Monday, October 26, 2009

You Be the Judge

We’ve all seen it: an umpire makes a controversial call. The managers come out on the field; there’s a lot of yelling and screaming; but in the end, nothing changes. Why? Because the umpire has the best view, and the authority to make the call. Not once have I ever seen an umpire's decision overturned after one of these tirades, have you? Yet, there comes a time when each of us is absolutely certain that we could be better umpires than God; that we could make better judgment calls if given the opportunity. In The Shack, Paul Young’s character, Mack, gets that opportunity. In the end he is certain about one thing: “I don’t want to be the judge!” Here are 4 biblical reasons why:

To let God be Judge is to be freed from the need to make final judgments about ourselves or anyone else. To let God be the judge means freedom! For though we all have to make judgment calls requiring wisdom and discernment -- Christ comes to take the matter of making final judgments out of our hands altogether — a role we’re totally unqualified for anyway. That's because when we’re in the judgment seat (to paraphrase Karl Barth) it usually leads to one place -- the place where we find ourselves innocent and everyone else guilty.

There’s a scene on an old Seinfeld episode where George Costanza (Jason Alexander) is attending a child’s birthday party at the request of his girlfriend, Robin. Her mother compliments him: "You seem like such a lovely young man." “Well, I do what I can,” George sheepishly replies. The next minute, George smells smoke in the kitchen and yells “Fire!” Then, he proceeds to run out of the kitchen in a panic, knocking over the clown, an old lady with a walker, and a couple of kids. "Get out of my way!" he yells, as he opens the front door of the apartment and runs away.

In the very next scene, George is outside getting oxygen from a group of paramedics. "It was an inferno in there!" he tells them. Suddenly the clown runs over to George: "There he is! That's him!" Several angry children and Robin's mother gather round. "That's the coward that left us to die!" they cry. The clown tries to hit George with an oversized shoe. "I saw you push the women and children out of the way in a mad panic….and when you ran out, you left everyone behind."
"Seemingly," George refutes. "To the untrained eye, I can fully understand how you got that impression. What looked like pushy, what looked like knocking down, was a safety precaution. In a fire, you stay close to the ground. Am I right? And when I ran out that door, I was not leaving anyone behind. I risked my life making sure that exit was clear. Any other questions?" The fireman offers just one more: "How do you live with yourself?" "It's not easy," George replies.
Now George certainly ain't "all bad" - but even he seems to know that he's not the "lovely" young man Robin's mother first oogled over! Paul was right: We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! (Roman 3:23). It's easy to make quick judgments, poor judgments , and to jump to conclusions. Paul gave some wise advice to the Corinthian church when he said: "Don’t get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of – inner motives and purposes and prayers” (1 Corinthians 4: 5/ The Message).
Not only do we make hasty judgments when it comes to our own guilt or innocence, or that of others, but we do it with God too – despite the fact that we see only a tiny portion of the big story of which we are a part. It’s really about doubting that God’s intentions…and God’s judgments are good. “The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don’t think I am good. If you knew I was good….then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don’t” (The Shack, p. 128). Listen to Deuteronomy 32: 3-4: “Ascribe greatness to our God the Rock! His work is perfect and all his ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice. Good and upright is he! God is not just the final judge, he’s the best Judge; which means His judgment will be infinitely more just than any I could make about me or anyone else.

Secondly, to let God be Judge is to be judged by the One who was willingly judged in our place. To let God be Judge means the Judge has taken our judgment! The wonder of Jesus’ death on the cross is that the Judge of the universe stepped down from his chair as Judge, and took our place, the place of the condemned. Why? So that we might stand in the place of the forgiven! Paul says, “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5: 21) or in another version: “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” Now some may object: How does Jesus’ death on the cross prevent the suffering we see in our world? What can it really do to prevent the horrors of WWI, or Auschwitz, or Hiroshima, or September 11th from happening again? I love the final line of My Father’s World: “This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done, Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” Jesus did not come only to die for our sins, he did -- but he also came to confront the powers of evil, to show us how to set the captives free, and to work and pray for his coming kingdom “until earth & heaven be one.”

Did you notice that by the end of The Shack, Papa has helped Mack to identify the evidence that leads to the discovery of Missy’s body, and the conviction of her killer. God cares about Missy. God cares about the young girls being sold into forced prostitution in Cambodia. God cares about righting the wrongs that are a direct result of human pride and sinful disobedience. God cares about justice. N. T. Wright reminds us that we live between the cross and the crown, between Jesus’ victory on the cross…and the glorious new heaven and earth. Therefore, what Jesus did for us through his suffering love is not just a victory to celebrate – it’s an achievement to put into practice and to live out in the power of the Holy Spirit (see N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, ch. 3). This leads me to a third important point....

To let God be Judge is to trust that he is not simply justifying unspeakable tragedy, but redeeming it. Remember the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20 (The Message): "You planned evil against me but God used those same plans for good" (cf. Romans 8:28). Just because God permits evil does not mean he intends it or even needs it to accomplish his purpose. Let me say it again, God permits evil. He does not intend it. He permits it because it is his will to have sons and daughters, not slaves; children who love him freely not by force; and that means freedom to love him or to hate him, even to crucify him.
“I am not evil,” Papa says to Mack. “You are the ones who embrace fear and pain and power and rights so readily in your relationships. Your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and most loving outcome” (The Shack, p. 127).

But what about the evil no one seems to deliberately choose – a natural disaster or a plane accident? Does God redeem these tragedies too? The short answer is that we must trust he does. But it still helps to have a good example.... A member of my congregation recently shared with me an article in the Wall Street Journal about the crash that took place on the Hudson River after a small plane collided with a helicopter piloted by Jerermy Clarke on August 9th. What made this accident especially painful was the fact that the entire nation had been celebrating “the miracle on the Hudson” when Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed a US Airways plane on that same river in January of this year, saving all 155 souls on board. Father Jonathan Morris, a Catholic priest who witnessed the crash and ministered to the victim’s families had this to say: “The miracle I have witnessed since last Saturday's crash is certainly less joyous than the first Miracle on the Hudson ….but not for that reason is it less miraculous. For in the families of the deceased…I have witnessed inexplicable goodness and love.”

The fiance of the pilot who had just recommitted his life to Christ said this: "Please get the message to the families of the Italian tourists who were on Jeremy's helicopter how much we grieve for them. How sorry we are. And please, please, tell the family of the pilot and passengers of the small plane, that no matter the outcome of the investigation, we hold no hard feelings. We are suffering with them too." And what words were on the lips of the grieving families of the 8 Italian tourists who were killed in the accident, “whose vacation to New York had warped into a nightmare, ending with a view of Madison Avenue blocked off by five hearses carrying their loved ones back to the airport ….”? "Incredibile, incredibile," they repeated, in Italian…. “Thank God it happened here and not somewhere else….You, people of New York, this country of America, are the most wonderful people I have ever met. The way you have treated us. The way you have treated our relatives. I have never known people like you. You have been so, so very good to us. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Father Morris reflects: “Capt. Clarke's loved ones—and all the families, for that matter—are cooperating in a miracle. In my opinion, they are giving evidence to the Judeo-Christian belief about how God responds to human-kind's suffering. We believe that God's response to our pain is a promise that he will bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil and suffering in this world, if we let him. These families are bringing into the world and into our lives love and blessings that would never have been there had this tragedy not occured." That's not justification of suffering, that's the redemption of it. [For the complete story go to: ]

Finally, Scripture affirms that to let God be Judge is to be judged worthy of love and the opportunity to accept it. There’s a powerful moment in The Shack, when Mack is given the opportunity to sit on God’s judgment seat and make a truly God-sized decision. He is told he must decide which of his four children will be condemned to hell and separated from God! Mack despairs at having to make such a decision, which is the whole point. He falls at the feet of Sophia, a personification of God’s Wisdom, asking for mercy. “I don’t want to be the judge” Mack cries out, “Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity, I’ll go in their place. Would that work? Could I do that? Please, let me go for my children. Please, I would be happy to….Please, I am begging you. Please…Please…” Wisdom replies, “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well, Mackenzie. I am so proud of you….You have judged them worthy of love, even if it costs you everything. That is how Jesus loves” (The Shack, pp. 164-165). The judgment of God is ultimately the judgment that we are worthy of love, (Not because we have earned the right to be found worthy, but simply because we are his children) for Jesus says “it is not the will of your Father that even one of these little ones should be lost” (Matt. 18: 14). Yet God’s love is not something that will be forced upon us. He gives us the freedom to accept or reject it. For “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1: 12). Or as Papa says: Reconciliation is a two way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship, but it is the nature of love to open the way’” (The Shack, p. 194). In the words of 2 Corinthians 5: 20: “We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God, he’s already a friend with you.”
To sum up, letting God be Judge means trusting that he has the best view and the authority to make the best calls. As Judge he frees us from the need to make final judgments about ourselves or others; as Judge he is the One who was willingly judged in our place; as Judge he does not justify unspeakable tragedy, but redeems it; and (most important of all) as Judge he has judged you worthy of his love and given you the opportunity to accept or reject it: and that’s a judgment call that only you can make.

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