilots encountered wind shear, their instinct was to pull up on the flight controls which would result in a catastrophic loss of lift. As I understand it, the pilot is supposed to fly down into the wind sheer to regain control of the plane, which is what they practice doing in flight school. My point is that there are many physical laws which feel counter-intuitive (e.g., the law of aerodynamics, the fundamentals of downhill skiing) but with experience, we discover that these laws are trustworthy.

Consider your experience with the Ten Commandments, moral laws that have stood the test of millenia. To disregard Sabbath rest, is to consign ourselves to endless work without worship, without worth, and without a weekend off! To dishonor parents is to ensure that each generation disregards the next and learns nothing from the past. To commit murder (says Jesus) is to be eaten away by hatred and unforgiveness; and encourage a culture of death and destruction. To practice adultery is to live for a moment’s pleasure and in return, threaten a marriage, wound our children, and undermine one of the pillars of society.

Stealing condemns the world to mistrust and fear, to deadbolts, car alarms, price gouging, and higher car insurance. Bearing false witness promotes a society of liars in which vows, treaties and handshakes become meaningless. To covet, is to believe that what you have will never be enough; to live a life in which contentment is impossible and even un-American; where we are forever dissatisfied because we’re trying to fill our souls with the stuff that cannot satisfy! I’m so grateful for the time tested truth and goodness of God’s commands. They are simply right for human life. “O Lord, your judgments are true and just!

As I said earlier, no one wants to be called "judgmental" and yet we all know that good judgment is essential and can save us from making potentially self-destructive choices. This past week, my endocrinologist helped me win approval for a device called a Real-Time Glucose Sensor. Through a tiny subcutaneous sensor which is placed under the skin, information about my glucose level will be transmitted to my insulin pump every five minutes. One terrific benefit of this continuous glucose sensor is that whenever my blood sugars become either dangerously low or dangerously high, the pump will automatically alarm, thus alerting me to the danger so that I can take corrective action. Because the sensor will be sending information to my pump as I sleep, it will help protect me from dangerous nocturnal insulin reactions which, in the past, have caused me to have violent seizures.

But my point is this, for all its technological sophistication, this continuous glucose sensor still does not save me from having to make decisions. There is a very important button that I must push on my insulin pump whenever I'm given information about my blood glucose. It stands out from all the others because it is blue, and the word on this button is ACT. Nothing will happen unless I push that blue button. I must choose to ACT, based on the information I am given. I can choose to ACT in ways that are beneficial, or in ways that are harmful to me. I think of God's commands, and his judgment about right and wrong in the same way. His judgment gives me essential information about how to live life now, and for eternity. But this does not remove from me the responsibility to make good choices, to practice good judgment, and to respond wisely. God's word provides a continuous flow of life-saving information, which I am free to use to my benefit...or to ignore to my peril.

Let me say finally, that God's good judgment is never more powerfully displayed then when he came to ACT on our behalf through his Son... showing us how to live the eternal kind of life, giving away his life for us on the cross, and defeating the powers of darkness on the third day. As Karl Barth once observed, Christ is the Judge, who willingly took the judgment we deserved upon himself when he was judged in our place. We therefore praise the Judge who has shown us the way of justice and righteousness, who has extended to us his mercy when we fail through his Son, and who has given us the power of his Spirit to walk in increasing Christ-like justice, righteousness and mercy!

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: How have you experienced God's good judgment in your life; and how has God's good judgment about what is true and just been a challenge or a blessing to you?

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